Embracing digital transformation is more important than ever – so how do we get it right?

By Ben Mein, CEO, HARNESS Property Intelligence

This isn’t exactly news, it must be said. Digital transformation has been our industry buzzword for some years now and a number of exciting products and solutions have come to the marketplace to help reduce reliance on repetitive labour-intensive human output. Take our PDF Extractor, for example, which can extract data from 1,200 PDF investment brochures – tenancy schedule tables included – in the time it takes an asset manager to do one.

But while the benefits of incorporating tech solutions to improve an organisation’s processes is becoming increasingly clear in these uncertain times, what’s less apparent is how to go about wholesale digital transformation. This particularly applies to data transformation; it’s widely accepted that this immensely valuable asset holds the key to competitive advantage, but for a business to actually leverage the data they need to not have to rely on manual processes to access and unlock it.

There have been a number of commercial endeavours from across the industry attempting to address specific pain points around CRE data. To truly outstrip competitors a business needs to fully harness its in-house data, from the capturing of it, through to the structuring and fusing of the data so that it can be analysed, and decisions can be made based on it.

I’ve seen many companies put sizeable time and resources behind in-house transformation programmes, but the problem with trying to deliver them internally is they’re complex, expensive, time-consuming, and in some cases even political. This is an issue for the industry as a whole. Normal business activity (BAU) will distract, derail and ultimately, obstruct, and escalating costs can cause even the most generous CFO to ask difficult questions part way through such programmes. It’s hard to admit at the outset that ultimately many of these programmes carry a high risk of failure.

The problem is compounded as the time spent on delivering these lengthy programmes means that less time can be spent on innovation, which slows the ability to adopt products and solutions that make political and economic crises all the less disruptive. This is time which could be spent helping to improve the efficiency of our industry, ultimately allowing technology to support the greater good.

Digital transformation and proptech more generally is still in its infancy, so understandably the value of delivering these advancements at scale isn’t widely acknowledged yet. As an industry that has traditionally been slow to adopt and embed technology, it’s important we learn from our counterparts in other fields which have undergone similar journeys. The AdTech industry has grown through innovation in product and digital transformation. That’s because of the contribution of organisations of all shapes and sizes, many of whom fulfil niche requirements that interlink within the ecosystem and crucially have been able to devote time and expertise towards developing a particular specialism, without BAU distractions.

Technology works best when it underpins an organisation’s operations as an enabler. Allow your property specialists to devote their time to the things they’re best at and allow time for “technology osmosis” to occur. Using technology and data third party experts prevents costly distractions and reduces risk of failure, so long as you pick the right partners.

There’s an enormous wealth of talent in the property industry and I firmly believe in letting the experts do what they’re best at. It’s time like these when that is more important than ever. For CRE companies that means devoting their time and energy to driving market growth and relationship management, and utilising tech and data to better support BAU activity.