Eight reasons why property and construction managers should invest in PropTech and IoT in 2019

by Melanie Basta
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Many have declared 2019 to be the year of IoT. CATHERINE CARUANA-McMANUS, director at Meshed IoT and board member at IoT Alliance Australia, explains why property and construction managers should invest in PropTech this year.

The PropTech sector is thriving, with the MetaProp Global PropTech Confidence Index indicating 96 percent of investors are planning to make either the same number or more PropTech investments in the next 12 months, a dramatic increase from the previous year’s 76 percent. It seems the property industry is ready to embrace new technologies that enhance financial return as well as improve customer, owner and resident experiences.

KPMG recently published its report based on the opinions of over 750 global leaders across corporate, government and community sectors as to the critical transformational impact that IoT (Internet of Things), AI (Artificial Intelligence) and robotics will have on the global economy as a whole. 

IoT topped the list, as 17 percent of respondents believe IoT will result in the greatest business transformation and 14 percent feel investment in IoT will drive the greatest benefits to society, life and the environment at large. 

1. Goodbye BIM, hello digital twins

With the recent launch of GE’s US$1.2 billion IoT Predix analytics and smart sensor business to a separate software company, industry pundits are now seeking ways in which the digital twin concept – which was successful in manufacturing and industrial automation – can revolutionise the building, infrastructure and property sectors.

The digital twin, a digital replica of a physical entity, serves as a real-time record system across the design, construct and maintenance of the building life cycle. It seeks to reduce labour costs, break down silos and increase daily operational efficiency of the asset. 

Digital twins operate as a Platform as a Service (PaaS) model, integrating elements across building automation, performance monitoring, water, smart grids, smart lighting, safety and security. Embedding IoT sensors into construction machinery and vehicles, and using predictive analytics provides conditional asset performance analytics and shifts from time-based to condition-based maintenance. 

2. Smart homes to smart workplaces

Notable fast risers in future co-workspaces, such as WeWork and Work inc, as well as the global green building movement, are accelerating the deployment of smart devices, applications and platforms focused on space optimisation, energy usage and customer experience. 

With the proliferation of cheaper IoT devices and new disruptive LPWAN (low-power wide-area network) connectivity networks such as LoRaWAN and The Things Network (global open source IoT network), building managers can start with sensing simple parameters of temperature, humidity and occupancy sensors to more sophisticated people-tracking, as well as smart grid and energy demand management applications.  

The smart workplace is a revolution in leveraging existing communication tools and collaboration applications such as SharePoint, Skype and Dropbox, which allow for seamless transition from the home office to the workplace. This is why facilities and real estate managers for major corporations are looking into IoT insights to understand how people interact so they can optimise space.

123rf’s Cathy Yeulet © 123rf.com

Today, property managers struggle to get a holistic view of their buildings’ performance across their property portfolios. In many cases, different proprietary BMSs (building management systems) are used, none of which are integrated. Forget trying to engage in a data sharing conversation with BMS vendors.

This is exactly where IoT, the cloud and AI come in. Together, they enable property managers to regain control of their buildings and shift from static assets to responsive environments that provide greater visibility and transparency on the ROI of investing in building and facilities management.  

This trend makes traditional BMS companies very nervous, however, as they won’t necessarily have free rein over building controls. This is one of the greatest opportunities in the property and facilities management sector – making more low cost, interoperable and open standard interfaces to building and facility management data. 

3. Smart places, precincts and airports will become the norm

Airports are already leaders in the adoption of leading technologies, however, who would have thought that the global smart bathrooms market, which is already estimated to be over US$1.2 billion, is being catapulted into its own growth segment? Take Atlanta Airport, which is using smart sensors with LED lights to inform patrons of toilet availability, while also monitoring everything from the wash down units to dryers and nappy waste. At Sydney Airport, Beacon technology is being trialled to support vision-impaired travellers with wayfinding and baggage collection. 

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4. Smart retail will push IoT to the edge

Smart retailing is big business for any stack of bricks and mortar. Smart tracking, product placement and people counting technology are fuelling investment in IoT, AI, closed-circuit television (CCTV) and augmented reality (AR). The falling costs of near-field communication (NFC), radio-frequency identification (RFID), beacons and IoT sensors are empowering property and facility managers to anticipate customer needs and reduce costs – no more wasted call-outs or unpleasant odours coming from overflowing waste bins!

