On the right path: LREF discusses the power of mapping

Posted on 25 June 2019 by Emily Wright, Estates Gazette

On the right path:
LREF discusses the power of mapping

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

This is Emily Wright, Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects at EG and here we are on day two of LREF and it’s a lovely environment to be in despite the rain, um it is a little bit noisy out there which is good because it means that people are chatting and networking, it does make it slightly challenging for this podcast but I am here with three seasoned professionals and all of whom have been on the podcast before and I know will be able to make it work and er do the best with what we’ve got so um, I am going to welcome our podcast guests: Susan Freeman, Partner at Mishcon de Reya; Dan Hughes, Founder of Alpha Property Insight; and Andy Pyle, Head of UK Real Estate at KPMG UK. Thank you all so much for joining me here today, it’s an exciting one, we are talking about mapping.  This is something that we’ve been looking into a lot at EG recently, it’s the theme of our last EG Tech Magazine. Er we are looking a mapping in terms of sort of explicitely mapping and um location apps but then also looking at what it means in a wider context in terms of data and the fact that basically everything, when you look at it really, is about a map. So, Susan, I’m going to start with you. Um, how would you define mapping technology? I know that Mishcon have been working quite a lot with the Land Registry and sort of bringing together various elements to get more involved this um side of the er industry. 

 

Susan Freeman
Partner, Mishcon de Reya
I think um put at its most basic, it’s just the process by which data is compiled and formatted into some sort of virtual image. Um I think that’s er I think that's about it in my view. 

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG
Thank you very much and Dan? 

 

Dan Hughes
Founder of Alpha Property Insight
Good Morning. Um so, I think the thing about the real estate is, it’s more than any other it’s a real estate, is a location business and location is the most important factor for all sorts of things and so location data as things become more technological becomes more and more important and mapping is really just a visual, er a visual interface for humans to understand that location data so, mapping really is just a visual interpretation of location data and that location data can be used more and more in a computer as the computers get more powerful or it can be interpreted by human er from a map.

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG
Thank you very much and Andy? 

 

Andy Pyle
Head of UK Real Estate at KPMG UK
Well I mean I- just to probably add to what Susan and Dan have said, I think there’s for me a lot of this is about how people interact with the built environment and so, I think what mapping technology can actually do is give us a much better sense of how individuals are moving around at the locations that they’re in and therefore, as Dan said, you know real estate is all about location and so mapping technology at its essence is actually giving us more insight into location and what that means for the sorts of buildings and built environment we actually need so it’s incredibly powerful.  

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

Mmm. I mean one thing that I wanted to touch on just before we get into um whether there is enough understanding of mapping and how we should use it, um is that we recently interviewed Ed Parsons of Google Maps who was of formerly Ordnance Survey, who made the point that, you know, the mapping apps and the platforms that we carry around on our phones effectively make everybody a surveyor really and everybody is, you know, feeding information into this sort of huge, worldwide, collection of data which is effectively one huge mapping platform. Um so, there’s something quite familiar about mapping for everybody and it’s something that we all do, we check Google Maps, we might check City Map or whatever it is. Do you think that that makes it a bit more easy for people to get their heads around, you know, a lot of technology is sort of shrouded in mystery and um mapping is something that we are all quite familiar with and actually I think a lot of people are quite sort of intrigued by it. Susan, there was a question in there somewhere, I don’t know if you want to try and find it using your mapping skills? 

 

Susan Freeman
Partner, Mishcon de Reya
Yeah, no I think that was um, I think that was a very good um question and I’m not sure um how clear people are that they are um being used to provide all this er information so um you take for instance Waze which, you know is a traffic app that a lot of use driving round cities and I think a lot of people are a bit unsure about the idea that they, you know, they are giving away data, albeit anonymised and I think that, you know, there’s going to be a bit of a pushback concern about, you know, data, data privacy and that sort of thing so I think people don’t necessarily know, they turn their phones and use an app, they are providing useful information but they don’t necessarily know that they are.    

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG
So Dan, this is a perfect point for you to come in and comment here because this is where data and mapping collide which must be, you know, wonderful news for you – your two favourite subjects. 

