The association, headed by property aficionado Vivian Chan, plans to grow a holistic network of property industry stakeholders and promote the wider use of proven emerging technologies.
The COVID pandemic served as a catalyst for not only behavior changes but also enterprise transformation. It accelerated the adoption of technologies by several years, highlighting the need for businesses to embrace technology to stay competitive.
One industry where technology is quietly making great strides is real estate. The increasing adoption of the IoT (Internet of Things), AI (Artificial Intelligence), Machine Learning, Data Analytics, Robotics and Automation has not only improved and transformed the way properties are designed, built, and managed in this digital era, but also how people view, buy, rent, or reside amid the digital economy boom globally.
In Hong Kong, property technology, or PropTech, is currently not one of the buzzy, headline-grabbing tech sectors that routinely rake in millions of dollars in funding at multibillion-dollar valuations. While the city is known for its tightly-packed buildings and its expensive property market, tech plays in the property verticals are not common at the moment, signalling the potential to come.
However, a few key change agents in the property and tech investing space are hoping to infuse a new balance and equilibrium into the ecosystem by launching the Hong Kong PropTech Association (HKPTA). Vivian Chan, Founder and Chairperson of HKPTA, envisions the creation of a holistic network of property industry stakeholders, with HKPTA as a platform bringing all the pieces together.
“Technology has been crucial to fuel productivity in the economy, as we witnessed in many other industries from consumer sectors to banking. However, the pace of innovation in the property and related sectors has been relatively quiet,” says Chan. Seeing the impact of the pandemic on real estate, she adds, made her reflect on what kind of action and transformation is needed to be taken to revitalize the industry.
A unique characteristic of PropTech is that tech solutions in this space often serve to facilitate more efficient, cost-effective operations for industry incumbents. In contrast, it is common for many other types of startups to follow the idea of “subverting the middleman” and going direct to consumers.
There are, of course, exceptions – property listing platforms that remove the necessity for agents’ involvement, for example. However, the bigger picture in PropTech portrays a storied industry that is poised for investment and integration of emerging technologies, operation optimizations with data-driven insights, more efficient asset management, greener buildings and a sustainable future.
However, one lingering problem remains: in an industry where family ownership has a strong foothold and can go back centuries, how can businesses effectively source and understand PropTech?
Applying PropTech to the world around us
“One may relate the real estate businesses mostly to buildings and bricks, but in fact, the property sector is closely related to a wide range of other sectors including many of our daily activities from a workplace, to a retail shopping outlet, a transportation station, and of course our homes,” says Chan.
Given its all-encompassing nature, there is plenty of room for innovation in this space. From startups that offer predictive inspection system to smart home IoT and geospacial analytics to others still that use AI for construction site safety, advancements in real estate seem to hover just inches from realization.
The most important technology applications in real estate, according to Chan, fall under three pillars. The first, she says, revolves around the use of big data in smart cities.
“With the increasing availability of data and computing power, I think we can expect more data analytics-driven applications – from urban planning, to construction tech, to smart retail,” she says.
The second falls under the applications of Internet of Things (IoT) and ergonomics in improving working environments in offices and co-working spaces. Examples of this, Chan says, include smart home devices and tenant management systems for collaborative spaces.
The last pillar focuses on sustainability and the green economy – something Chan says is a key global mission for the property industry.
“In Hong Kong, about two-thirds of carbon emissions come from electricity generation and buildings account for about 90% of the electricity consumption,” she explains. “Therefore, there is tremendous potential to improve energy efficiency in buildings, and we definitely look forward to innovations and homegrown role models in this space.”
Conceptualizing and launching HKPTA
Chan, an industry veteran with years of experience in tech and real estate investment and advisory, grew up in a real estate-focused family – as she puts it, her passion for this industry is rooted in her blood. HKPTA is a massive leap forward in executing her vision for changing the Hong Kong PropTech industry, but she’s also aware of the challenge she is facing.
“Rome was not built in one day, and we know it takes time to innovate and transform the status quo,” says Chan. “I see the needs, especially with growing complexity in this industry, and I hope to contribute my share to this industry, to Hong Kong.”
In its mission to try and bridge this gap, HKPTA plans to increase awareness and adoption of technology applications in property, and also facilitate more communication between stakeholders in the property space, including tech startups and investors. Its board currently includes numerous experts in the property space, including Park Capital Group Executive Director Wendy Law, and KaiLong Group CEO Ivan Ho, as well as experienced tech entrepreneurs and investors such as NewChic Capital founder Jennifer Cheng Lo.
Now that HKPTA has launched, it has several plans in the works, including youth engagement programs with local schools, and an event series to generate interest in PropTech through industry roundtables, startup interviews, and student hackathons. As Chan explains, these plans are essential first steps to bringing the community together.
“The PropTech community is relatively scattered at the moment. The first and foremost step in our strategy roadmap is to bring together the stakeholders and participants, and the team has been working tirelessly, reaching out to the property industry as well as the tech and startup communities,” she says.
Later, the association also plans to incubate up-and-coming PropTech startups, providing them with a network and a platform for growth.
Getting the association off the ground has also been a challenge due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Chan says she had wanted to start HKPTA for a while, but that it took “a lot of effort and courage” to dedicate herself to the idea and take the plunge.
While the process of forming the board and the association has been inconvenienced by the COVID-19 pandemic, Chan’s grateful to those that provided invaluable support – her cousin and Luk Hoi Tong Co. Ltd Executive Director Darrell Chan, Chuang’s Group Chairman and Managing Director Albert Chuang, HKI Vice Chairman and CEO Johnny Yu, and Asia Allied Infrastructure CEO Dr. Derrick Pang.
Nevertheless, now that the board has formed and plans have been set in motion, HKPTA is soon to be pushing forward with its goal to create a more synergistic PropTech ecosystem in Hong Kong.
Building meaningful applications
Industry associations like HKPTA are important for a number of reasons. Apart from bringing together the various stakeholders in an industry, they also set best practices within the industry, and can act as a representative voice on behalf of the industry. This is particularly important for the property market in Hong Kong, which is only now rebounding after an embattled two years.
In the case of HKPTA, another key facet of change it will bring to the table is a renewed commitment to sustainability. It is committed to supporting and integrating strategies that align with UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) numbers 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure), 10 (Reduced Inequalities), 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), and 13 (Climate Action).
HKPTA has a challenging journey ahead of it in growing to support and connect the PropTech ecosystem. Nevertheless, the promise of technology and the benefits it can offer are strong enough to make these efforts worthwhile.
“I find a lot of these technologies eye-opening and truly amazing, and I hope that technology advancements can be translated to meaningful applications for the industry and for the city we live in,” says Chan.
“And in order to achieve this, we need to bring technology solutions and the property industry closer together, which is the why behind our need for a platform for such engagement.”