As elsewhere, intelligent new technologies are also gaining ground in the real estate sector, where they can help to design and operate more sustainable buildings.
Wave goodbye to analogue
Digitalisation is changing our daily lives and transforming industries. Media companies are a prime example. They have been fighting for years to combat the often dramatic slump in sales of printed newspapers and magazines via new digital offerings. Or take the taxi industry, which has been turned on its head in many countries by new digital competitor Uber. In the financial sector too, new players with customer-friendly digital solutions are currently making a massive impact and competing with traditional banks for business. These so-called fintechs provide quick and easy payment systems and other attractive features, such as withdrawals using a smartphone.
Virtual models for sustainable properties
Digitalisation is also playing an ever greater role in the planning, construction and management of buildings, which is where it encounters a second important trend: sustainability. Digital technologies promise major progress with regard to energy efficiency and the intelligent use of properties.
One of the most exciting new digital technologies in the real estate sector is building information modelling (BIM). This 3D data-based representation of a building and its numerous functions serves as the basis for planning and construction. In an ideal scenario, architects, investors and the subsequent operators are able to collaborate on the design right from the start, experimenting with alternative solutions. Various economic, socio-cultural and ecological aspects of sustainability can also be examined during this process. In addition, the digital model forms a shared database for all stakeholders, covering the entire lifecycle of a building up until its demolition.
Software revolution in data management
Digital collection of consumption data is virtually essential for sustainable property management. Unfortunately, there is still much work to be done here. Other business sectors would probably be horrified if they knew the extent to which energy data is still collected by hand and saved in analogue format in the real estate sector, and the effort involved. But forward-looking companies have been moving for some time now towards collecting, managing and analysing their data via web-based software solutions.
Specifically designed for the real estate sector, Portfolio Sustainable Management software (SoFi-PSM) – which is also deployed by Union Investment – is a good way of achieving this. However, more work is urgently needed to further automate the collection of data. These efforts are being driven forward by various providers and customers, including Union Investment.
Risks and side effects of the digital revolution
Digitalisation of consumption data is being promoted not just by the industry, but also by German lawmakers as a result of Germany’s “Energiewende” programme for transition to renewable energy. Discussions around digital smart meters illustrate the controversy that can arise when modern technologies are introduced in the name of sustainability. These meters measure electricity consumption and transmit detailed information to grid operators and electricity producers. Consumers can also see exactly when and how much energy they have consumed. These insights are intended to encourage intelligent energy-saving strategies. If the German government’s plans succeed, compulsory use of smart meters will be phased in as part of the posited digital energy transition. Costs for a Germany-wide rollout are, however, considered too high, while potential savings are viewed in some quarters as too low. In addition, data protection experts have raised concerns. Similarly, building managers are generally dependent on tenants providing consumption data voluntarily when they seek to record energy use. So despite the huge opportunities involved, the digital revolution is also accompanied by uncertainty and risk in the real estate sector. Unlike print newspapers, though, buildings are not likely to be rendered obsolete by digitalisation!