Jörn Stobbe, Chief Operating Officer and Member of the Management Board at Union Investment.
Urban Zintel/Union Investment

Pulling together

Jörn Stobbe on the digitisation mega-trend in the real estate industry

Big data fever even found its way into this year's Tour de France. Sensors on bicycles and riders delivered hundreds of millions of pieces of data – about the athletes' physical condition, speed, road conditions and weather. The message was clear: when it comes to digitisation the Tour de France is keeping up with the peloton. And what is true for the world's biggest sporting event is true for nearly every industry and the vast majority of businesses. Wanting to actively shape the digital future instead of being run over by it is a key component of many companies' business strategies, at least on paper.

The property industry is no different. The digitisation mega-trend reached real estate some time ago and there are now a great number of digital business ideas and smart tools for evaluating huge data volumes or accelerating time-consuming analysis and management tasks. One area in the property industry in particular is benefiting from the possibilities of a world turned digital: the implementation of sustainability goals. In this area, the benefits of digital technology cannot be overestimated, as our experience in recent years has shown. Union Investment has been using an online tool to sustainably manage its property portfolio since 2009. Not only does the system serve as the basic tool for collecting and analysing all property data, it's also used to generate reports, studies and ratings. Furthermore, it provides the basis for the sustainable development of individual properties.

That's how we know: a tool is only as good as the data you feed into it. And there are still large gaps when it comes to sustainability. But we have high hopes for smart buildings and the Building Information Modelling (BIM) trend, which we believe will provide the greatest momentum for achieving sustainability goals. With their help, capturing consumption data automatically as well as measuring and improving indoor air quality can become a reality. Using specialised sensors also offers the opportunity to connect a building with its tenants and efficiently manage desk-sharing models or guide them to available parking spaces in real time. In short, in the not-too-distant future, there will be buildings and technologies that are aligned with their users' needs while at the same time helping them act sustainably.

But there are still a few hurdles left to overcome before this becomes reality. One major challenge lies in convincing users that capturing consumption data in our buildings serves the sole purpose of managing them more sustainably – not only to the benefit of the environment and society, but also to the users themselves. Unfortunately, there are still vast gaps in consumption data for electricity, heat and water as well as the amounts of waste generated.

If the real estate industry and users pull together, digitisation can offer us excellent tools for achieving climate change goals. Let's build smart buildings and districts and work together with our technology partners to digitise real estate! Dumb buildings are a thing of the past.


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