Dawn of a new digital era

The digital revolution will establish new disciplines in the industry and replace old ones. The only question is: which professions are ready for the future?

What will the real estate sector look like in ten years? First, people need to internalise the new mantra “you make money with services and data”. Then established business models and value chains can be future-proofed or created from scratch. The already heavily digitised auto industry shows how it’s done: Daimler is not only competing with BMW, but with Uber as well. It’s no longer just the products that give you the edge – it's also about how they are used. In other words, it’s not enough to be at the forefront of technology, you need to be a data leader as well. But how do you become the Google of the real estate sector? New experts are needed.

Enterprise business analyst (EBA)

Once a company finds a vision for its digital business model, the enterprise business analyst (EBA) systematically adapts processes. They provide structure, document existing business processes, highlight the necessary changes and steer implementation. EBAs think in structures and are good at defining goals, breaking them down into manageable steps and tracking their completion. EBAs establish which department provides which service now and determine who should do it in the future – algorithms, third-party providers or in-house employees. What knowledge silos need dismantling? “Revising the business model lays the foundation for long-term benefits from platform tools like data mining, BIM and blockchain. If there is no realignment, new technologies support outdated models and a great deal of money is wasted on experiments,” says Invesco Managing Director Alexander Taft.

Chief Digital Officer (CDO)

Once the cornerstones are laid for reorganisation, CDOs manage the data and processes. As drivers of digital transformation, they establish a functioning platform infrastructure that makes the business model operational. They also constantly refine offerings and keep them aligned with the market. CDOs are tech savvy, have a broad understanding of IT and tirelessly scan the market for relevant trends and technologies. If they have mastered agile development methods like Scrum, even better. Keeping the new business model in mind, CDOs identify the learning needs in the structures, company culture and among employees. They develop strategies to eliminate shortcomings, such as training up old real estate hands in IT and sharing culture, giving IT buffs a grounding in real estate, and identifying where third-party providers could be deployed more efficiently.

Data scientist (DS)

User-generated data is the commodity of tomorrow. Many real estate companies are sitting on a treasure trove of information, but don’t know how to exploit it without experienced data analysts. Data scientists remedy the situation by transforming the big data pool into smart, structured information. They detect patterns, dependencies and needs, and help perfect the existing services or create new ones. Ideally, a DS is an excellent statistician and optimiser, knows programming languages like Python and also has additional qualifications in artificial intelligence, geo-analytics or blockchain – but in practice this is more the exception than the rule. Qualified specialists are still rather rare. For that reason, some companies prefer to train existing employees such as controllers – a prudent strategy, given that this profession will be heavily impacted by automation.

Relationship manager

Letting management is well on the way to becoming a fully automated product. Similar to online banking, clients are increasingly offered a user interface, which enables them to easily manage their own account. If a property is requested, algorithms determine whether the renter’s profile and credit rating are suitable. If everything checks out and both parties agree, the contract is concluded digitally. Every month algorithms reconcile payments and send reminders for unpaid accounts. So, what is left for property managers to do? They are troubleshooters for tasks that technology cannot handle. And as relationship managers, they keep the renters happy, while robots handle the tedious admin work. However, these automating platforms will only gain acceptance if they can be used intuitively – which is where interface designers come in.

User interface designer

“Programmers build the technical world and interface designers build the product. The former thinks in functional terms, the latter in experiences,” explains Udo Schloemer, founder and CEO of Factory Works, a firm based in Berlin. He believes that user-friendliness plays a bigger role in the success of digital applications than the technology does. For example, Airbnb started out as a user interface without any software behind it. And Wunderlist has become one of the most popular apps because it is slick and intuitive to use. UI designers are to thank for this. Most of them are as creative as customer-focused media and industrial designers. They know people’s viewing habits just as well as the rules of good design – and when they don’t know something, they find it out quickly with user experiments like A/B testing. In short, well-thought-out user interfaces are a key – yet underestimated – success factor. That applies to property management and real estate database apps as much as pay-per-use and on-demand rental portals.

Data protection and security specialists

These experts know data protection regulations like the back of their hand. And they are responsible for ensuring that companies comply with them as defined in the EU General Data Protection Regulation (see infographic on pages 28-29). At the same time, they work to ensure that no unauthorised persons penetrate the company’s data resources. To guarantee the effectiveness of data security walls, data protection specialists and cyber security experts contract IT security pros to carry out penetration tests. Any weak spots that emerge are addressed. And because careless activity by employees is the greatest security risk, data protection specialists raise awareness with training on cybercrime.

Title image: Illustration: Karsten Petrat

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