Are you ready for the digital age?

Digitalisation is reshaping surveying from creating extra areas of regulation to new approaches to learning and even changes to the workplace.


  • Stuart Watson

26 February 2020

Image by Klawe Rzeczy

We brought together six surveying figures from across the professional spectrum and asked them how the industry needs to adapt to stay relevant.

  • DAVID CREWE MRICS Global Lead for benchmarking and smart data for better outcomes, Turner & Townsend
  • MARION ELLIS FRICS Managing director, Bluebox Partners and founder of the Surveying Hub Online
  • KIMBERLY HEPBURN AssocRICS Cost manager, Turner & Townsend
  • DR ROISIN MURPHY Senior lecturer. School of Surveying and Construction Management, Technological University Dublin
  • ANTHONY WALKER FRICS CEO, Goreport, and Chair RICS Building Surveying Professional Board Group

How should regulation and standards change for the digital age?

ANTHONY WALKER/ For 150 years surveyors have been providing advice to their clients, which is essentially data. Technology allows us to curate that data and scrutinise it in a way that simply wasn't possible before. However, most of the data collected is not publicly available, so it is impossible to make best use of it to maximise the effectiveness of surveyors and ensure public safety. Legislation to mandate that transparency could ensure a level of professional competence that is verified and subject to scrutiny.

Meanwhile, proptech is growing very fast and it is an unregulated sector. There is a question over who is going to regulate tech start-ups. There needs to be some accountability and transparency about how they gather data and how they operate.

CHRIS IRELAND / I would question the view that proptech has been largely unregulated. GDPR is one such example, which has set clear parameters for how data needs to be structured and used. This has actually helped enormously by creating a level playing field and it provides all stakeholders with confidence that data will be used appropriately. Due to the rate of technological change, the regulators face a big challenge, and more engagement is needed between the technology industry and government to ensure regulation remains relevant.

With regard to the property industry, I fully endorse innovation and developing new concepts and solutions. However, our clients rely on us, and bodies like RICS, to provide advice and assurance that systems and tools are appropriate and fit for purpose. Therefore, we need to ensure we're investing in the right skills and solutions that honour that expectation.

"Change can feel relentless, but I want to work in a sector associated with transformation, not dinosaurs" Chris Ireland FRICS, JLL

DAVID CREWE / Most of the standards are out there, but it is the application of them, and the governance around them that is lacking. As an industry we are not good at sticking to data standards. If everyone stuck to the International Construction Measurement Standards and the New Rules of Measurement, it would be much easier to acquire and compare data. Very few clients in the construction sector do that consistently.

MARION ELLIS / We need to look at the supportive role of standards. Sometimes we can create so many rules that we disempower people and they don't make the best decisions for fear of getting things wrong. Standards should be there to empower people and support them to do the best job that they can.

How can professions switch from the old static sense of "owning" knowledge toward a more dynamic "always-on" mentality?

CI / I heard someone recently refer to property as an industry "full of dinosaurs living in a bygone era based on owning a gut feel". This image is not the progressive one we want to be part of, or welcome people into. For those that haven't caught up, an immediate mindset change is required. Our industry makes big decisions based on data. It is also a wonderful enabler. Data has the potential to start conversations and supports a more active learning mentality. Change can feel relentless at times, but I want to work in a sector associated with transformation, not dinosaurs.

ROISIN MURPHY/ The surveying profession is knowledge-intensive. The value added by employing a surveyor is the knowledge that they possess, so we need to be more strategic in our approach to lifelong knowledge acquisition and knowledge management, and, in a project-centric sector, the transfer of knowledge between and across projects. We need people who are excellent communicators and who can critically analyse multifaceted complex circumstances, in addition to the technical skills and specific competencies to perform the surveying function.

We also need surveyors with greater commercial awareness. A lot of the time professionals will run their own business, but even where they are employees, they need to align the services they provide with the organisational strategy of their clients. There is a certain amount that can be done to develop those skills at the undergraduate phase, but it also gives rise to the need for more specialist training mid-career.

DC / We have to move to sharing knowledge in a controlled way while continually learning. Organisations that invest in training, employee development and knowledge management, and then share that knowledge, will be the ones that thrive in the future.

AW / Through lifelong learning individuals will be better able to take advantage of the latest technology, and that will drive productivity and innovation. There is an appetite to understand technology, but a lack of awareness of where to go to gain that understanding, and in some organisations there is no culture of lifelong learning. There is a bonus culture within much of surveying that incentivises people to focus on a fee-earning activity and not on professional development and adopting new technology, so they become less and less productive. Employers need to allocate the time and budget to allow them to learn.

KIMBERLY HEPBURN / With the upsurge of apprenticeships seen in professional services like surveying in recent years, I think many professions will consequently experience a rise in the lifelong- learning mentality. This is because apprentices typically join the workplace with little knowledge or experience, and an open-mind and are completely ready to learn this 'keenness to learn' can be infectious among teams and help spread an 'always-on' learning culture in organisations and professions alike.

Should fulfilment of continuing professional development (CPD) be obligatory for annual membership renewals?

ME / The membership renewal should be included because you have to be on top of your game, but we need to make it part of people's normal working week that they integrate some kind of learning, rather than panicking about the need to get their CPD logged before the end of the year.

