China embraces use of proptech to improve office design and efficiency

  • China has been the recipient for about a third of global investment into property technology, or ‘proptech’, since 2013
Topic | Artificial intelligence

Zheng Yangpeng

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Norms about office design and culture are being challenged by the proliferation of data sensors which provide insight into issues such as the efficient allocation of space. Shenzhen's skyline on September 12, 2018. Photo: AFP

Investment in property technology globally has reached US$20 billion over the past six years, with more than a third of the money going into China, ­according to property broker JLL.

Venture capital companies are taking increased notice of “proptech” as it reshapes how offices and shopping centres are developed, occupied and managed, with China in the forefront.

“With the government's strong support and the tech-­savviness of the nation, the scope and scale of proptech growth in China is massive,” said Anthony Couse, JLL’s chief executive for the Asia-Pacific.

JLL is also investing in a number of start-ups, having launched a fund last year committing up to US$100 million to investing in proptech companies worldwide.

Albert Ovidi, chief operating officer of JLL Asia-Pacific, said that over the past few years, more wireless sensors were placed in ­office spaces to collect data.

The latest advances in artificial intelligence, blockchain and internet of things technologies have facilitated the process while helping to store and analyse data and improve management ­efficiency.

“Real estate is still running but we are getting more information out from the same building. Then we need qualified engineers and technicians to tell us how to run that better and save on costs,” Ovidi said.

“The properties JLL managed alone have collected 135 billion data points.”

Anthony Couse, CEO of JLL's Asia-Pacific region. Photo: Handout

“Real estate is still running but we are getting more information out from the same building. Then we need qualified engineers and technicians to tell us how to run that better and save on costs,” Ovidi said.

“The properties JLL managed alone have collected 135 billion data points.”

For landlords and operators, it is becoming easier to monitor metrics such as occupancy ratio and real-time energy consumption, as well as technical problems like abnormal temperatures or ­excessive power consumption.

Meanwhile, tenants can benefit from insights to optimise the number of desks as well as the use of meeting rooms and staff areas.

“What the data told us often contradicts with people’s intuition. Once, a client of us, a big technology firm, said most of their research staff spend their time at their desk. Sensors told us otherwise, that they mostly stay in the sofa area,” said Lin Junjie, a partner with Dfocus, a data provider to builders and designers.

These insights can help companies rethink their interior layouts, including important questions such as whether it is necessary to have one desk per worker, if the size of meeting rooms is adequate and whether the restroom are allocated properly.

Dfocus says it has 20,000 sensors deployed to more than 20 projects, monitoring office usage and layouts.

Chinese start-up 9am, meanwhile, is using data sensors ­integrated into office furniture to help provide information for the health and safety of employees. For example, sensors at work ­stations could be used to alert ­employees if they have been ­sitting for too long.

Artificial intelligence
Retail properties
Microsoft
Venture capital market
Zheng Yangpeng is a business reporter at the Post, covering China property, banking and finance. He previously worked for China Daily, joining the Post in 2016. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism and Communication from Peking University, and a Master's Degree in Global Business Journalism from Tsinghua University.
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