Partnership article with the RICS Property Journal
The new International Building Operation Standard enables effective use of proptech to measure and manage data on the way buildings perform for people – as one consultancy's experience proves
Property Journal: Could you explain what your consultancy, Trustek, does and why you set it up?
Freddie Pritchard-Smith: We're an independent property consultancy, set up because my business partners and I come from different backgrounds in commercial real estate and proptech, and wanted to help people buy the right technology and deploy it successfully.
I was a chartered surveyor in commercial real estate for ten years, then ran my own technology business. So we're unique in what we do because we understand commercial property as well as technology.
PJ: Your work involves helping clients improve their buildings' technology and customer experience. Can you give a brief overview of how you use proptech to achieve these aims?
FPS: The first thing to say is that we don't necessarily use technology. What we do is help people understand what they are trying to achieve, and that there is a global marketplace of more than 10,000 proptech products. So we work with them to understand what they are trying to achieve, and then select and procure the right proptech partner.
One of the biggest reasons we've seen for failure when adopting proptech is that deployment strategies aren't right. By this we mean that the people selling or buying the technology aren't always the ones who use it on a daily basis. So we spend a lot of time working with the technology and real-estate teams to understand how to deploy it effectively.
The final thing is measurement. When it comes back to improving capabilities and customer experience for tenants or companies who work within the building every day, can you actually measure it? Can you prove you've made a difference by using technology?
So while we don't use technology to achieve our business aims, we help people understand that they need to put a benchmark in place. Otherwise, whatever they do they won't be able to come back and show that it's been a success (e.g. reporting to tenants the improvements that have been made year on year in the building's management, fewer issues being reported and quicker responses to any that arise, net promotor scores and evidence that the investment has improved the building).
PJ: Which type of clients do you work with, primarily?
FPS: Most of our clients are commercial real-estate owners, specifically owners of offices. We're doing an increasing amount of work in the build-to-rent sector and student accommodation as well; but traditionally we work primarily with asset managers, owners and development managers.
The other part of our business is working directly with property management teams – the people who operate and manage commercial buildings.
PJ: Given that data is central to your business, can you say what impact the International Building Operation Standard (IBOS) has had on your building audit work since its publication in February?
FPS: We founded our business in October last year, and what was quite astonishing to us was how well IBOS aligned with our proptech audit (we use a native web portal with a series of more than 300 questions in the format of an online form with attachments of photos and documents provided for the building as evidence).
By alignment I mean that we ask 300 questions of the on-site teams to understand the technology available to them and the processes they have in place, as well as the people and how well they understand and deploy technology. Also – fundamentally – we look at benchmarking what's in a building, because you can't improve what you don't measure.
What's been particularly helpful about IBOS is that it covers one of the gaps in our audit process, relating to operational management costs over the long term. Another of the IBOS items that we've consistently added to what we do is managing every facet of customer experience. Each question in the IBOS survey requires the inclusion of customer feedback. Sometimes that can be quite hard to quantify; however, the inclusion of this request in IBOS has driven our strategy to encourage ways to collect this information.
An example would be building compliance, namely the health and safety documents that are statutory requirements for every building we would complete on the client's behalf. The customer experience is impacted by the tenant's ability to find these documents easily – are they online? Is it easy for the on-site team to share them so they don't have to send the same email four times a year, every year?
IBOS has helped us broaden our horizons in terms of the way we audit buildings and think about them holistically. But it's also made sure there are no gaps in what we're doing from a data perspective.
PJ: Could you provide some examples of how you've used IBOS in practice as part of your building audit services?
FPS: Since the standard was published, we have completed the IBOS accreditation award survey alongside our technology audit for buildings. We've also included the PDF within our wider audit document as another benchmarking tool for buildings, such as investment manager Redevco's London HQ at 1 James Street and development and property management company Mapletree. The accreditation was included as part of the executive summary of our wider audit in each case.
Because we're a small business, just a year old, comparing our process with a multi-sector standard is something we felt was relevant. This is why we put it at the start of our audit. Something else that we're quite happy about is that our audit outcome, which is scored out of 100, is closely aligned with IBOS's. This means that without comparing notes, our audits and IBOS were very clearly aligned, which is great for us and our clients.
PJ: What do you think the future holds for proptech and building performance assessment? And what role can IBOS play in this dynamic field?
FPS: The automation of the survey with regards to existing building technologies will continue to make it more and more valuable as an annual way of confirming or assessing performance. At present, IBOS is not automated. It requires the manual completion of the online form. In future, hopefully there will be an application programming interface to populate the survey.
One thing we think is particularly important is that it means people on site do not need to take more time to manage technology, complete forms and carry out minor tasks. There's an opportunity for proptech to complete the IBOS survey given that the standard is cloud-based software. Proptech providers' objective should always be to give on-site professionals more time to do what they're good at, which is managing people's interaction with buildings.