The ebb and flow of urban dynamics is changing how we live, work and play in the built environment. Smart home technology and digital systems are layering new functionality into residential spaces, with pandemic-driven need accelerating our acceptance of digitalisation.

Anastasia Gorokhova

Anastasia Gorokhova

Above all, fast, reliable connectivity in our homes has become a must-have. We need it for hybrid working, for our apps and smart appliances and for the provision of the ancillary services available in build-to-rent (BTR)-type homes.

All this digital activity generates vast quantities of data. While data can be a rich and valuable resource, it can also be overwhelming. Is the residential sector ready for the data revolution?

Data can add value in many ways. It enables the added-value services that make the BTR sector so attractive. Students, families or senior living residents increasingly expect services such as digital keys, security systems, community digital ‘notice boards’ and apps to book concierge services and report maintenance issues.

Data about how premises and digital services are actually used can be enlightening, feeding into design decisions for new projects and highlighting what is valued and/or generates the best returns.

While data can be a rich and valuable resource, it can also be overwhelming

Data can also be used to deliver continued optimal conditions. For example, monitoring moisture levels can give early warning about damp or heating issues and promote proactive maintenance (which also avoids the costs of potential structural damage and emergency call-outs). Cameras in common areas can pick up issues such as spills or other damage, automating reporting processes and enabling swift rectification.

Data can also be used to support occupier wellbeing. For example, in student accommodation, technology can be used to spot signals that a resident’s mental wellbeing may need support. In senior living accommodation, it can be used to flag up a fall or inactivity. Of course, the benefit of such services needs to be balanced carefully with privacy considerations.

Smart home

Source: Shutterstock / NicoElNino

The residential sector is starting to develop organisational ‘data consciousness’, but this strategic skill takes time to build, especially in this sector with its long asset lifecycles. There is more data sophistication in the BTR sector, where operators are able to build connectivity, data collection and digital services into new developments. Plus, this is an area of residential where the benefits are more obvious.

Large regeneration programmes are also playing a part. The creation of smart cities or suburbs is increasingly the norm, with individual units being designed as interconnected pieces in the wider digital jigsaw.

Where a number of different parties are involved in the management of residential premises, data flows can be extensive but also siloed. It will be important to consider whether more value is generated by opening up access to data or by taking a proprietary approach.

Establishing a data strategy

The key to monetising data is to develop a data strategy – it takes data from being an ‘exhaust product’ to being a valuable fuel.

A useful starting point is to focus on strategic outcomes that data could support, such as being able to predict future occupier/buyer needs, understanding market trends, improving sales or occupancy rates, improving key performance indicators or sustainability metrics and enabling a clearer understanding of return on capital.

The next step is to consider what data the business needs, what it holds or has access to and what it could additionally collect, access or acquire to complete the picture.

The third step is to understand the matrix of legal rights and obligations that sits around each dataset, including regulatory compliance, intellectual property constraints and any contractual rights or obligations.

Fourth will be to consider whether any additional legal protections are needed (in addition to operational information security).

Finally, ‘data consciousness’ means treating data as an asset. Always approach each project with a clear data strategy and a ‘house policy’ around negotiating red lines and parameters concerning data and data access.

Anastasia Gorokhova is partner and head of living at Osborne Clarke

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