What automation means for surveying

Automation will free us to focus on the most enjoyable aspects of our jobs


  • Dan Hughes

02 June 2019

Image © Bratislav Milenkovic

That technology is upending the way our industry operates – how we do our jobs, the expectations of our customers, the emergence of new business models – is beyond doubt. It is perhaps the pace of this change that makes it feel unsettling, especially with so much focus on the threat to jobs.

According to McKinsey & Co's 2017 report, A future that works: automation, employment, and productivity, 44% of today's jobs in real estate and construction will be automated in the future.

As an industry founded on long-term principles, real estate is often accused of lagging behind other sectors in the journey of digital transformation. This may be fair but, considering the nature of the sector, it is easy to forget quite how far we have come in a short space of time. There are early signs everywhere that the industry is evolving and embracing technology. At the most basic level, the uptake of innovations that have only been around for a short time has become commonplace. The use of data is now a business priority and, although adoption is not yet widespread, there has been an increased focus on cryptocurrencies and blockchain, which has only been around since 2008.

A further sign of how far we have come in a relatively short space of time is that established industry bodies such as RICS are now playing a leading role in digital transformation. Away from the digital products and services that they provide, technology is an important aspect of RICS' membership competencies, it has established a Tech Affiliate Programme and published a range of data or technology standards and guidance notes.

Assuming McKinsey's estimate of 44% is correct, we can expect plenty more change in the coming years. Technology is making everything quicker; from simplifying the conveyancing process to speeding up investments into property  for example, with platforms such as ISPX, or from shortening commercial leases to streamlining the house-hunting experience. But automation will have an impact not so much on jobs in general as on specific tasks within them, such as data collection and the number-crunching behind a cost estimate or a valuation.

So significant amounts of what we do today will be automated tomorrow, but that does not mean that the future is not bright. While technology will do more of the heavy lifting, it is also likely that the types of jobs that can be automated will be carried out more often  valuations will become more frequent, for example. As these tasks become more deeply governed by algorithms and machine learning, the faculties that we value as human beings  creativity, service, ethics  will not only become more relied upon, but also more valued. And the good news is that these are the tasks that are usually the more enjoyable aspects of people's jobs.

"The faculties that we value as human beings – creativity, service, ethics – will not only become more relied upon, but also more valued" Dan Hughes, Liquid REI

The world is changing fast and if the real estate sector wants to lead the way, rather than be led by others, we must all come together to embrace new ways of doing things. In the British Property Federation's LIQUID Report, published in March 2019, a survey of senior industry leaders found that 93% saw digital transformation as essential for the future of the real estate sector.

There is little doubt that the role of the surveyor will continue to exist and thrive  in the future; with one important caveat: to achieve this, above all else, we must embrace change today.

Dan Hughes is CEO of Liquid REI 

Find out more about the impact that advances in technology are having on the profession, and how you can seize the opportunities it brings at the RICS Technology Affiliate Programme