Keep up at the back

December 2014

People over complicate technology. There are only three things you need to do: keep up to date, think about the future, and don’t digitise the past. Now how hard is that?

Too hard for many it seems.

Starting with keeping up to date. Each year Remit Consulting conduct a survey of IT use in the commercial property industry; this year the oldest system was 29 years old, literally a lifetime, but even the average of those in use was 10 years old. Just think about that for a moment; the average IT system in use within our industry dates from a time before the iPhone, when broadband was not so broad, Google had only just had its IPO, and Amazon had not even thought of offering cloud computing. This is an eternity in tech, practically a different world.

With so many companies operating age old systems is it any wonder as an industry we fret about the future, rather than embracing it? Advocacy of the central office as critical to any business, eulogising ‘water-cooler’ moments and a reluctance to allow remote working are emblematic of a fear of change.

When technological change was slower it did not matter that developments took many years to complete. The world of work, or retail, pretty much remained the same, so what we built was but an iteration on what was built before. As with the car industry, where today’s Mercedes is not very different to one from five years ago, the trick was a novel tweak, a small embellishment, an eye catching new feature. Today though the analogy holds, but this time the stakes are much higher. The car as we know it is dying, to be replaced by hybrid, then electric, then self driving vehicles. An existential threat looms. And the same applies to commercial property; what we have now, across all sectors, just isn’t designed for the world that is developing. As smartphones become ever more powerful, high speed mobile connectivity becomes ubiquitous and data moves to the cloud, society is being fundamentally disrupted. The way we communicate, interact, learn, work, shop and live is changing. And this is revolution, not evolution.

Which brings me to the last thing you need to do and that is to not digitise the past. That 10 yr old system will not cut it by just being moved to the cloud. Most likely, the way it works, the processes it codifies and the experience it provides to users are no longer good enough. Or rather, they could be made exponentially better by embracing the possibilities of modern technology.

And to those who fear commercial property loses its importance, or worth, in this world, please don’t. Great technology works best in collaboration with great places. They just won’t look the same as they do now.

Antony

PS First published in Estates Gazette December 2014