The SCSI held its Proptech and Smart Construction Conference on April 19 in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham.

Then SCSI President Colin Bray welcomed delegates to the Conference and said: “We can’t afford to keep our heads in the sand when it comes to technology”.
One man well aware of this, and of what new technology is coming into the industry, is James Scott of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Real Estate Innovation Lab. He spoke about what proptech excites him. One material he is particularly interested in is graphene. It is lighter than plastic but stronger than steel. James said it could lead to “Blade Runner-style skyscrapers” being built.
But what really interests James is data. It is one of the most valuable resources an organisation can have. WeWork, which provides shared work spaces, owns no property but is valued at $20bn because of its data.
James works on the autonomous future of work and said that technology will change the industry, that this is good and should be embraced: “This is an area that’s ripe for change. Change is needed”. While James is involved with seeing what is coming into the industry, Sreelatha Chunduri is at the forefront of new technology’s implementation. She works for BAM Group and explained that when property professionals digitise, they save money and are more productive.

We can’t afford to keep our heads in the sand when it comes to technology.

Three Irish surveyors then gave their take on technologies that are changing the industry. Lily Ellis of JLL in LinkedIn is a facilities manager and spoke about how you can now see how your buildings are performing by using new technologies. Peter Waller of Cushman & Wakefield said that the key to valuations is a transparent market. He said the Property Price Register has helped in the residential market and hopes to see something similar on the commercial side.
Quantity surveyor Liam Murphy said people who fail to embrace technology get left behind. This happened when CAD was introduced and he said: “We are faced with the same things today”.

From left: Shane Coleman, Newstalk; Yvonne Holmes, AIB; then SCSI President Colin Bray; Mark Farmer, CEO, Cast Consultancy; and, SCSI Director General Áine Myler.

There was a panel discussion with Colin Bray, SCSI Director General Áine Myler, James Scott and Sreelatha Chunduri. In line with the Conference’s theme of technological innovation, throughout the day the SCSI utilised a website called so that delegates could use their smartphones to respond to polls and post questions, which were displayed on a screen on stage.
One question asked why adoption of new technology by the industry seemed slow. Áine said adoption is uneven, as bigger companies have more to invest.
She floated the idea of smaller companies forming co-operatives in order to pool their resources.
The panel was asked how big 3D printing can go. Sreelatha said that you need to be practical about how big you can make a 3D printer but one day she hopes to see a 3D printed stadium.
The Conference then split into three breakout sessions. There was ‘Get tech smart’, which looked at new technologies that could help different surveying disciplines. ‘The future of property data’ looked at the impact of how we use data in land and property. The third breakout session examined ‘Better information management’.

Mark Farmer, Cast Consultancy.

A Farmer on construction
Mark Farmer, author of the influential report ‘The Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour Model. Modernise or die: Time to decide the industry’s future’ said that the industry needs to change but is not convinced that it will in time. The UK’s second biggest construction firm, Carillion, went bust and Mark said: “It should be jolting people into thinking who’s next”.
Change is coming whether the industry wants it or not. It is not going to be about robots replacing bricklayers, but about property professionals augmenting technology to do their jobs.

Adam Willetts, Urban Splash.

Making a splash
Adam Willets works for Urban Splash, an English turning old industrial areas of cities into innovative developments. It is now producing its own modular houses for suburban areas. It offers two- or three-storey houses but the customer can choose how many rooms they want on each floor and on what floor they’d like their living space and bedrooms.
The Head of Data Analytics at AIB, Yvonne Holmes, spoke next on how the bank is using data to improve what it offers customers. For instance, if the data tells them that someone has moved home, it is a good indicator that they are saving for a mortgage. The bank will then start sending them mortgage marketing material.
Adam Willets, Mark Farmer and Áine Myler joined Yvonne on stage after her talk for the second panel discussion of the day, where off-site construction dominated.
Adam said it is not necessarily the end of bricks and mortar but that “we need to disrupt construction”.
Áine said that with the type of supply we’re trying to create in this country, modular houses are a great opportunity. Some delegates questioned the longevity of offsite- manufactured houses but Adam said that issues such as these can be addressed in the factory.

Future of real estate
The Conference then split into two, with Stephen Lynam of the Office of Government Procurement (OGP) chairing the BIM users’ forum and James Scott hosting a workshop entitled ‘Developing your technology toolkit’. James talked about automation and said it is three things: robotics; machine learning; and, artificial intelligence (AI). He said while many fear automation will cost them their jobs, in the past new technology has always led to new jobs.
The first Chief Digital Officer of RTÉ, Múirne Laffan, spoke next about how she led the digital department of RTÉ from just having a website to implementing different on-demand and digital platforms such as the RTÉ Player and GAAGO. Peter Browne of the McAvoy Group was the final speaker of the day. He spoke about how the company is committed to delivering high-quality off-site constructed buildings.

The Society is grateful for the support of OSi and Murphy Surveys, who were sponsors on the day.

Read an in-depth report of the conference on the SCSI blog: scsi-proptech-and-smart- construction-conference-2018/

Colm QuinnColm Quinn

Journalist and Sub-Editor, Think Media