AI in Real Estate: Death or Glory?

Last week Remit Consulting produced, for the RICS, a report on “The Impact of Emerging Technologies on the Surveying Profession”. The bottom line: “Surveying appears to be an industry in which 88% of the core tasks are ripe for automation to a greater or lesser degree”.

Not surprisingly, in a parallel survey where they asked the industry how they would score themselves, the answer averaged out at 46%. 

I would say this discrepancy indicates that there are going to be big winners and big losers within surveying over the next five or so years. Much of the industry either does not understand what technologies are available and in development, or chooses to dismiss them as ‘nothing to see here: move on’.

In a world of rapid technological change you do not need to outrun the ‘robots’, you just need to outrun your competition. It is not just surveying where this is true but applies to the whole business world: those that adopt and adapt to new technology, will have an increasingly large competitive advantage against those that don’t. In fact the situation is more binary today, in that the technology is becoming so powerful that failure to keep up will render you ‘unfit for purpose’ and functionally redundant. Harsh but true.

Conversely, just as when farmers adopted tractors instead of horses, they found themselves ‘augmented’ and exponentially more productive than before. Simply put, the technology allowed them to do more with more. 

The great enabler today is Artificial Intelligence, the most important technology that you do need to get to grips with. As the smartphone has transformed so many businesses, and so much about how people live, AI will transform real estate. Much of that 88% of core tasks being ripe for automation is down to AI.

What then do you need to know?

First, you need to know what AI is and what is it good at? At the same time as being transformational AI is massively overused as a term and not everything being touted as ‘with AI we can now….’ is true. You need to be able to spot the Snake Oil salesmen.

Secondly, you need to understand why data is so important. The four V’s are critical: Volume, Variety, Velocity and Veracity. What data do you have, is it usable, what other data sources do you need, who has them? And then, what to do if you do not have much data?

Thirdly, you need to know about on-demand Cognitive Services. Whilst this is a very advanced area of technology it is becoming very rapidly commoditised, at least up to a point. There are a wide range of quite extraordinarily powerful tools at your disposal, and available on a pay as you go basis. One of the joys of modern business is that a startup can access exactly the same software and hardware as can the largest multi-national. Might is not right in this world. In many ways the most important tech are the humans you have in your team; the tools can be bought but inspiration and imagination are far less available ‘off the shelf’.

Fourthly, you have to dive deep into your own business to identify how, and where, AI can become manifest in real world applications. The Remit report helps here, as it suggests looking at the tasks you do and scoring them against five variables: Data content, Algorithmic content, Learning content, Interpersonal skills and Physical presence. Having understood what AI is good out and what your options are, you should then be able to see where AI/Use case fit is strongest. What can you automate, to save costs or to be able to do 10 times more efficiently that you can today? AI is partly about removing humans from processes, but much more so it is about augmenting your capabilities and enabling humans to be much more productive. Let the machines do what they are good at so that we humans can do what we do best.

Fifthly, there are dozens of companies specialising in different areas of AI. You need to be exposed to who they are, so that you can build your ecosystem of partners. Much AI has applications across many different business sectors so you need to look wider than the #PropTech world.

And lastly the hard bit. You need to put together agile, cross functional teams in order to implement the above. As the technology becomes more advanced, the need for tempering it with human skills gets ever greater. You need people who think, people who feel and people who do: different skills with different utility. AI is a pervasive technology, it will impact on every area of your business, so you must have every area of your business committed and engaged in designing how best to use it.

AI is a big, somewhat challenging topic. The steps above will go a long way to help you navigate the future it is defining. 


Remit Consulting - The Impact of Emerging Technologies on the Surveying Profession -