RM / CPD must be compulsory. It is hugely important in providing confidence in the profession that there is a requirement to be fully up to speed in areas like regulation, legislation and climate action targets. Research undertaken here also confirms that CPD is very beneficial across professions from a social and networking perspective.

CI / Absolutely, yes. We need to set ourselves against the standards of other professions.

CPD is so important for any profession that there is no excuse. However, at the moment most CPD has a charge against it and many RICS professionals are part of small organisations that are not blessed with large training budgets. I would like to see free access to some online resources aligned with key RICS priorities. That would have significant benefit in terms of moving towards an always-on learning mentality without constraints of time and cost.

KH / The job of the surveyor is changing, and CPD helps us to anticipate and respond effectively to change. It allows surveyors to safeguard their skillset from extinction in the age of artificial intelligence, climate change and urbanisation. CPD should definitely be mandatory, especially because from an institutional perspective, it sends the right message: in order to be a respected, trusted chartered member of an institution that is pioneering change there is no room for complacency or outdated practices. Fulfilling CPD also encourages surveyors to develop in non-traditional areas that will be important to the future of our profession, such as wellbeing, and diversity and inclusion.

Business models and working practices are eveolving rapidly across all industries. What should the surveying workplace of the future look like?

CI / I see a move to much more flexible working. We still have an issue with gender diversity, and diversity generally, and flexible working would help with that. We should get rid of nine-to-five, discourage presenteeism, and encourage people to work from wherever they are comfortable.

KH / For all industries and professions it will continue to be important to become more diverse. By having a workforce that is holistically diverse, you are able to relate to a more diverse range of clients and offer a more bespoke and personal service, making you better equipped to achieve excellent client satisfaction. Research also shows that there are productivity benefits to diverse and inclusive workforces, too  if there is no set image of what a surveyor looks like, people will perform better by focusing on the job because they feel that they can just be themselves at work.

ME / There is a particular need for more women in the industry. The [proportion of] new recruits [who are women] has increased to 25%, although overall the proportion of women is just under 15%, which is not great. It is not just recruitment into the profession that we need to look at, but also what happens when women reach mid-life. Too many women surveyors are lost to the profession in their menopause years. There is a lot more that businesses can do to introduce menopause policies at work.

RM / Millennials expect a more collaborative workplace, with more open communication. Currently, the profession is characterised by a lack of diversity and there is a global skills shortage. To attract and retain staff, surveying businesses need to clearly articulate the importance of the surveyor's role to the built environment and the variety of career options available, and provide a greater sense of purpose, as well as a culture of flexibility and innovation.

In what ways is technoogy undermining the idea of a professional? How can professional make sure they stay relevant?

CI / I don't believe technology undermines us, quite the opposite. Every profession is being challenged by technological advancements, ours is no different. So it's how we harness the technology that matters. The data we have at our fingertips allows us to solve the issues that matter most to our colleagues and clients. Technology also challenges us to be more efficient with our time, freeing us up to do the more rewarding parts of the job. In order to stay relevant, we all need to keep learning.

I'd encourage everyone to immerse themselves in the technology available, question how it can help you and how it can help your clients.

AW / We should maximise and focus on human skills: creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, design and imagination. There is still a huge way to go before the profession gets proptech. Some surveyors will need to take baby steps before they can get to a point where it will add value.

RM / There is no denying that going forward technology will play a central role in how we manage, build and maintain our built environment on a whole-life basis. It is not a specific technology we should be focusing on, but more the development of an aptitude toward technology such that people can perform and progress in line with technological advances.

ME / We all like gadgets, but technology is only ever a tool. Ultimately, surveyors and consumers are people and it is the customer experience that we need to keep coming back to. There will be huge innovations and some processes and kinds of work will be bypassed. In valuation we are starting to see that happen with some lenders using automated valuation models for 50% of their work. Things change but people have a need to know about their home that is emotional as much as technical.

DC / In the construction industry we can't go on being late, over budget and providing poor value for money. Digitisation and globalisation of the profession together with strong data-acquisition plans and technological tools that produce much better insights will help our clients get better outcomes.

The work that surveyors used to do will become commoditised very quickly, which is a good thing. As surveyors, we need to move into an advisory role and let those tools do the work. The industry will change, but we will still be there advising and helping clients to make better decisions but on a much more informed basis using hard evidence and not just professional opinion.

KH / Having worked in the industry for five years, I have learnt that I cannot solely rely on what people have done before me to know what best practice looks like today, because technology is changing what it means to be a professional. To remain relevant in the 2020s and beyond, we need to be adaptable. Analytical thinking skills, thinking outside the box, being innovative and challenging the status quo where necessary are all key to being able to add value. Especially at times when resources are scarce and thinking of new ways to address issues is more acute than ever.

In surveying, change has become the norm, and we need to stay curious, stay adaptable and become digitally literate in order to futureproof the profession.

"By having a more diverse workforce you can relate to a more diverse range of clients and offer a more personal service" Kimberly Hepburn AssocRICS, Turner & Townsend

Find out more about the trends impacting our profession and the ways RICS is adapting to support you in capitalising on the opportunities these changes bring at RICS' Future of Surveying

Related Articles


go to article Surveying the Antarctic: Earth’s most remote continent