“Hack or be hacked.” That’s the message from the Smart Cities Council’s Adam Beck, who says the property sector can either embrace technological disruption, or sit back and wait for ‘Uberfication’ to take hold.
‘Smart cities’, Beck says, harness three key components: technology, data and intelligent design.
“Uber is a good application of the smart cities philosophy. It’s a piece of technology – your smart phone – crunching and analysing data, and then using an intelligent interface to help people move around a city.”
Beck, who is the executive director of the new Smart Cities Council in Australia and New Zealand, says our property industry has undoubtedly embraced some critical aspects of the smart cities approach, notably around energy efficiency and performance management, materials innovation, and building information modeling.
“We are seeing a lot of work around the edges, with more efficient design of buildings, sensors, activity-based working and tenant engagement, for example. And there are definitely technology solutions that have enabled us to live and work smarter.”
But are we prepared for a total re-imagination of the property industry’s DNA?
“If you look at the typical innovation cycle in the automotive industry, for example, airbags and cruise control generally took 20 years to become ubiquitous. But overlay that 20-year cycle with climate change, housing affordability and traffic congestion – and it’s clear we have a time imperative that makes a 20-year timeline to build better cities and recycle our existing ones unsustainable.”
Embracing smart cities thinking can help us put our foot on the accelerator, Beck says, and points to the rapid automation of classic planning activities as an example of where the industry is heading.
“We have the technology now to launch Google maps on a web browser, and with a plug-in, select a neighbourhood, click a few boxes and two minutes later receive a rapid energy model. This once cost $70,000 and took consultants months to do.”
Beck thinks the idea of “mobility as a service” and the introduction of autonomous and connected vehicles may be the game changer. However, the timing is the big unknown.
“Car parking has consumed large tracts of prime real estate, and autonomous and connected vehicles could unlock that real estate for more productive, valuable, and sustainable purposes. This will be the biggest opportunity for the property sector, I believe, over the next 30 years.”
We don’t know when driverless cars will hit the road in Australia, he says, “but we know they will come. The question is how the property industry prepares for them.”
A range of smart cities ‘verticals’ are embracing innovation, Beck says, including finance and payment systems, health care, water, telecommunications, safety and energy.
“The intersection of the smart cities movement with the property sector is very big sweet spot,” he says.
“Other sectors and professions are mobilising their members to plan for and embrace smart cities – the planners, engineers and economists.”
The national Smart Cities Plan also promises to “kick start a new way to leverage sustainable outcomes”, one tied to the “performance-based platform of City Deals.
“There is no other option than to get smarter by embracing technology and data.
“I’d love to hand over the property sector to a hackathon one weekend and see what a bunch of 20 somethings could do with it in 72 hours to help us disrupt some business-as-usual thinking.”