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Tech Insights: how technology is impacting the property management profession

5 December 2020

Earlier this year the IRPM published a series of Tech Insight white papers that looked at the different ways in which property managers are being impacted by innovations in technology. Here we round-up our findings and set out the next steps that will be needed to take the conversation forward.

Increasingly technology dominates our working lives and, in future, this trend is only going one way. So we surveyed our members to find out what property managers think. This is what you told us.

Virtually all of you believe that technology will have a positive influence on the customer experience going forward - and more than 80% are excited about the influence it is now having over all our lives. There is a strong belief that technology has a vital role to play in improving building safety but property managers are also aware that innovative tech solutions generate their own ethical issues. Perhaps the most telling results from our survey were that while three-quarters of IRPM members think technology will change the way they work going forward, they don’t feel well enough prepared to deal with that change; almost all of those polled think their understanding of technology and their skills could be better.

At the IRPM, our role is to lead and support our members so, building on these findings, we have engaged in a range of activities to do this. Tech is not a stand-alone topic. It impacts everything we do. So we have focused on approaching this through the lens of the IRPM 4 Elements of professionalism.

This includes:

  • The Tech Insight programme - we led four individual round table discussions, one for each of the 4 Elements, looking at the ways in which technology impacts each of the elements. You can read more on this below.
  • Online Annual Seminar - we made sure that tech was built into this year’s event, held in October. In fact, it couldn’t have taken place mid-pandemic without it!
  • IRPM update – we include tech in our monthly industry coverage wherever it is relevant.
  • Support for the industry - we are a leading supporter of the 'RED Foundation' initiative which is bringing together all corners of the sector to enable us to ensure that the benefits and use of data are captured ethically.

What did the Tech Insights programme reveal?

Our Tech Insights round tables brought together leading experts in the property, tech, safety and ethics fields to debate the impact of technology on our profession. The aim of these conversations was to signpost key issues and to establish ways in which the IRPM can support members as they respond to future challenges. The discussions focused on the 4 Elements of safety, customer and consumer, ethics and competence and the outcomes were distilled into four white papers published earlier this year.

The first looks at the issues around building safety; timely and relevant to all our members in light of the draft Building Safety Bill now going through Parliamentary scrutiny. Post-Grenfell, safety in the residential block sector is being completely overhauled and many of the recommendations coming from the Hackitt Review hinge on data collection and management.

Who shares Wins: the impact of technology on building safety details the importance of data-sharing and advances in building technology in the residential block sector, with a particular focus on fire safety, setting out next steps for the property management profession.

Key points are that:

  • Information and data sharing at the planning and construction stage are central to the safety of residential buildings
  • Poor access to building information among property managers results in a lack of knowledge around the safety of the building structure and the materials used in construction
  • Getting the right level and quality of information will be the challenge for the future.

The second white paper, titled Making the right connections: the impact of data on building management focuses on the impact of technology on the way our buildings are built and managed. From building management systems to resident portals and from repair reporting to the internet of things, there are myriad of ways in which technology can be used to improve the pace and quality of service delivery.

Key points are that:

  • Assets that are digitised will yield higher returns and values.
  • A cultural shift is needed if the property management sector is to reap the benefits of digitisation – and in turn, deliver value for residents.
  • If property managers can effectively harness the data they hold and use it to drive innovative customer-facing products, in future, this will act as a differentiator between technical competence and technical excellence.

This exponential growth in data is driving the ethical issues around privacy, data harvesting and function creep further up the agenda. These challenges are addressed in the third white paper Data ethics: plotting a roadmap for the new frontier, which pinpoints the need for property management firms to be alert to:

  • function creep - conversations with software providers must include questions around data harvesting and re-use.
  • the triggers for data misuse – it is vital to ensure that staff are aware of ethical best practice within their own businesses.

The paper concludes that development of property-purposed professional ethical standards is an absolute priority for the industry. This key theme was also picked up by Dan Hughes from the RED Foundation in a presentation at the Online Seminar.

Technology is now key to the ways in which our customers’ property journey can be enabled and enhanced.  With this in mind, the fourth white paper Consumer experience counts: how data is transforming the customer’s property journey focuses on the ways in which technology can support the transition of property management from technical operation to customer-facing business, while at the same time empowering residents and promoting their wellbeing. 

Digital solutions can be used to communicate with and provide more carefully tailored services to customers, so property managers will become ever more consumer-focused. In tandem, building management services must be moved up the value chain via carefully considered use of technology. If this isn’t clearly demonstrated, there is an increased risk that the property management role could be replaced by AI.

Recognising that the issues considered in the white papers will impact the future direction and prosperity of the property management profession, the IRPM has identified a number of calls to action. These include:

  • Promoting cross-industry collaboration to promote transparency and inter-operability of the platforms we use.
  • Developing a platform for tech and software providers to communicate with the property industry.
  • Collaborative working between government and key industry stakeholders.

In order to secure the future success of our profession, the IRPM also believes that property managers have their part to play by improving their firms’ communication channels to find out what people want from technology and working collaboratively with providers to deliver the right solutions.

Our white papers set out to help members better understand the issues around data use and technology in the buildings they manage. The IRPM is now moving the conversation on. We are actively promoting industry engagement via our work with the Real Estate Data Foundation which is connecting cross-sector initiatives such as the Golden Thread of tall building safety information with the sales and lettings consumer information processes. Bringing property industry professionals and external stakeholders together will be vital to protect customers’ data through effective standards to govern the way we operate. Understanding the need for ethical standards governing the use of technology will be key to the success of the profession going forward.  

One such outcome from the white paper discussions revolves around the need for the Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN,) to be adopted by government and industry stakeholders. Connecting different data sets via common adoption of the URPRN will, for example, join up tenancy information with gas and electrical safety certificates, to improve the monitoring of safety standards and enforcement against rogue landlords. In January 2021 we will be delving further into these conversations.

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