PlaceTech – an explainer. The next step in PropTech?

We know PropTech – the digital transformation of the property industry – but what about PlaceTech? Can the same concept of changing the experience of real estate through technology be applied to spaces outside of buildings?

From our offices and homes to vast factories, train stations and public parks – places are where we spend 90% of our time – and technology can benefit how we live, move and work. In this episode we discuss this complex topic, and tackle some of the jargon. Our guests are Ruxandra Radulescu, Director at Enter Agora; Paul Unger, Editor of PlaceTech.net and Nilesh Parmar, Places Director, Arcadis.

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emma: [00:00:00] First came PropTech, the introduction of technology to help the way our buildings function and the way we interact them with the first and a very warm welcome today. First came PropTech, the introduction of technology to help the way our buildings function and the way we interact with them. Well, now we head into the public realm and have placed tech another expression that's filling column space in the media and appearing on the to do list of planners and developers from flying taxis being trialled ahead of the Paris Olympics to the NHS track and trace system. This is proptech on an altogether different scale. Well, to go through it all, to work out what it is and to find out how we will be using it in the future. I'm joined by. [00:00:44][44.9]

nilesh: [00:00:46] Nilesh, global solutions director for IS an engineering and property consultancy. [00:00:51][4.8]

ruksandra: [00:00:54] Ruxandra RAdolescu, CEO of Within International and Bruguera, a new way of doing business and extension of the physical space in the virtual realm and professional services. [00:01:06][12.3]

paul: [00:01:08] And Paul Unger, editor of Place Tech, a property technology publication. [00:01:13][4.6]

emma: [00:01:14] Welcome all to long story short. Let's try to explain a few things. We're in a world where we recognise a lot of words, but we don't necessarily understand them completely. So could you kick off, please, Paul, by explaining what place tech is and how it's different from PropTech? [00:01:30][16.2]

paul: [00:01:32] Yeah, sure. Some people don't like the jargon and the terms, but I think they are useful when getting used to new concepts. Generally, prop tech is is any technology innovation that has come in to the whole built environment world from construction and land assembly and planning architecture right through the lifecycle of a building or any asset, any place through to sales and lettings and place tech. Within that is the stuff that people can do in the public when you're out and about shopping or looking for a restaurant or finding an office. There is more public implementations of technology. [00:02:12][40.2]

emma: [00:02:13] Ruxandra you come from a slightly different perspective insofar as the place that you have created has nothing to do with the real world, does it? This is placed in a different, different meaning. [00:02:24][10.3]

ruksandra: [00:02:25] Absolutely. Enter, Agoura is created in a way to actually act as an extension of the physical space in the virtual environment. So from that perspective, the place is a little bit different, although it is not meant to replace the actual physical space, but rather to complement it. [00:02:46][21.3]

emma: [00:02:47] Paul, just tell us a little bit more about how this stuff works when it comes to navigating a space or finding yourself in somewhere in public. Where does place tech actually come in? I mean, how physically does it work? [00:03:00][12.4]

paul: [00:03:01] It obviously depends on what the technology, what the product or service is. A common feature is using the piece the geographic positioning systems within our smartphones and using Bluetooth and other signals that respond to the beacons on mobile phone maps and things like that. The organisations that control a space can get information, get data about the people that pass through it. That is much more sophisticated than old footfall counters in shopping centres, whether that be just a simple sensor over a doorway, seeing how many people go through. But you didn't know much about those people. Now, a shopping centre owner can employ a place. Tech software company worked with the supplier, and they can find out how many pet owners went through on Saturday, the average age at how many people in different brackets of demographics to find out about our lives and paint a picture of the personalities that are going through. So as retail goes through turmoil and we see a lot of closures and all the talk of the death of the high street, it helps property developers, landlords, retailers, the tenants themselves be much more scientific and targeted, and understand and know their customer that helps them trade more successfully and make better decisions, hopefully. [00:04:27][85.4]

emma: [00:04:28] Imagine Paul, you and I are walking down the street. Where is placed tech operating now? [00:04:34][6.1]

paul: [00:04:34] There are companies that can tap into your anonymized profile that know some of your likes and dislikes and your behaviours, your shopping habits such that when you are in a location, electronic advertising billboards around will change to target you and you've been searching for a sofa from a certain retailer, and that sofa appears on the billboard in the street. [00:05:03][28.5]

emma: [00:05:03] Niklas, how were you and your partners using place tech to help communities and to bring them together each day? [00:05:08][4.8]

nilesh: [00:05:09] We've got an ecosystem partner called Iris from North America. They've created a platform where communities at large can engage and learn about things that are changing in their local environment, whether road closures are planned, whether there's a festival and people have really taken well to this, not only in North America, but here, also in the UK. We start to see a lot of county councils, city councils starting to sit up and pay a lot of attention to how they can create community engagement. [00:05:44][34.9]

emma: [00:05:45] How much has your company had to adapt to what it offers people, Ruxandra given the fact that a few years. Ago, if someone had said we have built a virtual space where you can meet anybody at a conference or any kind of gathering online, people might have looked at you quite blankly and said, Actually, I really quite like meeting people. And then COVID came along and suddenly you find yourself answering a lot of questions that people didn't realise they had to ask. [00:06:13][27.7]

