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PropTech Today: UKPA, RICS and the vital need for open data

The UK PropTech Association (UKPA), of which I am a member of the steering committee, is an organisation with a purpose of representing and assisting companies and individuals who are active in the UK’s PropTech sector. 

The aim is to promote engagement between tech companies and traditional property firms. 

UKPA hopes to have a positive influence on the industry and provide its members with access and insight. It does so by influencing policy making, arranging trade missions to foreign markets, undertaking vast amounts of research, attracting foreign companies to find a home in the UK, and allowing the PropTech community to speak and act as one effective whole. 

In order to bring the PropTech community together and encourage dialogue with outside industries, UKPA host various awards and events. The highlight of these are often the roundtable discussions, each time focusing on one particular area of PropTech. 

Most recently, a roundtable was hosted on the subject of open data, undeniably one of the most controversial and essential arguments in property.

Open data in property

Open data is data provided by one party that is freely available to all other parties. Property companies have, I believe, been particularly guilty of data-hoarding, keeping it for themselves, wary of the unknown consequences of making it freely available to the industry, especially competitors.  

This is understandable; PropTech is young and it feels important not to show your hand before knowing what the future looks like. But, as we mature, we open ourselves to the idea of collaboration, realising that true threat lies down the road we take alone, not the one that we walk with friends. 

Dan Hughes, PropTech and data goliath over at RICS, has some interesting insights into the concept of open data. He has written an excellent article on this very subject which I encourage you all to read:

“Data is becoming a more and more important consideration for the property sector and it is important that we think through what this means for the future. For example, there is more and more open data being released all of the time which can be used as a competitive advantage, but it is also important to understand that it is one part of a wider ‘data ecosystem’.”

The ‘data ecosystem’, and specifically that of the property industry, is the most powerful tool in our arsenal. Data allows us to predict tomorrow by analysing how yesterday turned into today. It helps us grab opportunities while nimbly avoiding stumbles and mistakes. It gives proof to concept and can disprove assumptions; it tells us exactly who wants what we’re offering, where we can find them and we can tempt them. 

Open must mean open 

Property is not only the largest asset class in the world, it is also a sprawling data store. We collect data on people, their movements, habits, likes, dislikes, turn-ons and turn-offs. We collect data on energy, efficiency and waste. We’ve got it all, and we’ve got tonnes of it, but unless it’s truly free-to-all, we fail to harness the power that it offers. 

The UKPA roundtable was unanimous in its agreement that, if we are all to benefit from open data, it has to be truly open with no strings attached. For example, the Land Registry, a source of information that most of us use, both in tech and traditional property, is, purportedly, free and open. 

In reality, however, it’s open with great restrictions, restrictions put in place by Ordnance Survey. Their rules, their limitations. As such, the true power of its data is lost. 

Burden of size

If we are ever going to reap the rewards of the data we’re collecting, it’s the really big companies and firms who bear the brunt of the responsibility. 

They are, traditionally, very secretive with data, unwilling to share and swap with each other. But if they continue to refuse, they’re really limiting the scope of success, for themselves and everyone else. 

The problem with not sharing is that we all end up working from our own data sets, analysing them over and over. This really hampers our insight. If all data were open and free, we would benefit from a far more comprehensive clarity. 

The more data we have, the more we know about our customers; that’s how we improve our service, amend our product and provide a solution to the market that people truly benefit from.

A call to arms

We stand at an important moment in time; large or small, we need to give our data away. It’s how the industry will mature and grow with confidence and precision. 

The UKPA roundtable identified three key barriers to open data, which I hope make an effective ending for this article:

1. Fear and engagement

“It is important to start talking more openly about data. It is important to educate on the subject. It is important to find a combination of people to engage with. Operation and innovation teams must collaborate to succeed in this market.”

2. Deployment

“Until clients can see a benefit, there is no reason for them to share their data. A good value proposition must be created for the industry as a whole. More guidance must be given on what can be achieved with data. We must be able to provide robust evidence of output and provide new variables.”

3. Attitude and accountability

“Internal operational issues can be a barrier as no one can be held fully accountable. It is a shared responsibility to ensure accuracy of data. Credibility and validity of data are of the utmost importance. As I mentioned earlier, the penalties are extreme for breaching the terms.”

The aim of UKPA is to promote positive progress and change within UK and global PropTech. I think these three points need to be digested by all of us. 

Open data is an important part of the recipe and, without it, the future won’t be nearly as sweet as it should be.

*James Dearsley is founder of the Digital Marketing Bureau and a PropTech communicator. To sign up to James’ Sunday PropTech Review, click here.

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