 

Dan Hughes
Founder of Alpha Property Insight
I know, I get very excited. That’s not a good thing is it?  [Emily laughs] So, I think there are two points, I think building on what Susan said is, er she’s absolutely right that people giving away data is er I think great, as long as people know that they are giving away data and I think the problem is when people don’t know that they are giving it away. So, Google Maps, for example, is an incredibly expensive project but doesn’t cost anything for most people for consumers to use and the way that you pay for that really is through the data that you provide in doing things and as long as people understand that, I think that’s fine.  I think your other question was around um data, sorry mapping, and people engaging with that and a map is something that we’ve had for years and decades and centuries, and they’ve just been around for so long that it’s just a very easy interface for people to get an awful lot of information in a pretty straight forward diagram. So, even if you look at the most basic sense of property if you have a list of fifty assets you could put it into a spreadsheet. It’s very difficult to get a feel for where they are and what they are doing.  Put those dots on a map which is about as simplistic as you can get and it still gives you a really good flavour of what’s happening and it can tell you an awful lot about it, about where they are and how they are clustered and what the risks are and so on. 

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG
Thank you very much and um Andy, similar question to you but from your perspective in your area of expertise, how do you view these mapping technologies and the way that we use to track data in terms of the wider proptech or tech er market at the moment?

 

Andy Pyle
Head of UK Real Estate at KPMG UK

Well I think the points, there’s a big point and a big question around the whole ethics and informed consent piece around what er consumers, are they aware of what’s happening to their data, you know, one of the phrases I really like is actually, you know, you’re not the customer, you're the product because actually in many cases individual’s data aggregated and hopefully anonymised, is actually something which, you know, the companies want to do and they do a whole bunch of things with it. So, there’s definitely and ethics piece around this. Um, I think that maps are incredibly, because they have been around for hundreds of years as Dan said, they are incredibly intuitive at a basic use case level for everybody to understand because, as you say, we use this every day just going about our daily business. I think the interesting thing for me where some more interesting, some newer proptech companies are coming in, is in more sophisticated use cases So, you know, VU.CITY have got a stand here at LREF, you know, a great way of visualising the 3D image of a city that will have, and is having, a big impact on the planning process.  You’ve got other applications like what3words which is effectively giving an address to every single square metre of the planet and of course, you know, from a social inclusion perspective which is increasingly important in developing countries, you know, actually people not having an address and not being able to define, you know, where they live and potentially property rights, you know, this is potentially enormous and it just goes to show, you know, in those two very different more advanced use cases as it were the power that mapping technologies can actually have on everyday lives of individuals around the world. 

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

Mmm. I think that what we’ve touched on there, which is great because it’s where I want to take the conversation anyway so thank you very much, is that we’ve gone from talking about mapping apps and location tools to what the bigger issue is really which is the way that this feeds into everything really, it feeds into er you know, socio-economic issues, it feeds into the way that we live, work and play and I think that’s the bigger point that would be really good to discuss and on that note, and I’ll come back to you Dan, if that’s okay. Do you think that the real estate sector is properly harnessing um mapping and data and location and everything that it can do to the best of its ability at the moment? 


 

Dan Hughes

Founder of Alpha Property Insight

No…Would you like me to expand on that?

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG
I would love that.

 

Dan Hughes
Founder of Alpha Property Insight
I think the answer is that real estate hasn’t been that good at capturing data and when we do capture it, it tends to be on a personal basis so, if you take an example of a building being sold and you look at addressing data, we will write down what we personally think of as that building so, it could be the big, red, shiny building on the corner. Now, capturing that as an address actually, for me if I know that that means, is perfect. The problem is that that I share that to everyone else around the table and as soon as you start sharing it, we all have different interpretations so it doesn’t mean anything. So, real estate does capture data but we capture it very much on a human individual basis as opposed to a systemic er national basis. So, so er addressing is a very simple example but you need to start thinking about how we can capture stuff on a national, consistent, standardised way which then allows other people to use it and other computers to use it. So, we do capture data, I think we capture more data than people give us credit for but we don’t capture it in the right way for it then to be used across lots of other things...

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

Mmm.

