We are pleased to be featured in the “Cambridge Land Society magazine 2021” discussing innovation, digitalisation and technology and touching on how we, at APAM, have embedded these core tools to ensure consistent collaboration and communication throughout the team in order to embrace the challenges ahead.
’Let’s go invent tomorrow instead of worrying about what happened yesterday”
— Steve Jobs
It is often thought that innovation is born out of uncertainty, and the past year’s pandemic has provided us with an abundance of uncertainty! At APAM we have kept a positive perspective over the last 18 months or so whilst we grew our business and employed an additional 16 members of the team. We also took the opportunity to review, strategise and innovate our business operational model. Embedded in this constant focus on the future rather than the past, we have begun to embrace the opportunities provided by innovative Proptech and identified key themes and trends that will enhance our data management, asset management and core processes within our client reporting needs. Proptech is a key component of our business model, and the pandemic has given us fresh legs in this so-called marathon of technology.
Do not worry, we are not about to ‘ditch’ our traditional office working model! As at the core, innovative solutions start by people coming together, sitting side by side to discuss a common need and produce ideas and solutions to improve efficiency. We recognise the importance of having a common, creative space to help facilitate these discussions. So, while many bunkered down over the pandemic and questioned the future of offices, our team scoured the market looking for a new office to house our growing London team. After a fantastic effort from our management and operations crew, we moved into our new London office in July 2021, at 84 Grosvenor Street in Mayfair.
Our office is a refurbished, Grade A space that provides many comforts of homeworking with the benefits of a modern office suite. We have implemented a hot desk system to encourage a more adaptive working environment and promote cross-team interactions. This also allows us to apply social distancing measures to ensure a safe environment against Covid-19. The space includes larger break-out areas and lounges, styled meeting rooms and zoom rooms. It also comes stocked with a celebratory drink area – celebrating those achievements that are worth celebrating, together as a team.
After c. 16 months of working remotely, we were keen to highlight the advantages of office working whilst remaining a hybrid office to allow for flexible working. – Georgia Duncan-Gill, APAM Operations Manager
To provide our clients with the level of service they have grown to expect from APAM, we not only need a common space to help drive innovation, but also the technological tools to execute. There is a real threat across the industry of utilising legacy solutions to solve modern problems. Technology can provide us with the ability to streamline processes, reduce costs and navigate through large data sets to abstract key information to make better business decisions. The pandemic has heightened awareness of the necessity for, and accelerated the inclusion of, technology into property markets.
There are plenty of Proptech examples that are beginning to be imbedded within the industry, such as digitalisation, smart contracts, fractional ownership and smart spaces. One that has been centre stage globally over the pandemic lies within the understanding of cryptocurrencies. The most well-known, Bitcoin, has exploded over the year, rising +800% over the pandemic reaching a top price near $60,000 (although it has since lost nearly half that value!). With the rise of fame, Bitcoin – or rather the blockchain mathematics behind it – gained increased interest from academics, businesses and entrepreneurs.
“Every informed person needs to know about Bitcoin because it might be one of the world’s most important developments.” — Leon Luow, Nobel Peace Prize nominee”
Bitcoin is viewed by many as just the beginning of the vast potential and utilisation of blockchain technology. Blockchain can provide the real estate sector with a powerful tool that can redefine traditional processes and provide smarter and faster solutions than traditional server-based databases. In its simplest terms, blockchain acts as a digital, decentralised ledger which can fundamentally replace historic paper trails of information. This framework provides the technology to, for example, streamline property transactions and deal settlements within a secure and transparent space. The cost-benefit of the technology is compelling. But this is not the only application – smart contract technology is also emerging where a blockchain could manage electronic loan agreements, reducing reporting requirements and time lags. The technological capabilities allow for the monitoring of a deal’s specific loan terms and conditions, notifying parties instantly if any loan covenant triggers are breached.
We have heard a lot about blockchain over the last few years, but alternative technology under the wider Distributed Ledger Technology (or DLT) umbrella also exist – such as IOTA Tangle and Hashgraph. While these do not get the same fanfare as blockchain, they can often perform the same functions but with added benefits of faster speeds, less energy consumption and increased security. It is important to note that these alternative technologies come with a host of teething problems and importantly regulatory compliance issues, but the ‘genie’ is now out of the ‘lamp’ and there is a technology solution catered towards many types of demands and regulatory needs, and the end benefits remain high.
Growing industry buzzwords such as digital asset marketplaces are also a great example of the use of new technologies. By using cloud-based advanced technologies, digital marketplaces provide a trading platform for retail traders to invest in illiquid assets such as fine art and real estate. These marketplaces create opportunities and benefits for both investors and asset owners. A good example is the emerging trading platform Mintus, the first alternative real asset marketplace in the UK and Europe. Mintus have developed their own proprietary cutting-edge technology to facilitate fractional ownership of prime commercial real estate. Their platform is considered highly agile, fully scalable, and features state-of-the-art security protocols. APAM founder Simon Cooke has joined their advisory board and is Chairman of their CRE investment committee.
Another example is PUPIL, who have developed technology to accurately measure, record and log property data digitising buildings. The pandemic forced the industry to adopt ‘virtual’ viewings and deliver ‘virtual’ marketing campaigns for our vacant buildings. The industry is professionalising the way we ‘reference’ real estate, and no longer will the ‘back of the envelope’ calculations of yesteryear stand up to scrutiny. Other examples include OnSiteIQ, which provides a platform for digitising and mapping construction sites, while Briq delivers a predictive analytics tool designed to test out the impact of changing variables in a construction project. Others such as Blyng aim to disrupt the property agency world by delivering instant accurate and personalised interactions with customers across multiple contact channels. The role of the traditional sales or leasing broker will become increasingly ‘automated’ as the technology is adopted, and the ludicrously out-of-date fee basis for broker and leasing services will be modernised to be aligned with the economic outcome of the transaction.
There is no doubt that the pandemic accelerated the use of technology within the real estate sector. These powerful tools have the capability of providing enhancements throughout the property industry, and you get the sense that the sector is beginning to embrace change having been a traditional ‘late adopter’ in comparison to the broader financial services world.
Data and data analysis are now critical components of cashflow modelling and forecasting business plans. APAM have focused on data management and ‘harvest’ vast amounts of occupier data through our day-to-day asset management of £2B of UK assets. Real time information is generated with each interaction with each of our 1,000 tenants. Each piece of information is analysed to create datasets to ensure that future business plans are robust and are embedded in real information rather than the traditional ‘anecdotal’ information of the real estate industry.
Continuous technology advances make it difficult to keep ahead of the curve. But we believe that combining smart asset management with vigorous data management technologies will ensure that we make better informed decisions for our investors. As real estate embraces tenant demand for more flexibility and the industry scrambles to meet ESG requirements, the use of raw data to ensure we are making informed decisions whilst maintaining efficiency will be critical to our future successes.
The past year has confirmed our belief in the importance of collaboration and for our team to be together under one roof in an environment that generates ideas and innovation. We embrace the challenges and opportunities that the technology ‘marathon’ brings. We would like to take this opportunity to open our (new office!) door and extend this discussion to other members of our community and anybody who has an innovative product or system that will create efficiency and accuracy in the future. We, at APAM, always have an open door for great ideas!
To read the full magazine, please click here.