Property and Tech in the Public Sector

Thought leadership

For some time now I have wanted to redress what to me appears like a noticeable blind spot in the Proptech discussion and surrounding debate.

Cabinet Office screen

For some time now I have wanted to redress what to me appears like a noticeable blind spot in the Proptech discussion and surrounding debate.

The Public Sector – what springs to mind? A dusty, grey, tiered looking estate with institutionalised thinking and workplaces?

It doesn’t often get highlighted, but my understanding is different. My understanding would be, exemplar, visionary, operationally better than most private sector organisations. (Writing this on the day after the May 2017 General Election - I accept some irony in pitching a positive public sector story).

I don’t think enough credit is given to the way our national and local property estate is being directed, managed and operated. It uses its scale and weight effectively to drive innovation and creativity in Property. In my role, I am exposed to ‘the best’ of both the private and public sector by judging industry awards and having supplied products to the Built Environment for almost 30 years - and I wanted to report on it.

I’m not saying it’s all perfect, indeed the discussion that does happen highlights some negative reality, but things are changing, and this post will focus more on the outcomes and benefits of the tech at play, rather than the tech features themselves.

This demands some evidence, so here goes…

The Cabinet Office (CO) is the central department to lead on most of these initiatives. As with most well established and successful initiatives, you must first create a vision of what you want to achieve. In 2013 the Cabinet Office produced its first Estate Strategy in combination with the now defunct Efficiency Reform Group. That statement set the strategic direction and vision for some of these initiatives. Indeed, even before that time, better use of Property has been measured in the State of the State report since 2008 and every year since.

Recognising the energy and carbon impact of Property – the state of the estate report was driven from the Climate Change Act 2008 and since then the government can claim: a 27% reduction in carbon emissions, a 27% reduction in waste and a 12% reduction in water consumption.

More headlines related to optimising the property estate:

  • In 2008 the estate was 12million sq. meters – In 2016 it was 8million sq. meters.
  • In 2008 the financial cost of running the estate was £3.5 billion – In 2016 it was £2.5 billion.
  • 33% and 29% efficiencies in 8 years.
  • Capital receipts of disposed properties of almost £1bn in the 2015-16 measurement period.

Cabinet OfficeBenchmarking of this stable data set can be attributed to the ePIMSTM system owned and operated by the Government Property Unit and Public sector users. Other platforms that support the effective use and challenge of that estate are: Government Property Finder and Find me some Government space. For the 10+ years since it was initiated, ePIMSTM and the associated services and solutions that underpin it have been managed, developed and maintained by the organisation I work for - CDS.

The Government Property Unit (GPU) which is part of the Cabinet Office, has a key role in setting and delivering the policy and decision making for departments, agencies and the wider public estate to follow. Under the GPU, the ‘One Public Estate’ (OPE) and ‘Hubs’ initiatives deserve some recognition for their direction and ambition.

The OPE is a programme with the Local Government Agency that encourages any part of the public sector to consider itself part of a property estate that can be flexed. Whether that’s to share, invest in or dispose of, irrespective of what department, agency or council is involved. This attempts to right-size the property estate and any building should be seen as one that can be used by any public sector organisation or indeed offered to local private sector enterprises – more for less.

What are the outcomes?

  • More integrated, customer-focused services through public sector co-location;
  • economic growth, including new homes and jobs;
  • Capital receipts and running cost savings across the public estate.
  • Creating economic growth (new homes and jobs)
  • Delivering more integrated, customer-focused services
  • Generating efficiencies, though capital receipts and reduced running costs.

By 2019-20 the programme is set to generate 44,000 jobs, releasing land for 25,000 homes, raising £415 million in capital receipts from sales, and cutting running costs by £98 million.

Rather than one system or technology, the OPE programme is leading to the development and use of a plethora of solutions. E.g. a Black Country 3D Digital City Platform for Energy Performance, Flood Simulation, Social Data Visualisation and Command and Control systems involving AR/VR interfaces to name but one.

Property TechThe Hubs Programme - The 2016 State of the Estate Report states “The Government Hubs Programme is contributing to the transformation of the Civil Service into a modern employer by providing staff with modern, fit-for-purpose office space. It is intended to reform how government uses property, removing artificial barriers between departments by working in ways that minimise the need for office space while ensuring that existing space is used more efficiently.”