 

Dan Hughes
Founder of Alpha Property Insight
...And if you look at er location data, it’s all about a computer understanding different location data sets and tying those together. So, very few data sets are not geospatially linked in some shape or form so, actually once you’ve got that infrastructure you can compare and contrast all sorts of data sets and it doesn’t actually have to be a map so just as a very simple example, I came here this morning and I used Google Maps but all I did was put the location in then I listened on my headphones to the directions so I didn’t look a map once and it’s that location data that you need to be able to interpret that, even though there is no visual. So, for real estate, we do capture data but we’ve got to be much more consistent and standardised about it. 

 

Dan Hughes
Founder of Alpha Property Insight
And if you look at er location data, it’s all about a computer understanding different location data sets and tying those together. So, very few data sets are not geospatially linked in some shape or form so, actually once you’ve got that infrastructure you can compare and contrast all sorts of data sets and it doesn’t actually have to be a map so just as a very simple example, I came here this morning and I used Google Maps but all I did was put the location in then I listened on my headphones to the directions so I didn’t look a map once and it’s that location data that you need to be able to interpret that, even though there is no visual. So, for real estate, we do capture data but we’ve got to be much more consistent and standardised about it. 

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG
Mmm. Um and a similar question to you, Susan. I am interested to know, what Dan just mentioned there is really interesting about, you know, it’s not, it doesn’t always have to be a map, it’s just the location data and how that’s presented. Do you think there are opportunities there for the real estate sector to sort of look a bit more laterally at this? 

 

Susan Freeman
Partner, Mishcon de Reya
I think, I think it’s actually wider because we talk about real estate, real estate sector, but actually this is all about the built environment and smart cities and for smart cities to work um it’s got to have, we’ve got to have this mapping technology, I think, embedded in all city function so, you know, we talk a lot about autonomous vehicles and um, you know, they are not going to be able to work unless we’ve got all this, you know, technology er mapped and everything is going to have to link into um these system so any concerns that people have about sharing data, I think they are going to have to er you know get used to that because that’s how cities in the future are going to work and the real estate sector is obviously sort of very much an integral part of, you know, smart cities of the future so, I mean it is so exciting, I mean Andy mentioned VU.CITY and um you know, in a relatively short space of time um you know that product has just, you know, become, you know, very different from how it was at the outset and I was just talking to them a few minutes ago and they said that 21 of the London Local Authorities are now using VU.CITY as part of the planning process and um I am sure it’s only a matter of time before, you know, the others get on board as well and, you know, the functions, the functionality there, has just completely revolutionised the planning process so, I think there are huge opportunities. 

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG
Andy, you look like you have something to say in response there. 

 

Andy Pyle
Head of UK Real Estate at KPMG UK
Err, no, just a couple of things, um I think, planning is one of the largest but often hidden costs that the real estate industry has, we talk a lot about where are the pain points.  When you have a situation where it can take you five/six years from acquiring an interest in a site to actually having something physically built and occupied and producing income, even if the original acquisition cost is is not that high relative to the finished value of the building, it is still a massive inefficiency and so the ability for technology mapping and otherwise to improve the process of securing planning consent is is er is absolutely enormous and and I think Susan also made a great point around smart cities and and actually her- what she said and what Dan said is exactly right, that if you are going to have smart cities and lots and lots of different technologies being able to interact with each other, you know, consistency and um standardisation in terms of data and mapping technologies is going to be absolutely critical and the biggest thing for me is though it’s not just about capturing data, it’s what you do with it because, you know, data’s fine but you have to turn it into insight which is really, for me, is something which is a non-obvious piece of information that you get from analysing the data and then you have to do something with that and start making decisions and if you look at some of the smartest apps that are there at the moment, that’s what they are already doing. You know, the Citymapper live feed that tells you re-route because actually there’s a problem on this particular tube line…

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG
Mmm.

 

Andy Pyle
Head of UK Real Estate at KPMG UK
…or there’s a traffic jam here is, they are using, you know, millions of data points that they are capturing all of the time, feeds from different systems to tell me as a user that I should do something differently to make my journey more efficient. That’s the sort of level that and the challenge for the real estate industry is to be able to work in, you know, in a way like that. 