Having real-time information on foot traffic is not just for major retailers. In Australia, many councils are now helping local traders with foot traffic data, mashing together insights derived from Wi-FiI, CCTV and LoRaWAN networks. Liverpool City Council in Sydney combined CCTV, image recognition and LoRaWAN technologies provided by the University of Wollongong and Meshed IoT to gauge where people are moving through and around the CBD and sharing the data with local businesses. 

5. Smart cities have come of age 

IoT communications are the underlying enabling communications infrastructures that enable smart cities to connect their assets, infrastructure, devices and people using cloud-based data platforms. With 5G on the horizon, as well as the significant push of IoT data networks such as LoRaWAN, NB (Narrowband)-IoT and Cat (Category)-M1, cities around the world are deploying scalable and reliable smart cities solutions such as lighting, parking, waste, environmental sensing, people counting and congestion management. 

There is great opportunity to bring citywide data down to the property and precinct level. This has been encapsulated by projects such as the TULIP Air Quality Monitoring Project, led by the University of Technology Sydney, which is using LoRaWAN and low-cost air quality sensors to build a street-by-street profile on urban heat, air quality and environmental performance. Property managers can use this data to more clearly define their own green building metrics as well as be part of an open and interoperable data-sharing model that is breaking down silos across the private and local government sectors. 

6. Verify transactions with blockchain

Embedding trust into property and construction transactions using distributed ledgers is powering investment outside of the cryptocurrency domain. Dubai is using blockchain for all property transactions and the City of Gold Coast has partnered with AWS to use blockchain for rate notices and management.

We are now also seeing the rise in decentralised Proof of Location (PoL) blockchain technologies, in an endeavour to restore the trust that has been eroded by GPS (global positioning system) spoofing attacks. Examples include Platin, which seeks to provide a fully distributed geo-location register that geo-locates digital and physical assets in real time, as well as the FOAM network, which uses radio beacons based on the IoT LoRaWAN connectivity protocol. PoL is critical in ensuring people know exactly where their assets are and who is the legitimate custodian of the asset. This is vital for property custodians, across governments, industry and the private sector. 

7. Future-proof construction

Ubiquitous connectivity, IoT sensors and LPWANs, automation, AR, VR (virtual reality), drones, AI and data analytics are the key elements for smart construction. Reliable equipment, efficient processes and safe workplaces are driving the adoption of IoT at the construction site. For the past three to five years we have seen many major construction and engineering firms, such as Laing O’Rourke, Aurecon and Arup, build their own digital engineering from the rise of BIM. With billions of dollars in public infrastructure spending, however, governments around the world are asking more of the industry to provide transparency in the construction process and minimise impact on communities. 

123rf’s Benjawan Sittidech © 123rf.com

The Victorian Government’s Level Crossing Removal Project is removing 50 road level rail crossings across the Melbourne metropolitan area to improve congestion and public safety. In doing so, the Land Crossing Removal Authority (LXRA) is funding an end-to-end IoT and analytics initiative, which will fully instrument 10 of the construction sites to report on safety, environmental monitoring and vehicle movements using GPS trackers. This innovative project in smart construction and future-proofing infrastructure brings together a leading consortium of Orange Business Services, GHD, Schneider/AVEVA and Meshed IoT.

8. PropTech start-ups – they just keep coming

2018 was a big year for PropTech investment, with JLL’s $100 million Spark Global Venture Fund and Colliers International Group’s PropTech Accelerator. Australian real estate giant Stockland launched its own accelerator program for PropTech companies with local accelerator, BlueChilli, offering $38,000 of upfront investment and potentially up to $500,000 in follow-on funding. 

Many PropTech start-ups will focus on BMS, real-time occupancy sensing, co-working, environmental monitoring, risk assessment, insurance and compliance. The opportunity now is to leverage these investments and make transformational change across the property and construction sectors. Governments also play a critical role in creating the right conditions and incentives to improve the productivity of our cities.

To hear more from Catherine Caruana-McManus, visit Total Facilities 2019 (ICC Darling Harbour, Sydney 20 and 21 March 2019), where she is talking on the subject of improving decision-making by integrating smart systems into the built environment.  

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