• Lorne Burns, Author |

4 min read

This post was prepared in collaboration with Tom Rothfischer, a KPMG in Canada Audit partner and leader of our real estate practice in the GTA.

The year 2020 tested the Canadian real estate sector's resolve and adaptability, and as we move through 2021, the industry continues to be impacted by these forces.

As operations become more connected and complex, and markets harder to maneuver, now is the time for firms to take a renewed look at their data strategy.

The call for "going digital" is clearer than ever. The pandemic has created momentum for real estate firms in every category to adopt technologies, talent, and responsive market tools that support remote work and online services. To be clear, in the days of COVID-19, responding to the changing needs of the market and establishing "smarter" back-office processes is all but critical to survival.

The good news is that Canada's real estate firms have not been idle. Our 2020 KPMG Global Real Estate Data survey indicates that a third (32 per cent) of Canadian real estate leaders have accelerated or enhanced their data strategy implementation, with 42 per cent claiming ownership of an active data strategy. This is an uptick from our 2019 Property Technology study, in which only 28 per cent of Canadian respondents had a data strategy in place and were actively collecting data to inform their operations. Granted, our domestic firms lag behind the 74 per cent of US respondents who have also embedded a data strategy, but it's evident that our real estate leaders are warming up to the value of investing in clearly defined and enterprise-wide digital game plans.

Beyond the back office
Canadian real estate firms have not shied away from big data. The difference between now and the industry's pre-pandemic days is that data strategies are expanding beyond an operational focus (e.g., saving energy, finding cost reductions, budgeting, etc.) and into customer engagement. Today, firms are wielding data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and online technologies to build stronger ties with their virtual partners and customers, as well as to gain greater control over asset operations both within their properties and across their portfolios.

Data strategies are informing front- and back-office transformations across the industry. They include:

  • The development of client platforms to create faster, more efficient sales
  • Embedding automated back-office systems to manage critical processes more effectively

Investing in paperless environments (e.g., mobile apps, cloud platforms, collaborative platforms) to keep real estate teams connected and efficient, wherever they're working.

Moreover, firms use data strategies to inform more effective predictive maintenance, more accurate data models, and more reliable growth.

But simply having a data strategy is not enough. As firms expand their digital capabilities, they must do so with defined roles and responsibilities in mind. That said, our 2020 survey reports that only six per cent of data and analytics strategies are "owned" by Chief Information Officers or Chief Technology Officers (39 per cent in the US), and only three per cent of Canadian firms have hired data scientists to unlock full value from that strategy, compared to 44 per cent of real estate firms who are adopting data specialists in the US.

Lacking ownership for data strategies is only one obstacle. For many organizations, their ability to capture and leverage data is also hindered by inadequate systems (29 per cent), disparate systems (26 per cent), lack of resources, poor data quality, and the challenges of consolidating or standardizing data from multiple external sources. Moreover, among the biggest barriers to implementing a data strategy are a lack of buy-in from organizational leaders and a resistance among employees to abandoning outdated habits.

Beginning your strategy
It's a good sign that half of the real estate firms surveyed have a data strategy. However, the fact that our sector lags in embedding the right tools, leaders, and specialists compared to other jurisdictions signals that there are gaps to address. The following are some initial steps organizations can take to develop and execute an effective data strategy:

  1. Identify who will drive the strategy and ensure that this individual has both the power and the expertise to make meaningful change.
  2. Ensure the strategy is aligned with your organization's unique goals and priorities, both long- and short-term.
  3. Define the technologies, infrastructure, processes, and human capital needed to launch and embed the strategy in your organization.

Lean on frameworks and methodologies to help map out how these critical resources can best be implemented, governed, and wielded to their full potential.

In the posts ahead, I'll look at how to become a data-driven organization, measure success, and ensure you're following the right data "signals."

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