Covid-19 brings to the fore the importance of proptech adoption

The tech is already around, but its role in buildings and cities is finally recognised as essential.

July 14, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has made real the need to use technology to guard our buildings and cities against invisible threats.
A quick look at the exponential increase in virtual viewings for homes in Singapore’s property market in the last two months reveals just how quickly the use of digital solutions has accelerated due to the outbreak.
From a commercial real estate point of view, the pandemic is also expected to spur the digitalisation of many aspects of the value chain – from valuation to maintenance and management of buildings. There is a new-found appreciation for what property technology – proptech – can do.
In the early days of Singapore’s Circuit Breaker period, the Urban Redevelopment Authority introduced SpaceOut, a website that monitors crowd levels of different malls so the public is able to make better decisions on where and when to go for their grocery runs.
A website like SpaceOut relies on data provided by malls possessing sensors that track crowd capacities. This, like many of the technologies that fall under the “proptech” distinction, are hardly new. They are established technologies finally being given proper consideration as to their role in built environments, and are finally recognised as essential in our cities.

Mall proptech, please

Malls have always needed to prioritise the health and well-being of occupants and shoppers. Today they are looking at technologies to enhance shopper experience while providing those assurances. At the Seacon Shopping Mall in Bangkok, the installation of foot-operated control panels to allow users to select their level is a novel way to minimise the risk of contact.
Robotics is moving out of science fiction and into everyday life. At Siam Paragon, the Siam Piwat group has robots helping their staff by doing temperature checks and trailing shoppers reminding them to wear masks. Singapore’s Frasers Property Retail has deployed autonomous disinfecting robots called Sunburst UV Bots, which are equipped with a camera, sensors and an ultraviolet C-light module to wipe viruses out. Not to be outdone, CapitaLand has announced that all lift cars in its malls will boast PhotoPlasma air disinfection system, a technology which transforms air into plasma state in order to eliminate air-borne and surface microorganisms such as virus and bacteria.

Keeping frontline workers and end users safe

This proptech arms race is not limited to retail environments. It is indicative of what is to come for the entire real estate industry. Many of us living in cities take it for granted that our malls, offices, schools and other public spaces are clean and secure. But maintaining them are large groups of people who work hard night and day behind the scenes to keep them that way.
In the Asia Pacific region, over 30,000 of my colleagues at JLL work tirelessly to make sure our cities’ buildings and spaces are clean and safe for millions of users every day. We are working with asset holders to implement many of the aforementioned technologies supporting our workforce by converting and digitalising processes to enhance the frequency and quality of building inspections.
For the people doing these jobs, their workload and safety can be improved with the help of better technology. Instead of deploying swathes of manpower and large thermal scanners at malls and building lobbies, companies can work with a start-up like The Singapore-based start-up offers a product with machine vision video monitoring capabilities that can easily be plugged into existing video camera systems to detect anomalies, clustering, and body temperatures in malls and office buildings.

Technological enhancements required

Though it has only been six months since its outbreak, Covid-19 has delivered years’ worth of changes to how we live and work. It has also demonstrated that going digital has become essential. The firms that adapt best and pivot successfully will be those that are quick to embrace the value and convenience of technology.
And as proptech continues to see greater demand and adoption in the wake of the pandemic, I’m confident technology will soon be intrinsic part of how buildings function, making people feel safer while alleviating the burden on manpower.
Any resistance to technology – proptech in this case – has been superseded by the demands of our present reality.

This article first appeared in the Business Times on June 27