Technology awareness and adoption continue to lag on the design and construction side in the UAE and wider Mena region, says Uros Trojanovic, divisional CEO of EAST-O Holdings

How are digitisation and the intelligent automation of processes simplifying real estate management?

Improved digital channels, including apps, portals and bots, are creating opportunities for self-service for real estate customers, whether tenants or owners.

From renewing a lease agreement to paying a service charge bill or requesting a move-in permit, industry leaders are largely automating these processes on digital platforms.

For customers, it provides convenience, both in terms of constant service availability and not having to be physically present in the country to take care of something.

For real estate managers, it delivers efficiency; for example, EAST-O Holding’s PropEzy platform processes 90 per cent of about 20,000 customer utility and service charge payments monthly via online payment channels.

Since this process is automated end-to-end, there is no touchpoint with any real estate management employee, meaning portfolio capacity can be increased from a real estate manager’s point of view. Only a few years ago, this would have been managed by armies of cashiers and accountants in physical offices.

Additionally, the output of increased automation and digitisation is data that can reveal new insights into real estate portfolio performance. We now have access to live dashboards telling us about trends in occupancy and customer service requests across a community, city or region.

Other examples include preferred payment channels, trends in move-ins and move-outs, and amenity bookings.

Recently, we launched a new dashboard for our PropEzy clients, focusing on amenity use across communities. We gathered some surprising insights, such as which buildings have the highest concentrations of gym users and which communities have the most active tennis courts.

While this informs our portfolio managers about the popularity of certain amenities for future project designs, it also generates data that has value for potential advertisers for better targeting of ad campaigns.

What factors can facilitate the adoption of new technologies and advance the digitalisation agenda in this sector?

These are the factors that can facilitate the adoption of new technologies and advance digitalisation in the real estate sector:

> Software as a service (SAAS) models that need lower upfront capital expenditure (capex) investment and focus on ‘pay as you go’ monthly plans are facilitating the adoption of automation in communities with lower budgets.

Ease of integration with government systems such as Ejari, Mollak, Tawtheeq and others would further simplify real estate management processes and increase the appeal of commercial software platforms for real estate management.

Broader offerings of digital platforms for real estate management. Presently, most modern buildings in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region require separate solutions for leasing, facilities management, customer service and building management systems (BMS). This leads to significant investment requirements, which can result in lower adoption of digital solutions for price-sensitive communities.

If real estate technology platforms offer broader coverage of functionalities at a more cost-effective price point, this would lower the bar for entry and increase adoption.

Do you think the real estate sector needs to be educated to accelerate its digitalisation? Is the lack of digital skills and access to funding the only challenge holding the real estate sector back?

In the UAE, awareness of the need for digitalisation among key market players is high, resulting in the country being the Mena region’s leading market in terms of adopting property technology. This is partly due to the government’s digital agenda and also industry trade shows.

Having said that, I believe this high awareness and walking the talk in terms of property technology deployment is limited to post-construction management of real estate and also the sales and marketing of real estate.

Where technology awareness and adoption continue to lag is on the design and construction side. As a general observation of the built environment industry in the UAE, we have found that the average building has BMS, access control and elevator systems very similar to a decade ago.

While technology improvements have been made globally in this area, we have not seen wide adoption of innovative solutions in the UAE. More has been done on the smart home front by business-to-consumer products like Google Nest and Amazon’s Alexa than has been introduced by developers over the past decade.

Published in partnership with EAST-O Holdings


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