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG
Dan how far off do you think we are from that? Maybe some people are there already, you know in terms of reacting and analysing data rather than just harvesting it?

 

Dan Hughes
Founder of Alpha Property Insight
I think that in real estate we analyse data, and have done for many years in a lot of way, often it’s done in people’s brains so in real estate there are some really clever people and brains are the most powerful computers so we use lots of data and insight to make decisions. The thing that’s happening at the moment is it’s starting to move into the computer and as it moves into a computer, sometimes the human is better and sometimes a computer is better and I think there are point examples where it has been put into a technology solution and it’s been done very well, Andy has just mentioned some of those.  I think one of the big things that’s happened recently is it has become much more open to people with no training to do it so, GIS or geospatial analysis has been something that’s been around for many years, it’s not a new thing, but it’s now becoming much easier for people to do because the experience is being er improved all the time so it’s something you can quite easily engage with. So, I think there are, I mean, data analysis is something that we’ve done for many years in this sector, it’s becoming more and more technological and I think people are starting to engage with it more all over the place. 

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG
There are a couple of points that, one that you made Andy and one that you just made Dan that got a round of applause, I am not sure whether it was directly linked but I’d take it if I were you. [Emily laughs]. Um the other thing that I wanted to talk about was um alternative data and alternative data sources and whether or not the real estate sector or, as Susan pointed out it goes wider than that, and just, you know, looking at, you know, the world as a whole and smart cities, whether or not there is enough of a focus on using that alternative data and when I say that I am, you know, talking about, you know, footfall and transport um usage and where people are Tweeting and what they are Tweeting about and could that mean that there is an opportunity to put a development here to respond to X, Y and Z.  Um so, it’s real life data, coming from people or systems that may be, traditionally, hasn’t always been integrated into development. Susan, again, you know, congratulations if you can find the question in there but I am just interested to know whether the sector is using that as much as it should be?

 

Susan Freeman
Partner, Mishcon de Reya
I think the answer is probably, probably no but there is huge potential because those sources that you mentioned are, you know, sources of information about how people are living their lives, you know the pattern of, you know, where they buy things, you know, where they go and er I mean, I think retail is probably a good sector to look at because if you are thinking about where to open, you know, um, a store, you really want to know, you know, what people are thinking about, you know, what’s going to drag them away from their computer screen to actually, you know, come to your store and um I think that there’s a lot more that can be done in relation, you know, to shopping malls for instance but it actually requires collaboration between the people that own the shopping centres and the people that are running the shops in those centres and the the customer and I think there’s still a little bit of reticence about sharing, you know, sharing data but I think um, you know, with collaboration and people being comfortable with um the sources that you mention, I mean, I think footfall is, you know, something that is being used quite a lot now and it’s essential because otherwise, you know, what are you basing your evidence on, you know, you’re opening a shop somewhere, you can’t do it just on the basis of you think it would be nice to open a shop there, it’s got to be based on um you know, clear evidence, I think there’s sort of exciting opportunities but we’re probably just in the foothills at the moment. 

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG
And Dan, you look like you had a point to make?

 

Dan Hughes
Founder of Alpha Property Insight
Yes, I agree with that completely and I think retail is a really interesting one so, I do think real estate typically is behind with using a lot of these data sets but I also think there is a really good reason for that which is that the business case, if someone signs a twenty year lease then actually you don’t need to know what’s going to happen tomorrow specifically because you can’t do anything about it, and if you look at retail then as soon as people don’t go into a shop, they are not buying stuff so it effects revenue, whereas if you signed a twenty year lease on an office then that’s much longer period to to get the comeback. So, using those data sets isn’t so valuable but what we are seeing recently is leases come down, in particular with things like co-working, all of a sudden it’s becoming about much more about experience, it’s about how you serve the customer and that trend means that we need to look at many, many more data sets. So, I think real estate has been a bit behind but actually for good reason and it’s now starting to pick up and catch up with that. 

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG
Thank you. Andy?