ruksandra: [00:06:14] Actually, the the idea of enterovirus I started about 10 years ago, but you're absolutely right. The market wasn't really prepared for that type of technology. And let's face it, there is no replacement for human interaction, and this is not actually what enterovirus is trying to do. What we're trying to do with the technology is offer, in many instances, an alternative to nothing. For example, a lot of our clients have science based targets that they need to fulfil. Obviously, they need to do a whole roadmap to understand how to fulfil these if we're only talking in the sustainability space. And actually travel is a big part of how they spend their carbon budgets. If you want to look at it like that, so how a company impacts on the environment. Now this is where enter Agoura comes in and we have the option and the opportunity to still have that gathering. [00:07:23][68.9]

emma: [00:07:31] And you're listening to long story short, the Future Cities podcast from Arcadia's. Today we're talking about Place Tech, and I'm joined by Neil Palmer, who's global solutions leader for Place Tech at Arcadia's Ruxandra Radio Liska, who's CEO of Enter Agora, and Paul Unger, editor of Place Tech Magazine. And I'll come to you, Paul, now because at the heart of making place tech a success is balance. So let's look now at some of the real challenges that place tech faces. How welcome is place tech? Are we looking at problems that don't necessarily need solving all the time? [00:08:08][37.6]

paul: [00:08:09] I think there is a danger that companies that work in the tech field operate under the assumption that all tech is good. We've had climate and net zero carbon mentioned already. Now all tech has embedded carbon in it will add to your footprint. So the more systems that you add, the higher the carbon emissions and better carbon in that project. I think there is a challenge of getting people to use technology is another challenge I would raise. What's the compulsion to make somebody use that? If we think about QR codes and ordering at a table when the beer gardens and the bars eventually opened in the UK in the middle of last year, that was the way to get served. There was no choice. You couldn't go to the bar. And quickly people got used to downloading these apps and ordering, and then the food and drink came out to the table. It was actually quite nice. Apart from the next morning, when you got emailed the receipt confirming what you drank the night before with your client or colleague, not always a great way to start the working day. But you know, having that compulsion that push to get people to adopt apps and new technology is not always easy. [00:09:21][72.0]

emma: [00:09:22] Ruxandra It's a hard question to ask, but do sometimes people accuse you of creating something that we don't necessarily need that ultimately we all just want to be sitting together in the same room [00:09:34][11.3]

ruksandra: [00:09:35] and we don't get accused of that. But there is an aspect to enter a war, and it's not meant to be used all the time. There is an emerging pattern of what is called thoughtful travel. So think about the the actions your company's actions a little bit more. The introverts within within our clients want to use it because they don't actually want to necessarily go and be surrounded by thousands of people, especially now. But even before [00:10:09][33.6]

emma: [00:10:10] now, let's move on to another key challenge when it comes to place tech. One of them is issues of data protection and privacy. When you move through a space and you are being guided and there is an assumption that you are going to be participating in something that's connected to place tech. How much as citizens do we want to buy into all this? Are we happier sharing where we are? Or would you rather have more control of what we're doing? [00:10:35][24.8]

nilesh: [00:10:36] The way data is treated around the world is different, and you can see that in the way that different geographies have dealt with their data protection and privacy laws. I think our aspect is always to be inclusive. From an outsider's perspective and always to give people an option on whether they want to opt in or opt out, and it can get very complex when you're doing multi regional applications, we are sharing our location data. But it is a choice, and I think that's the key point I'm trying to make is I think people are comfortable sharing their data because they're clearly doing it through social media channels. But it's when somebody else is collecting your data, you start to, you start to question it. [00:11:17][40.9]

emma: [00:11:17] Ruxandra How much do your clients want to deal with the privacy issue? I mean, do they want to be absolutely proactive in terms of telling people what information they're parting company with? Or are they more in the bare minimum sharing what is legally necessary? Let's just take a light touch on this. [00:11:35][18.3]

ruksandra: [00:11:36] What we have found is that when we are creating environments for clients internally, a lot of our clients have said, well, our people have opted in because they are our people and they are told, and the requesting of permission is done by the company because the company wants to know how to best put out content, how to engage with their people. So it's almost an implicit Opt-In policy with the clients that deal with things internally when it comes to external actually enter a gore offers the opportunity of not being tracked at all. So in the beginning, when you are going on and you're about to connect, you have the ability to switch off all of the trackers, all of the cookies and. We can't even tell that someone is in an environment if they don't opt in to having their data shared. People necessarily don't mind sharing their data, but they want to have the option to say no. [00:12:44][67.8]

emma: [00:12:46] Paul, just build on that a little bit for me, the idea that when you are in a private space such as and agora or within a building, which is where PropTech is in operation, you know that there's a change in space that you're moving into a different area. But when you are out and about in public and a lot of us, I think, underestimate who owns what, where and who controls what. How much do people actually realise how much of their data is being taken away or used or applied for different purposes? [00:13:17][31.6]

