The Young Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland Committee has taken a look at how proptech has impacted the sector – both the good and the bad.*
With new technology making its break into the property and construction surveyor’s realm, and transforming working practices as it does, it is inevitable that the skills and aptitudes required by the industry will change. The millennial generation is well accustomed to mobile technology and young surveyors can help with the implementation of property technology (‘proptech’) tools in the surveying industry. But the question is… how? This article looks at how changes arising from the introduction of certain technologies have impacted property professionals. What tools are important? What are the potential negative impacts of these new technologies for the profession?
The information age
If we consider, in the first instance, technology on a broad scale across the three sectors – property, construction and land – we can see that technology has helped and continues to change the day-to-day life of surveyors across the board.
For the majority of surveying professionals, research is an inherent component of our day-to-day work, whether that is planning information for building surveyors, comparable transactions for valuation reports, or ordnance survey maps for identifying properties. Traditionally, many of these tasks required off-site visits. For example, the collection of planning information used to necessitate a visit to the appropriate county council offices and the tedious chore of reviewing a hard copy of the relevant planning permissions. The introduction of the online planning system has allowed surveyors to undertake research remotely from their desks. The system provides instant access to accurate and comprehensive planning data, which is updated regularly and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Other notable changes include the availability of ordnance survey maps online from Ordnance Survey Ireland, and access to legislation, guidelines and market standards from websites such as www.scsi.ie and www.oireachtas.ie.
Technological advances have allowed surveyors to do things faster and more efficiently. From letter writing to emails and the death of the fax machine, things have transformed in a relatively short time. Perhaps one of the most pioneering advances is the movement towards capturing and storing inspection information electronically rather than with pencil and paper. Various technologies are already available to capture, edit and publish inspection information, and these are increasingly being adopted by many surveying organisations. For example, systems such as GoReport, Kycloud and Valupro have the potential to fundamentally change the way surveyors perform their jobs. Data can be recorded in real time during inspections and can be time-stamped, eliminating any doubt as to the state of the site at the time of inspection. Multiple types of data can be collated including photos, sketches, areas and descriptions. The information can be automatically organised into related sections for ease of reference. This data can then be compiled into a report, ready for distribution to the necessary parties (via email or the cloud, taking further advantage of the digital realm). This effectively digitises the process of property inspections, reduces report writing administration, and provides a faster and more streamlined approach to the previous ‘pen and paper’ style of surveying. The pace of change in technology is very fast when compared to the scale traditionally seen in the property and construction markets, but perhaps innovative tools such as data capturing systems should not be ignored.
Over the past few decades the internet has grown and diffused rapidly, bringing significant benefits to our working habits. From intranet, to email and the world wide web, connectivity soon became essential in the workplace. Where we were once tied to our desks with desktop computers and cables, mobile devices, WiFi and the adoption of cloud software are driving an ethos of working from anywhere. Billions of people are connected by mobile devices with high processing power, storage capacity and access to information. Surveyors now have the ability to be switched on 24/7; the correspondence between surveyors, solicitors and clients can be instant. The introduction of video conferencing has reduced the need for travel, and mobile technology has also facilitated substantial cost savings for security, with remote monitoring CCTV replacing manned guarding. Social media has changed the way in which professionals are working, and is now recognised as a significant opportunity for surveyors to gain competitive advantage in the marketplace.
Impact of proptech on surveying roles (building surveying)
While building surveying is a relatively young profession, it is constantly evolving, with new technological advances playing a major role in shaping how the modern building surveyor conducts their day-to-day role. The introduction of technologies such as laser measuring, 3D scanning, thermal imaging cameras, inspection cameras and drones has enhanced the profession, and a number of significant technological advancements are now shaping the industry.
On-site data collection software
The advent of handheld tablets and the ability to capture real-time information on site has resulted in a significant shift in how the modern building surveyor conducts his or her day-to-day business. The aforementioned programmes such as GoReport, Kycloud and Site Works allow surveyors to capture onsite information in real time and produce a variety of reports, pending QA, prior to leaving site. This greatly reduces time spent in the office producing reports and allows surveyors to be more efficient and productive with their time.
Building information modelling
While AutoCAD has been a staple of the construction industry for many years, it is now seen as a somewhat antiquated technology, with the ever-increasing prevalence of building information modelling (BIM). BIM at its basic level is a virtual model of a building, which collates all the relevant components, from structure through to the services. It provides a holistic view of a building and can greatly aid in identifying how the different elements interact. BIM is a technology that touches all aspects of the construction and property industries, from geomatics and quantity surveyors to facilities engineers and asset managers.
Despite its many advantages, technology also poses threats, and one that has had some recent exposure is the possibility of security breaches and subsequent cyber attacks. In this era of ever-growing technological advances, organisations face greater risks of cyber attacks. Phishing scams, technological spying and hacking are becoming more and more common in the business world. Cybersecurity is thus an issue that should not be overlooked. Property and construction organisations, by their very nature, have exposure to sensitive and confidential client information. The protection of sensitive client data on company networks is a business and ethical necessity.
We have recognised that there are many benefits associated with the ability to be connected 24/7; however, a reasonable level of expectation from clients and employers does not exist in all workplaces, and surveyors can be expected to be available outside of working hours, by phone, email or text. This can include after business hours, over weekends and while on annual leave, sick leave or maternity leave. Some surveyors may be of the view that ‘always on’ is a way to gain competitive advantage. However, it can harm health and work quality, and if we don’t set boundaries in terms of our availability, clients may not see us as professional.
As we have discussed, technological advancements have had a dramatic impact on the way individuals communicate. The instant relationships formed due to the 24/7 accessibility of our mobile devices has the potential to negatively impact our interpersonal and face-to-face communication skills. The constant connectivity the mobile device has offered, its accessibility and its portability, have all played their part. Every day people are choosing to communicate with others via technology, and neglecting to engage personally. While it’s clear that our mobile devices are valuable tools for communication, they should be viewed as an enhancement of rather than a replacement for face-to-face interaction.
History has shown that the existence of new technologies does not necessarily mean they will be adopted across the board. However, with higher efficiency comes reduced cost and increased time savings, and it is highly likely that these technologies will become more widespread. They will be available to clients and their expectation will be that surveyors will be able to add value using the various tools. As the latest innovations change the way we work, it will become increasingly important to allow technology to do the heavy lifting, freeing us up in turn to give professional advice, identify risk and provide solutions. It is fitting that we conclude with a quote from the SCSI President Colin Bray during his address to the YSCSI Ball 2017: “We must be the doctors of technology and we can’t bury our heads in the sand”.
*This article arose from proposals by the Young Society of Chartered Surveyors Committee, and includes contributions from Catherine Connolly, Ciaran Gorham, Christine McGowan, Niamh Mooney, Margaret Nolan, and David Rowe.
Associate Director, BNP Paribas