Looking to the future through the lens of sustainability is seen as a key factor in the development of innovative products, technologies, processes and business models. The economic parameters are becoming increasingly dynamic and volatile, as new business models and technologies alter existing cost and revenue structures or even abolish them completely. Innovation cycles are becoming ever shorter. Meanwhile, many key determining factors such as the projected increase in mobility or the effects that demographic trends and digitalisation will have on society can only be estimated with great difficulty. By 2040, the volume of people and goods travelling across Switzerland is projected to increase by 40%. As the population ages, healthcare costs are expected to double over the same period. Changes due to climate change and scarcer resources are other important factors which future scenarios need to consider.
Trend scouting and areas of innovation
Swiss Prime Site’s innovation capabilities rely on trend identification at Group level and within each individual Group company. For nearly two years now, a future board and a retail board have been used to document and analyse early indicators and market trends in a systematic manner. The first ideas campaign was launched in October 2016 and completed in the summer of 2017, yielding further insights. The project outlines resulting from these initiatives can be assigned to four areas of innovation:
new services and products
new technologies and processes
strengthening the employer brand
new business fields and partnerships
Sustainability is the leitmotif
All four areas of innovation are closely linked to sustainability. Future ecologically designed buildings will offer many opportunities for putting new technologies and innovative products to use. Given their complexity and the increasingly stringent statutory regulations on future energy use, new technical, planning and consulting services will also be in demand.
A recent survey of executive employees in all Group companies showed a correlation between personal commitment and the desire to work for a sustainably oriented company (with 80% of respondents answering both questions positively). It is therefore critically important for Swiss Prime Site to strengthen its employer brand by systematically communicating its activities and efforts in the field of sustainability, particularly where the recruitment of new staff is concerned. Targeted efforts to involve employees in these activities, continuing education courses on sustainability and the creation of internal and external networks will all have an important role to play in the culture of innovation the company is striving to achieve. Through active innovation management that culture needs to be extended to the entire Group and its clients.
New partnerships can help to open up new business fields. A number of contributions to the ideas campaign have been devoted to start-ups and new ventures. These show the type of organisational structure which could be established to foster these new business fields. A new partnership with venturelab has been in place since September 2017. Its purpose is to facilitate collaboration with new, young companies. This collaboration also opens up new communication channels to Switzerland’s major educational institutions and technology-development centres.
Project outlines contribute to the vision
Innovative projects are being autonomously initiated and managed by the Group companies themselves. This ensures that the projects carried out are closely linked to the companies’ business operations and the the specific needs of their clients. With this organisational structure there is a certain risk of information loss and duplication, a risk which would be diminished if these initiatives were managed by a centralised research and development unit. That is why Swiss Prime Site’s digital information and communication channels are so important, and why they will be developed further in the years to come.
In the Group’s core real estate business, there are a number of topics and terms which real estate practitioners have classified as innovations for some years now. The most common of these are BIM (Building Information Modelling), 3-D printing and prefabrication and digital tenant platforms. Based on these ideas, examples can easily be developed which illustrate how they, too, can play their part in formulating and developing a long-term vision for the future, alongside the various overarching concepts listed above.
The benefits of digital twins
In 2017, an interdisciplinary working group at Wincasa set out to align the requirements and specifications for BIM in the planning process more closely with those for the remainder of the building life cycle including the operational phase. One result of this initiative was a data concept which documents the owner’s needs and provides the basis for managing a building more effectively. Work on digital twin buildings is already being carried out today. The technology, based on augmented and virtual reality capabilities, is currently being used in designing, planning and marketing the properties. In future, digital twin buildings could also be used during the construction phase, for maintenance purposes and to provide an interface to tenant and trading platforms or in portfolio databases.
Buildings as power stations
From January 2018, Swiss law will allow the creation of closed energy communities. The second phase of the electricity market liberalisation initiative is also expected in 2018. Both will constitute important components for new decentralised energy network concepts. E-mobility is increasing demand for electricity. At the same time, the output now provided by nuclear power stations will have to be replaced. That is why buildings now need to be considered as a possible means of producing and temporarily storing electricity. Switzerland’s built environment is clearly set to become a more significant part of the international and national energy infrastructure.
There is substantial scope for semi-automated or fully automatic accounting systems to simplify the numerous individual steps involved in the property-management process. Blockchain technology and the internet of things, in particular, should help to meet the growing need for more flexible rental contracts. Digital geodata and payment systems should make it possible to provide a full simulation of the customer journey both for residential and commercial properties, thus significantly enhancing the customer-care process.
In 2017, Swiss Prime Site and Wincasa successfully completed their first proof-of-concept test for a Blockchain-based system which can reduce the process for making and releasing a tenant’s rental surety deposit to a few simple steps.
Non-standard cases still have to be processed by specialised staff working outside the system. Furthermore, as the tests also demonstrated, the simplified, digitalised approach will in no way reduce the client’s need for advice or the degree of personal contact with the client. The key insight here is that when their various component concepts are combined in the right way, business processes can be made more efficient and sustainable without losing any of their essential multidimensional characteristics.