Property Week’s seventh annual proptech survey, conducted in partnership with law firm Freeths, marks a departure from the past few years.

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After the pandemic struck in early 2020, our annual polls saw an uptick not only in technology adoption – driven by pressing needs during lockdown – but also in mindset. Last year, about two thirds of respondents (62%) said the pandemic had made them more open to new technology.

However, the events of the past 12 months, marked by economic and political turmoil, may have tempered that enthusiasm. Last year, almost half of those polled (46%) said their organisation was willing to “innovate and trial new products”, only marginally less than the 49% who said the same in 2021. This year, the proportion with the same level of ambition had dropped to just one third (33%).

There is a clear acknowledgement that tech is a driver for profitability – and in these tough times the bottom line is the need

Darren Williamson

Similarly, when asked how confident they were that technology adoption would boost their revenues within five years, the number expecting a significant positive impact had fallen to just 30%, from around 50% in the three prior years. The proportion expecting a more modest positive impact sat at 41%, consistent with previous years. The overall picture was still optimistic, however, with 71% expecting an upside.

Asked which technologies they currently relied on to carry out their work, almost nine out of 10 (88%) said they still used simple spreadsheets and documents on a regular basis. Teams and similar collaboration tools were almost as prevalent (84%), while Zoom and video conferencing were relied on by eight out of 10 (78%). Three quarters of respondents (74%) said they relied on project management tools, with a roughly even split between those using generic project software and industry-specific alternatives (39% and 35% respectively).

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About a quarter (23%) relied on building management software, and around one in 10 (9%) cited digital-twin technology.

In a free-text question, respondents were asked to name “the single most important or promising digital technology” in use at their organisation. Many specific finance, billing, property management and collaboration tools were singled out for praise.

Teams was the most frequently named product, cited by about one in eight (13%). One in 12 (8%) said artificial intelligence (AI) was the most important or promising technology – many naming AI text generator ChatGPT. Other respondents outlined the use of AI to improve occupier experiences or to screen potential acquisitions.

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Teams also featured in another open question about the most frustrating or disappointing technologies – a list topped by Microsoft and its products (cited in 11% of answers). One participant fumed: “There should be a special place reserved in hell for the developers of Microsoft Authenticator.”

Other hated products included property management apps (9%), financial and billing systems (8%) and project management tools (8%). The overall list of dislikes ranged widely, from internet telephony to sluggish software to outdated and incompatible legacy systems.

In follow-up questions on AI, three out of five (61%) of the individuals surveyed said they had personally used or tested an AI-based system over the past year.

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AI was also most frequently cited as a factor in future revenue growth, mentioned by 23% of respondents. “AI enables the delivery of personalised tenant experiences,” wrote one respondent, while another suggested “chat bots being able to liaise with tenants and raise [maintenance] jobs”. Others hoped to see AI writing reports, analysing data, automating routine tasks and even taking the place of external consultants.

Asked to grade the importance of proptech in meeting various business goals, most respondents backed technology’s ability to root out error (given an above-average score by 55%), improve profits (54%) and help the sector meet its net zero goals (53%).

A separate question ranked where time, money and effort were likely to be spent over the next five years. Above-average marks were handed out to forecasting technology by 47% of respondents, followed by building automation and asset management (40%), digital links between organisations (40%) and AI for decision support (36%).

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Overall, our 2023 survey painted a picture of an industry with heightened levels of caution, but which still believes in the power of technology to boost its bottom line. And plenty of firms want to learn if breakthrough AI technology might transform their fortunes.

“Innovation is accelerated by need,” observes Darren Williamson, national head of real estate at Freeths. “This apparent dampening in expectation of the ability of tech to boost revenue – and drop in a willingness to be an early adopter post-Covid – could have been predicted.

“As the economy flattens to a slow pulse, cautiousness around tech is inevitable. That said, there is a clear acknowledgement that tech is a driver for profitability – and in these tough times the bottom line is the need.

“While this need is not as pronounced as during Covid, those companies investing in tech will surely benefit. The main issue is they need results today, not tomorrow.”