 

Andy Pyle
Head of UK Real Estate at KPMG UK
Well, a couple of points for me. So, firstly I suppose we’ve, you know, yesterday we had the announcement that the Arcadia CVA had actually passed um so I think increasingly property is becoming um operational and actually even if there is a ten or fifteen year lease in place, you know, things can happen. One chief executive of a, of a large property company, you know, said to me quite some time ago, you know, when we, when we get into a lease arrangement with a retailer, we actually have the mindset that we are taking operational risk alongside the retailer, one way or another. So, so, I think inevitably that will require more use of data. I think what, what’s happened to date is, people do track things like footfall but I think people have been relatively limited in terms of the sort of data sets that they’ve tried to work with. Now, if you, you know, where the retailers are going and other businesses is, they’re trying to combine, you know, anonymised um geospatial data like from mobile phone signals, um they are looking at combining that with some of 
the er demographic profiling data that you can get around where consumers are actually spending their money and the profile, the postcodes that they are living in and the postcodes that they are visiting and they are trying to produce a much, much richer um sort of tapestry of different data sets that you can then look to correlate and do some sophisticated analysis with. To just give you much more insight in terms of who’s coming to your place from where, what is their profile, to let them then make a decision around is this the right location for a store and actually what should the product mix be in that store based on the sort of people that are actually visiting it because, again, we’ve seen with some retailers there are, you know, if you tweak the product mix, you can actually make a really, really material difference to how well that store trades and ultimately, I would say the real estate industry needs its customers to be successful in the space that they occupy because it’s only through that way um will the industry actually thrive so what the industry should be doing is also working with these rich data sets so that then they can actually more proactively seek the right sort of retailers to be in their shopping centres or or or other facilities. 

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG
Thank you very much. We’ve got about five minutes left and one of the things that I wanted to ask was whether there are any sectors that have successfully used mapping technology to innovate that real estate can learn from. Um, I don’t know who to start with on this one?  Dan. 

 

Dan Hughes
Founder of Alpha Property Insight
I think it’s come up a couple of times, retail tends to be quite good and I think just to follow on from what Andy was saying is absolutely right that that what becomes really powerful is not so much the data that you collect so, having footfall is of some use but when you start combining that with several other data sets, that becomes really quite insightful so you can start really making um some really good insights from that and I think real estate, as Andy says, needs to work much closer with the occupiers to make sure that we are using the same type of things because ultimately we’ve got the same questions and the same problems. I think also financial services can be quite good at this as well, especially when you look at things like insurance, so the understanding across a national level about buildings um can be very impressive and I think they use often a lot of data sets to make informed decisions or to reduce the amount of time that you need to spend putting in information like building. 

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG
Thank you very much. Susan, same question to you?

 

Susan Freeman
Partner, Mishcon de Reya
Yes, I mean, I think in every area, people are having to get sort of smarter about they do business and, you know, to get rid of the obstacles that slow things down. I mean, Andy talked about um you know, talked about planning and certainly, you know, in legal services, we are now using all sorts of artificial intelligence and different platforms to speed up how we do due diligence so um you know, we’ve got Orbital Witness who are space scientists and use satellite imagery and we are, you know, we are using that now in our due diligence process which really speeds up, you know, transactions so um you know, we talk about, you know, planning but this also you know, the speed with which one is able to transact so um you know, I just think the change at the moment is so exponential that er you know, it’s very difficult to foresee how far forward we will have moved in say, you know, this time next year but, I mean, just in practical terms, you know um we are all using this data to get round, you know, London, you know, for instance and it’s actually not very practical, everybody’s looking at their phones the whole the time so I think, you know, one thing which we’ll probably see more about is wearables and actually 
get back to, you know, the idea of smart glasses so that you actually can see all this data without, you know, if you are driving, taking your, you know, eye off the road and if you are walking along, you know, be able to walk along without looking at the telephone the whole time. 

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG
Thank you very. And the same question to you Andy? 

