Why real estate lags other industries on digital transformation


  • The research involved more than 175 innovation leads across major real estate organizations
  • More than half of the innovation leads spend less than half of their time actually on innvoation
  • Most innovation teams, even for major companies, consist of five or less members

Lack of resources and resistance to change are two factors holding back real estate firms on digital transformation, a new study has revealed.

The research, which involved more than 175 innovation leads across major real estate organizations including British Land, JLL, Cushman & Wakefield and Buro Happold.

Authored by Swedish academic Olli Vigren, the study was conducted in collaboration with Cherry Pick People, a leading recruitment specialist in the property and construction sectors, and Unissu, a global Proptech procurement platform.

It focuses on the need to overcome management intransigence in order to prioritize cultural change and invest in digital transformation.

Based on one-to-one interviews, the findings highlighted how much the sector has to achieve.

It found that the majority of innovation leads (57%) spend less than half of their time innovation. Most of the innovation (71%) are tiny teams, consisting of five or fewer people. There is also little consistency surrounding what an innovation role should entail, with the 176 respondents having 139 different titles.

“What is incredible about our industry is the level of naivety and unwillingness to go and look at other industries who had to figure this out 20 or 30 years ago,” commented Alain Waha, Buro Happold’s Chief Technology Officer.

Another interviewee, Chris Marriott, Savills South East Asia CEO, added that digital transformation needed to be driven “top down and bottom up”.

“Everyone in the business must be the spotter of opportunities,” he said.

CBRE’s Head of Digital Sales, Nick Wright, added the survey responses highlighted a shortage of the right kind of skills.

“The industry is really challenged in this space right now with finding innovation leaders and change leaders and digital leads.”

The report, which is titled Digital Transformation – Survive and Thrivehas made five recommendations for businesses in the sector:

  1. Make culture a priority in transformation
  2. Ensure innovation leads have a full-time focus on innovation
  3. Individuals and teams with responsibility for innovation should have titles that include innovation, change or transformation
  4. Real estate businesses must evolve or be side-lined
  5. Innovation leads need to lead

This is believed to be the first major study to understand how applying new technology is disrupting the sector, and how innovators can understand their current position in the industry.

“We firmly believe that people leading innovation strategies are going to play an increasingly important role in the real estate industry,”

“By providing insight, our study will help them to manage their careers and encourage more people to take this journey.”

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