The RICS Summit Series Americas 2018 – Houston, is held on January 30, 2018 at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Houston Branch. There are a host of speakers who are leaders in construction, real estate, banking, investment, and government; discussing topics ranging from design and software, to finance and economics, to property valuation and taxes. Throughout all the presentations, there is a looming theme: the impact emerging technologies have on the way employees do their job.

While new technologies like artificial intelligence and “big data” are a boon to the industry, how they unfold in the marketplace is yet to be seen. Granted, technology does eliminate repetitive tasks and does provide better data – facilitating quicker and informed decision making. Conversely, experts are cautious about letting the proverbial “genie” out of the bottle.

Robocolypse?” suggests Tom Siems, Associate Vice President and Senior Economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Technology increases transparency, and is a hedge against industry price inflation in response to expense increases. “Businesses have to be more efficient,” adds Siems: “It’s the Uberization – Amazon Effect – of the economy.”

The guest speakers on the PropTech (property technology) forum have a rosy outlook on their technologies and the industrial impact. Technology provides more data for the management of construction job sites, leasing, and facility management. Connell McGill, CEO at Enertiv noted that the industry is ripe for modernization. “Building maintenance is done on clipboards – if preventative maintenance is done at all. Tons of energy is wasted with little known about where it is going. We are cracking this info wide open, and putting onsite managers in control; thus, providing greater transparency”, McGill concludes. New technologies predict a breakdown before it happens – allowing a manager to schedule maintenance on an elevator, for example, before anyone gets stuck inside it.

PropTech is currently a fragmented industry, noted Zak Schwarzman, Partner at MetaProp. He suggests the next frontier is the unification of tech solutions. It involves “fusing what began as narrow solutions into broader solutions through mergers and acquisitions. The goal is getting folks together, to work together.”

The construction industry is set for a transformation through technology, such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, that allow managers to keep an eye on the construction site without stepping foot on it. James Arrow, RICS Fellow, Lead Associate with Booz Allen Hamilton suggests that the economy is on the cusp of a fourth industrial revolution. He asks, “How will artificial intellegence impact surveyors? Profoundly. My tools, when I started, included a calculator and a pencil. I can now do in an hour what took me a week to do.”

New technology comes with a reduction of labour, as routine tasks are automated. How this impacts the workforce, however, is a topic of contention. On the one hand, efficient use of time results in a better work/life balance for employees – an attractive benefit to entice the next generation of employees. On the other hand, automating daily tasks will displace workers, reducing the number of workers a job site requires. “This is okay because we are often having trouble filling those jobs,” noted Allan Banks, RICS Fellow, from the Rhodes Group.

Displaced workers are required to adapt to a changing profession. Industry leaders must encourage employees to be lifelong learners; who retool and retrain throughout their careers, and keep their skill sets up to date. As workers are replaced with technology, it is important for industry leaders to accurately predict which jobs are most impacted and strategically redeploy employees to where they are needed.

Bunmi Osazuwa, MRICS member, Senior Cost Manager for CBRE, sees technology as offering opportunities for skilled labourers; if they’re willing to keep ahead of trends. “As a skilled labourer, you will need to learn something else. Once you have been trained in a trade, it’s easy to transition and adapt. As long as the construction industry is prepared to adapt, we will get there. Productivity will be improved by technology and it will work for us”, Osazuwa points out.

Regardless of the disruption that technology brings to the job market, one thing emerges as certain: automation, big data, and even artificial intelligence, will not replace the judgment of an experienced professional. Technology, even the most advanced, will need to be monitored to ensure tasks are completed as designed.

In conclusion, Peter Smith, FRICS member and RICS Americas Chair, sums it up well: “Does this pass the smell test? As surveyors, we need to offer our help in making projects more viable.”

Don’t miss your opportunity to participate in the conversation. The RICS Summit of the Americas 2018 makes seven stops – join us in a city near you.

The World Built Environment Forum will be held in London on April 24, where we will consider these regional topics on a global scale, while we celebrate RICS 150. We hope to see you there!

Amie Silverwood
RICS, Toronto, Canada


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