From touchless technology to air quality monitoring, the global health crisis is accelerating adoption of proptech solutions that support health, comfort and wellbeing. Our experts outline the opportunities.
Before COVID-19 upended the world, Australian proptech investment was on track to reach $20 billion by the end of 2020.
Metaprop’s mid-year investor confidence index may be at a four-year low. But global investors and analysts agree that this is just a pause, and that the pandemic will fast-track the adoption of proptech.
Richard Fennell, JLL’s head of property management in Australia, says we are witnessing an “acceleration of existing trends”. The uptake of touchless technology, for example, has “gone from 60 kilometres an hour to freeway speed,” he says.
Fennell points to a “real shift in mindset” as people ask for assurance that the places they frequent – whether that’s the workplace or the mall – are clean, healthy and safe.
“We expect to see real growth in monitoring of air quality and levels of filtration. Some building owners are already showcasing their office building air quality and posting the data to show their customers that the air they breathe at the office is better than what they could get at home.”
Fennell says proptech that supports comfort and health will become a “real determinant of tenant retention and office occupancy levels”.
The same goes for the retail sector, Fennell says. Shopping centre owners are embracing sophisticated sensor technology, together with new digital communication tools, to give customers confidence that their centres are safe.
Australian tech company DIVVY, which started with an online booking system for car parking, has recently pivoted to develop a range of innovative property technology solutions. Among these is an online booking system for Woolworths, called Q-tracker, that allows shoppers to assess crowd capacity before making their way to their local store.
Anton Mills, DIVVY’s chief information officer, says the technology is “agnostic” and can help property companies of all sizes to “adapt to queuing and distancing measures throughout COVID-19”.
Doubling down on investment
“COVID-19 provides an opportunity to double down on proptech investment,” says Louise Monger, AMP Capital’s program director for technology and innovation in real estate.
She says the pandemic is “bringing forward everything that property owners have been planning for by five years”.
AMP Capital is rolling out a suite of smart building solutions at scale. There’s the mobile access project that has eliminated 5,000 swipe cards attached to waste compactors across AMP Capital’s entire shopping centre portfolio. Then there’s an AI-enabled autonomous HVAC system, Brainbox AI, that predicts the temperature in every HVAC zone of a building, up to six hours in advance and are able to autonomously adjust settings pre-emptively, saving up to 40 per cent on energy costs.
Monger says the real power behind AMP Capital’s proptech is integration.
“Our ambition is to have a national control centre where engineers can remotely access any asset and triage issues as they arise, and therefore enable facilities managers and operations teams to focus on our customers.
“I see incredible opportunities to drive efficiency across large portfolios using technology. There are still a lot of manual touch points in our buildings, but we can use data to drive actions and outcomes, rather than waiting for something bad to happen or for customers to complain before we fix it,” Monger explains.
Don’t risk digital decay
Honeywell Building Technologies’ general manager for Asia Pacific service, Wayne Kent, says the global health crisis has “shifted the attention from energy efficiency to technologies that keep the comfort and wellbeing of building occupants top of mind”.
“Building owners, operators and occupants are starting to see how a healthier building can provide a safer and more productive experience, while still meeting efficiency goals.
“We are seeing an increased interest in solutions to improve building air quality and safety and security solutions that help building owners to comply to new regulations. Integrated security systems can help track safety concerns and identify risky behaviours like not following social distancing and PPE recommendations, as well as support contact tracing efforts.”
Kent says there is not one solution that will keep every environment healthier and safer, “but a combination of solutions”.
When it comes to technology, the “new normal is constantly evolving,” Kent adds.
“It’s important that property owners continue to prepare and optimise their systems, or deploy new ones, to improve the building environment.”
AMP Capital’s Monger agrees.
“The uplift of technology in buildings requires continual investment. If you’re not doing this, you will end up with digital decay. Investing in technology is a bit like looking after your teeth – once they start to decay it is harder to get back on track. So, start investing now.”