paul: [00:13:19] There's a very small percentage that would be my hunch that really understand that they're giving off signals and data and profile all the time as they're walking about. In the same way as we forget that we're on camera all the time with CCTV, we probably pass through thousands a week walking around the city centre. But similarly, when CCTV came along in the 90s, I remember debates about human rights and there were people campaigning against it, and the collective society's mindset was, Well, if you're not guilty and you're not doing anything wrong, then what are you worried about? And how many of us now regularly claim to have read terms and conditions and tick the box? But we've never even opened up the terms and conditions window two to start reading them. So we don't know how this is going to play out. And are people going to be that bothered? Is there going to be a great big groundswell against this or are people just going to shrug and say, Well, that's life and this is the latest thing and and go along with it? [00:14:19][60.6]

emma: [00:14:20] Ruxandra tell us a little bit more about planning for place. Tech's role in business and society is the situation. Is the climate mature enough in terms of rules, regulations, legislation to mean that we can push ahead with using place tech as part of our future? [00:14:36][15.9]

ruksandra: [00:14:37] I think it really depends on the geographies that we're talking about. I don't think it's mature enough, but I think it needs to start somewhere because up until twenty four months ago, some people in global organisations didn't really want to fully engage with tech. They feared it in a way because they weren't fully familiar with how much easier their lives can be because of it or due to it in terms of the regulations across the different geographies. It is so different. If we're looking at China, it is an absolute nightmare to get anything over the line there. Because of huge firewalls, we have challenges to get anything over the line. There are other geographies that embrace it much more because they look at the benefits that place that in tech and brings to business in general, but also due to human beings. If you look at it with fear, obviously you're going to resist it a lot. But it's also very difficult to have a global view of the maturity of where we are because the conversations are, to your point, initially using so many jargon words so people don't fully understand what they're getting themselves into, how to use it until the conversations evolve and people see that actually using it is not difficult. [00:16:06][88.9]

emma: [00:16:07] For example, they're suggesting that we are a long way off before finding a mature and stable situation where people can just embrace place tech and find that everything else is in its legislation's there. The privacy is there, the tech is there. How far off do you think we are before place? Tech will just become something which is accepted and is used only for the essentials and the necessary bits that genuinely make society and the economy work more smoothly. [00:16:36][29.1]

paul: [00:16:38] When you think of Uber, you think of Google Maps. The tech is already part of our day to day lives, seeing that bleed over onto the business world and be adopted by property companies. It's going to take some time. It can be difficult. It can be expensive. It can be time consuming. These are complex systems that you have to integrate into other systems in your business. These are not always easy problems to solve. [00:17:06][27.7]

emma: [00:17:07] Niklas Paul has just said it's difficult, expensive and time consuming. Where do you see this going in terms of creating place tech options and answers to problems that actually genuinely make things easier for us while we're out and about? [00:17:23][15.4]

nilesh: [00:17:24] We're getting calls regularly from clients that are just looking to create better spaces for their citizens, whether it's through monitoring the air quality, whether it's through ensuring that people feel safe within their environments. If you just look at how Singapore operates and its citizens, many people think that. Their lives are fast paced and very tech dependent. Yes, but the quality of life. Some people would say, is far superior than many people in the West. [00:17:55][31.4]

emma: [00:17:56] Paul, how can tech improve our sense of community? Can it make us more connected [00:18:02][5.5]

paul: [00:18:03] in terms of community? There's been lots of examples over the last couple of years of moving public consultation, which is a statutory requirement during the planning process when an application with some designs is put into a local authority. In the olden days, you would hire a room in the village hall and put some display boards up and say It's going to look like this. Fill in this questionnaire and leave it in the pile over there. Now, lots of companies are doing online consultations instead, and obviously there's been a push to that. There's been acceleration because they couldn't go to the village hall, but they're seeing greater interaction, greater engagement. There's more people completing the online questionnaire, and there's some very innovative, clever people that are trying to sort of use games and make it more fun to get different age groups involved and selecting their own options for what that school might look like or whatever. [00:19:00][57.1]

emma: [00:19:01] Ruxandra question to you about bringing the community together. There is still a large slice of society which either does not cannot for whatever reason, either through choice, age, even resources cannot even perhaps afford to take part in all this. [00:19:16][15.6]

ruksandra: [00:19:17] Obviously, in an ideal world, the tech would be accessible by everyone and would only be used for improving everyone's life. But unfortunately, it does need to be aimed at what it can do and what it can do better at a global level where people need to connect, where people need to feel included in the greater organisation to feel that their leaders are providing them with the space, with the environment to have their voices heard. [00:19:47][30.0]

nilesh: [00:19:48] The best forms of place tech is when you don't even realise that they're there because it makes your life seamless in the way it operates, because you're able to use it and experience it in a way that doesn't detract from your overall experience that you're trying to to gain. [00:20:05][17.1]

ruksandra: [00:20:06] Knowing what you want, how you want it being presented without you asking for it and making your life easier. [00:20:06][0.0]

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