PropTech Lunch: What we learned

Thursday, 11th April 2019

A new addition to the pro-manchester calendar, our PropTech Lunch brought together over 100 of Manchester’s leading professionals.

Alistair Cree, chair of pro-manchester, opened the event and reiterated how important both the tech and property sectors are to Manchester. Admitting that although he hears the term “PropTech” a lot, Alistair is here ready to learn and to understand what the future might hold.

Alistair introduced the host for the day: Heather Gray, Business Development Manager – Bruntwood and co-chair of pro-manchester’s Property & Regeneration sector committee. Heather gave a brief overview of the exciting developments in the industry, and the new products and services disrupting the way we live.

Heather then welcomed the first panel to the stage: Danny Simpson – CEO, MID Communications; Adam Posner – Associate Director, KPMG; Aisling McNulty – Development Director, Bruntwood; James Smith – Technology Evangelist, CTS.

Danny has seen some bold claims for 5G, with commentators saying it is set to be as big as electricity. It reduces the latency between devices, enabling technology to become quicker than human brain. This has a huge impact for autonomous vehicles, smart cities and evolving technologies.

Reflecting on a career than saw the introduction of 3G and 4G, Danny believes the smartphone is the most disruptive innovation. 95% of consumers now shop with Amazon. The smartphone enables retailers and other businesses to get to the end user within seconds. If companies are not mobile ready, they will struggle going forwards.

James is seeing a move towards trying to reduce physical footprint, including servers and data centres. It is now all about connectivity with businesses looking to combine flexible working spaces, monitor usage, book meeting rooms and adapt use as technology develops. All new buildings must be future proofed, allowing for additional WiFi and cabling.

Bruntwood is using technology to understand and deliver client demands. Aisling explained key features of the No. 1 Piccadilly renovation including sensors in co-working spaces which enables them to track the quality of these spaces as well as usage. It is tempting to flood buildings with technology but need to make sure they are actually useful to help staff and businesses work more efficiently. The right tech may demonstrate that less space is required, or that energy demands can be reduced, or increase productivity by making spare desks easier to find.

KPMG recently conducted a review of 270 property business leaders to establish the likely impact of technology on the industry. As might be expected 97% believed digital and tech were a key part of the future, and 73% saw tech as more of an opportunity than a threat. Despite this, 65% admitted they had no real plan for digital and tech. Adam explained how KPMG is working to help clients adapt to tech and how to use it. In his view, data is both the single biggest opportunity and biggest risk for property and real estate businesses.

Opening out to questions from the floor, Sarah Lawless – BIG Partnership, asked about the skills gap and how the industry is addressing it. James is passionate about developing new and innovative ways of learning and upskilling staff. We have to move away from traditional classroom environments. Danny agreed, and encouraged delegates to utilise apprenticeships and enable on-the-job training. Aisling recommends appointing champions to advocate new tech throughout the business. They need not be senior, just enthusiastic and happy to answer questions.

After a wonderful lunch, Heather welcomed the second panel to the stage: Melanie Dawson – Director of Digital Construction, GRAHAM; Christian Armstrong – Chief Experience Officer, Get Living; Ian Mayhew – Managing Director, Barings; and Laura Crandley – Executive Director, Leonard Cheshire.

Melanie has specialised in BIM since 2012 and led some really exciting R&D projects at Graham. She sees BIM as a gamechanger and initially started the Academy to upskill their own staff and has since opened it out to supply chain and customers. Looking ahead, Melanie expects laser scanning to continue increasing in popularity as it is becoming more affordable, simpler and smaller. GRAHAM is working on a KTP with the university on immersive tech.

Conscious that not everything turns out to be “the next big thing”, Melanie tries to focus on the value to the business and/or customers. They try to work out the problem first, then test the solutions. Melanie understands they won’t always get it right first time, so encourages a fail fast environment.

Ian is responsible for developing Landmark, a 180,000 square foot office block in St Peter’s Square which is set to bring a huge change to the look and feel of the very centre of the city centre. To deliver best in class offices, tech is essential. The two key drivers are energy efficiency and digital connectivity. These are being addressed through photovoltaic cells in glass, EV charging points, mobile coverage, WiFi and destination- controlled lifts.

The residential sector sees similar trends. Get Living is the largest build to rent operator and has been active since the start of the scheme 5 years ago. When considering new tech, Christian considers its impact on efficiency and customer quality of life. He notes that three years is a long time in tech – buildings must be future proof and able to adapt.  Changes implemented include 10GB connectivity, an Alexa app for residents to report issues and communicate with building managers and drone delivery.

Heather noted that we’re starting to see tech that might previously have been considered to be assisted living tools find their way into the mainstream. For example, an estimated 5 million homes in the UK have Alexa or the Google equivalent. This has a huge impact on inclusivity.

Laura told delegates that 14m people are living with a disability or long-term health issue, and these technologies keep them in their own homes for longer. Non-intrusive monitoring is particularly important, with developments including walking sticks that know if you’ve fallen and sensors to report if people have moved around the house. Laura is keen to see businesses start to implement changes to make offices more inclusive. DDA compliant is not enough; developers need to start spending time with end users and design with them in mind.

Finally, the panellists were asked what tech trends they are most excited about for 2019. Answers included navigation inside buildings, AI, 5G, photovoltaic glazing and more intelligent use of data. All agreed that collaboration is essential for innovation and whilst Manchester is good at knowledge sharing there is still more we can do.

Sam Booth, Chief Executive at pro-manchester, closed the event with final thank yous to Heather, our speakers, all delegates and the Crowne Plaza for hosting.