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Technology in the Property Industry

Hogan Lovells hosted the Reading Real Estate Foundation Breakfast Forum (RREF*) on 17 November 2017.  This year’s topic was: Technology in the Property Industry and provided digital food for thought from three key areas.

David Sleath (CEO of SEGRO) described the ways in which technology has changed the warehousing sector.  This includes how warehouse design and operation has changed due to developments in robotics, for example Amazon’s use of “picking arms” to bring stock to warehouse workers rather than the other way around.  The growth in “digital” sheds and data centres is also an interesting impact of technology.  This isn’t surprising given that more digital data has been processed in the last 2 years than in the rest of history combined!

Looking to the future, could we soon see driverless electric lorries distributing products?  Or perhaps drones delivering to your desk?  Or will we need distribution at all if 3D printers can print anything you need?

David Atkins (CEO of Hammerson) focused on the use of technology in the retail sector, in particular shopping centres.  Hammerson are making use of Apps to improve consumers’ retail experience.  These Apps help consumers find products at, and obtain information about, the shopping centre.  Shoppers can photograph an item they like and the App will tell them where to get it.  Shoppers can also try on products without getting changed using their smart phones.  With the growth of internet shopping, it is increasingly important for the high street and shopping centres to offer customers an “experience” that they can’t get from a computer at home.

Patrick Nelson (Executive Vice President of WeWork) talked about the technology WeWork uses in its offices.  Desks are digitally personalised and automatically adjust to the user, so smart “hot desking”.  Apps also allow different businesses using the offices to interact and communicate easily, they can offer services to each other or collaborate in shared ventures. This creates a real business community.

WeWork also uses algorithms to analyse how their space is used and that enables them to improve it.  For example, cameras will spot if a sofa isn’t being used and WeWork  can then change its location or style so that it is.

One key (and comforting) theme to emerge from all the presenters was that technology isn’t necessarily intended to replace humans.  It should instead facilitate and enable work.

*RREF is a registered charity that provides support for real estate and planning education at the University of Reading.