 

Andy Pyle
Head of UK Real Estate at KPMG UK
I think most of the examples for me come from the sectors that are interfacing with individuals, you know, on a regular basis so, if you, if you look at retail, financial services, some of the individual mobility and transport sectors, you know, people are actually trying to use data in a more systematic way. Er I think, and then as real estate becomes much more a consumer facing industry and looking at the needs of individual users, I think er that will only sort of serve to increase. The other thing which I think you have to do though in order to capture more data is just to be prepared to experiment more often and if you look at, you know, something like Amazon, you know, what do they do really, really well?  Well, they do lots of things but one of the things is they run a phenomenal number of experiments a year where they just change, you know, change one thing in a particular area and then look at what happens and then if works, you then move into rolling it out and so the other challenge for the real estate industry is going to be working out how does the industry experiment a little bit more um you know, at a scale that is actually manageable and that people think is sensible in terms of risk but, you know, I think whether that’s using particular or trialling certain types of apps in individual buildings in your portfolio or um other sorts of ideas, you know, or trialling different business models, again, in certain parts of your portfolio that sort of culture of experimentation and innovation is something which the industry, I would say, has historically not done. That 
will give you more data and then you can actually start making really well-informed decisions rather than actually, you know, the gut feel and judgement where we’ve been so far. 

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG
We have just one minute left and I’m going to spring a question on everybody which I feel a bit bad about but it’s not a mean question so, from doing the mapping issue of EG tech I’ve been talking to people, what I’ve realised is that a huge proportion of people really love maps – I am one of those people. So, I just wanted to go round the table and - this is the geekiest question I have ever asked - find out what out what everybody’s favourite map is and I will start to give everybody a bit of a chance to think about it. I have a map at home which is a map of the shipping forecast regions and I love it because I used to love listening to the shipping forecast which is probably the second geekiest thing I have ever said, certainly on a podcast. So, that’s mine. A map of the shipping forecast. Susan, what’s your favourite map?

 

Susan Freeman
Partner, Mishcon de Reya
Well, I have to admit my very favourite map, actually, if we are talking about digital mapping, is Waze. Now, I used to be able to drive round London very happily on my own without Waze map to tell me, but now I actually, as soon as I turn on the engine, I turn on Waze and then it’s a race to actually see whether my route is going to be any quicker but I absolutely, you know, I am a real fan of Waze. 

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG
Thank you very much. Dan, what’s your favourite map?

 

Dan Hughes
Founder of Alpha Property Insight
It is a geeky question. I am inclined to give a geeky answer and say it’s not so much about the maps, it’s about the location and data underneath but I think if there is a map specifically, I’d say the Underground’s, the Tube map. And I think one of the reasons is that the skill of a map is actually making sure that it’s got stuff on that’s relevant but nothing more and I think that the Tube map does that brilliantly so, it’s not true to anything else but it gets the message across perfectly. 

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG
Thank you and, Andy finally, what’s your favourite map?

 

Andy Pyle
Head of UK Real Estate at KPMG UK
I might have gone for the Tube map as well, it doesn’t work so well if you are colour blind, of course, but there we go. We’ve, I mean, we’ve got a map at home which is sort of, you know, a couple of hundred years old, the village in which we live is right at the middle of it and you can just see how different the world actually was so um I really like looking actually at older maps er and, but yeah, that would probably be my favourite because it’s personal. 

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG
Excellent.  Thank you very much, well, that’s one of my favourite ways to end a podcast ever – err ‘Waze’ – one of my favourite ways to end a podcast ever. Lovely to hear about fellow map lovers and if anyone is still listening to this, I am sure you feel like you’ve found out a lot more about me, Susan, Dan and Andy than you knew before. Thank you very much for joining me. 

 

 

 

We all lose our way sometimes. Particularly when it comes to innovation and trailblazing. When you are forging a new, potentially uncharted path, a little bit of guidance to point you in the right direction can be invaluable.

Good news, then, that talk in real estate is increasingly turning to the power, and value, of location tools. From navigating the inevitable twists and turns along the road to digital transformation to the geospatial technologies elevating the real estate sector to new heights, both in terms of tech solutions and data collection/analysis, everything we do in life is, for all intents and purposes, based on a map.

The power of mapping, geospatial data and location services was the subject of one of our EG podcasts at LREF last week – that and confessions around the table of a nerdy yet universal love of all things cartographical.

