Robotics for Real Estate Services

Real Estate Predictions 2018

Observing the digitalization of the real estate sector raises the question, if buildings will eventually be smarter than our processes. To ensure that the administration keeps up with the rest of the sector, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) will develop further and create additional impact in combination with other disruptive technologies. The Real Estate Predictions series and this content was developed by Deloitte in the Netherlands.

22/02 - Written by Hendrik Aholt and Volker Wörmann, Deloitte Netherlands

Comparing the Real Estate industry with other sectors, RE companies are not known as innovation leaders or early-adaptors in terms of technology. For some companies, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) might still sound like a technology of the far future and others might confuse it with an R2D2-like physical machine. But due to the ongoing extension and obvious business potential, RE companies are more and more starting to apply this technology in their daily business and boost the efficiency of their workforce. Nonetheless, looking at the sector specific processes and the administrative effort which is related to the management of properties, we find ourselves only at the beginning of this trend.

To start with a short explanation—the idea behind RPA is simple: RPA, which is basically a software, automates manual, repetitive and rule-based processes and tasks. It is linked with end-user software like ERP systems, MS-Excel, internet pages or email programs and then carries out manual labor-intensive tasks automatically exactly as programmed in its RPA-source code.

What’s in it for real estate companies?

The obvious and already most tackled area of application is the back-office, e.g. the accounting department. Tasks in this department are often showing a relatively high share of repetitive and structured processes. To keep track of all invoices, payments, renewals and credit applications is a lot of work that is currently often performed with a significant amount of manual effort. Despite the lost time for the employees to perform more complex value-add tasks, human error or even the potential for fraud is a relevant business risk.

RPA helps with the execution of such transactions. Furthermore it can support automatic extraction of data from various systems, structure and format that information and distribute those reports automatically, respectively makes them available for download. This can be done for entire portfolios, administrative units or single facilities and can be considered as an easy example for the application of RPA. Especially for the real estate sector, there are far more areas of application that are currently not utilized, though. The general potential is illustrated in the following graphic.

Key drivers of RPA in the future

As stated above, RPA already helps to reduce manual effort with data intensive activities following trained processes. The future importance of this function correlates with the increasing digitization of the real estate sector and the growing number of smart buildings. Already today, many companies are struggling to make use of the masses of unstructured data produced by buildings and integrated technology. In addition, the high number of different data formats causes difficulties that increases the effort or even prevents its usage of the data. RPA will be an important factor for converting this data into relevant information, but it cannot interpret the data by itself.

RPA with cognitive or artificial intelligence

Therefore, another driver is the enhancement of RPA with cognitive or even artificial intelligence (CI/AI). This connection enlarges the area of application from simple “following the rules” to judgment-based processes and predictive decisions called cognitive automation. Today, an RPA-enhanced process will just stop and inform the respective employee that something unexpected happened. Enhanced by CI/AI, use cases will be possible, which include decision preparation, structured suggestion and prioritization of alternatives or even direct decision making in the future. Involving multi-dimensional data sets that may span across time horizons and geographies and include terabytes of unstructured data, those decisions maybe more accurate than any human being could ever make them.

The potential of RPA in Real Estate

Although the potential for this technology is already high, we expect a strong development within the field of process automation during the next years in the real estate sector. In addition, investments in CI/AI are high and the smarter the technology gets, the more use cases will emerge. Therefore it is no question, if the technology will become more relevant in the future, it is rather, which companies will use it first to get a decisive advantage over their competitors by benefiting from efficiency gains, cost and risk reductions in the short term or – combined with CI/AI – even a real competitive differentiator in the long term.

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