The Government Hubs programme aims to consolidate the government’s c.800 offices into c.200 by 2023. The hubs will involve 20 Strategic Hubs, approx. 200 Mini Hubs and Touchdown Spaces.

The key benefit of the Government hubs are their strategic locations with great public transport connectivity and local amenities for staff. Flexible working will be encouraged with collaboration zones where people in cross-department projects can sit and work together, and there will be quiet zones and private zones for work done by government staff that is confidential or sensitive. Cloud-based technology will free staff from their desks to work in the zones best suited to getting their job done.” (see ‘Matrix’ reference below for further technology benefits).

In 2011 the CO published the Government’s Construction Strategy. A document that placed Building Information Modelling (BIM) firmly in the PropTech vocabulary, but it also set a target as it required all new government constructions by 2016 to have employed a fully collaborative 3D BIM process. Before this lead and mandate, it could be argued that BIM (in its full context) was a technology/process that was only championed by early adopters. The evidence of how influential this has become has been in the way the BIM has now become a construction project staple across public and private sectors. However, there is more to be done as the 2016 target was for one of the more easily achieved BIM levels – Levels 4 & 5 await!

CCSThe Crown Commercial Service (CCS) is an agency supported by the Cabinet Office. It provides a comprehensive set of routes for the public sector to buy services. CCS control the procurement and re-procurement of suppliers who manage the Public sector estate. Its worth noting their contribution in driving best value and innovation in the areas that they control. Most Agents, Surveyors, Consultants and Facilities Managers are procured through this route. We must not forget that best practice delivery can come from those who supply services to that Public Sector estate too.

On the subject of buying services – the Cabinet Office, Government Digital Service G-Cloud framework is the manner by which most technology solutions are procured for the public sector. Again, the drive for the solutions to be open source, cloud based and data sharing ready; drives the latest thinking in technology down into IT suppliers.

On a much grander scale, it was interesting to see in the Conservative Party Manifesto a few weeks ago, where plans are being put in place by Cabinet Office for Digital Land and Digital Street initiatives. Digital Land is essentially bringing together all the government owned land data sets into a Geospatial mapping service that should provide access to the occupation and ownership of all land and property in its scope. In the Digital Street initiative, a data trial will be held in a Blockchain form and will aid the Land Registry transfer of property titles in the near instantaneous manner that is suggested by Blockchain. Whilst both are still in their infancy, it will be interesting to see if there will be a commercial angle to this i.e. monetising the value in public sector data captured over decades.

On a less grand but equally worthy level are two examples of Tech solutions delivering value to departments: Keytree - which is a room and desk management solution deployed in a number of Governments hubs and has a won a string of awards recently. Benefits are: Choice of location, Choice of Workplace environment, Constant/High Quality User Experience, Consistent user experience, Ability to book anytime anywhere.

The business benefits are:

  • Can attract a wider pool of talent - increasing diversity and Inclusion.
  • Access of a wider talent pool - Can draw on applicants who are geographically removed/ or who have caring responsibilities
  • It encourages the better use of physical resources and can be a positive for the environment
  • Flexible working can improve business resilience – Tube Strikes!
  • Increased employee retention rates
  • A more modern management style: Output over Presence
  • An autonomous, empowered and motivated workforce

Kykloud – is a mobile property surveying solution that has been recommended/mandated in the surveying of 22,000 schools by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (sponsored by the Department for Education).

The data collected from the site visits will provide the Education Funding Agency with an improved and up to date evidence base which will help inform future funding allocations and help direct investment to the areas with the greatest condition need.

The information that is gathered will include high level contextual data about the school, the site and the buildings within it, condition data for each building and information about key building management and compliance documentation that is available.

It really is one of the most innovative and largest projects of its kind in the UK. Surveyors from leading surveying firms will use Kykloud’s condition assessment and asset management technology, in order to provide the EFA with the knowledge and data they require to make informed decisions about maintenance and capital spend for years to come.

I know that there are detractors and negative detail to this subject as well, but the intention of this post was to highlight just a small number of initiatives underpinned by PropTech that have been running in the Public Sector for quite some time now and may have shifted understanding away from grey, dusty and tiered to shiny and may be even sexy?

All words in italics are references gained from:

My next post is Blind spot #2 – “Proptech before the hashtag” (phrase credited to Magnus Svantegård)

Blog author: Michael Stephens, Head of Asset Intelligence at CDS: call +44 (0)78 0325 9672 or email via our contact form.

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