The panel

First up, our experts made it clear that mapping comes down to more than just location, location, location. “Mapping is the process by which data is compiled and formatted into some sort of visual image,” said Mishcon de Reya partner Susan Freeman on the subject of “what is mapping” – a point quickly picked up by tech expert and former Ordnance Survey land and property sector manager Dan Hughes. “Real estate – almost more than any other industry – is a location business,” he said. “And as the sector becomes more technical, location data becomes more important. Mapping is really just a visual interface for humans to understand that location data. It is an interpretation of location data.”

Making the most of maps

Andy Pyle, Head of UK Real Estate at KPMG, added that the conversation needs to go beyond how mapping data can be defined within real estate to address how it can be harnessed and utilised: “Mapping technology can give us a much better sense of how individuals are moving around,” he said. “At its essence, it is actually giving us more insight into location and what that means for the sorts of buildings and built environment we actually need. It’s incredibly powerful.”

Could some of that power be driven by the fact that, as a widely accepted and ancient practice, following a map is also familiar and intuitive? “Maps have been around for hundreds of years,” added Pyle. “They’re incredibly intuitive at a basic use-case level for everybody to understand. The interesting thing will be to see some of the more sophisticated uses, whether that’s the way 3D visualising of cities is impacting the planning process or how applications like What3Words – which effectively gives an address to every square metre of the planet – can help people define where they live and what their property rights are.”

However, added Mischon’s Freeman, for all the positive power of maps, there is no getting away from the issue of data and, more specifically, privacy. “Mapping tools are great because they are powered using all of this data and information that people provide,” she said. “But a lot of people are unsure about the idea that they are giving away data as they move around, and there is going to be a bit of a pushback concern about data privacy. I don’t think people necessarily know that when they turn their phones on and use things like mapping and traffic apps that they are providing information and data themselves.”

“People are giving away their data,” said Hughes. “But I think that’s great as long as they are aware they are doing so. If you think about it, Google Maps is an incredibly expensive project that people can use free of charge. The reason for this is that we all pay through the data we provide and give back to the platform. That makes sense to me, and I think as long as people understand that’s the model, then that’s fine.”

It’s time to go nationwide

As for whether mapping data and location tools are being properly and effectively harnessed by the real estate sector, Hughes is quick to say no – mainly because the industry doesn’t make the information it has access to work hard enough once it has been collected. “Let’s take an example of a building being sold,” he said. “When we look at addressing data, we will write down what we personally think of as that building. So, it could be that I describe it as ‘the big red shiny building on the corner’. The problem is that when I show that to everyone else around the table, they might not get it because we all have different interpretations, so suddenly my description doesn’t mean anything.

“Real estate captures data, but very much on a human individual basis, as opposed to a systemic national basis,” he added. “Addressing is a very simple example, but we need to start thinking about how we can capture information in a national, standardised way. Very few data sets are not geospatially linked in some shape or form, and we need to be much more standardised in the way we capture information to make sure it can be properly used and analysed.”

And this sort of standardised approach to data collection is exactly what real estate needs to embrace on a wider, city-development scale, added Pyle: “Think about smart cities, where you will have lots and lots of different technologies being able to interact with each other. Mapping technologies will be absolutely critical here, and will need to be standardised to work across entire cities.

“On top of that, the biggest thing for me is not just about capturing data. It’s about what you do with it afterwards. You have to turn it into insight, which is a non-obvious piece of information you get from analysing the data. And then you have to do something with that which informs decisions.

“If you look at some of the smartest apps, that’s what they’re already doing. The CityMapper live feed tells you to reroute because there is a problem with the usual railway line or that there is a traffic jam ahead – which they know because the system is capturing millions of data points. But the key is that they then use that data to help users change, adapt, make a difference. That’s the sort of thing real estate needs to be doing to make data really work hard.”

As to how close real estate is to achieving this, the universal answer across our three experts was that there is likely to be a very long way to go. But, said Freeman, it is not all doom and gloom: “There is huge potential, and there are patterns we can analyse. Retail is probably a good sector to look at and learn from in this regard. Footfall data is something that is being used a lot now in this sector, and it’s essential because otherwise what are you basing your evidence on?

“Real estate across the board should be looking at utilising this sort of data much more effectively and efficiently.”

Read the write up as published on the Estates Gazette website here.

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