Interview with Michal Paulen, HB Reavis, looking ahead at PropTech in Asia & digital transformation

Updated: Oct 30




While HB REAVIS are solely a European Property Developer, the lure of the Asia PropTech business is proving too good for them to resist. We spoke with Michal Paulen, Innovations & Partnerships Asia HB Reavis, about PropTech in Asia and how the current situation might fast track digital transformation across the property industry.

Tell us a bit more about your role at HB Reavis in Asia?

As the Innovations & Partnerships lead for Asia I keep a close eye on the start-ups and scale-ups emerging here. I also focus on the entire PropTech community, with a focus on market trends and supporting our business units in evaluation and deployment of new solutions.

I often get a surprise reaction from industry peers in Asia as to why I’m based in Singapore when we (HB Reavis) solely have development projects across Europe. But you just can’t ignore the amount of investment going into PropTech here, the talent in the region, the companies and the fast implementation of innovations in some markets. We also don’t think that being in Europe we should be limited only to PropTech solutions there. We have already found a number of great solutions in Asia Pacific that we are now piloting in our European offices.

How is Covid-19 impacting the property industry and how will this impact the sector long term?

First of all, it’s necessary to note that we are seeing an immediate impact to the industry. This is sudden and brutal – since most of the office buildings and retail malls are empty at the moment. Covid-19 will have a lasting impact beyond the current situation. Will office design change drastically? Will flexi-leasing become the new norm? Will companies look at WFH under a new optic? We will have to wait for more clarity on the long-term implications. However, we can expect changes in individual behavior, how companies view and use their offices, the importance of tenant experience, increased digitalization and last but not least more emphasis on health, safety and wellbeing of people in buildings.

How is PropTech making a difference at this critical time?

There are many examples already, and some companies are better prepared and able to respond now if they are ahead of the curve in use of PropTech. Just to name a few solutions that are relevant, that we’ve been using already: occupancy and indoor positioning – allowing us to see the real-time use of spaces and help us maintain social distancing; air quality monitoring – it’s more important than ever to provide healthy work environments to our people and ensure their immunity and health remain strong. Access controls tied to health screening in buildings will help us to prevent spread of viruses in buildings. Another area that we have been looking into for a while and is now helping in many cities is location-based intelligence. I also expect a growing demand for PropTech solutions that help with efficiency as companies are now faced with declining revenues, so an even stronger push for more efficient operations is inevitable.

Do you think real estate companies digital transformation plans have been hastened in light of this?

I would certainly hope that it has! Necessity is the mother of all inventions, and Covid-19 might have been able to provide the push needed to fast track digital transformation across the industry.

At HB Reavis, digital transformation has been going on for a while. One of the examples is our digital workplace solution, Symbiosy. This technology platform is designed to assess indoor environmental quality, space utilisation, and in-company collaborative networks in the physical and digital workplace. It is crucial in times like this to leverage our experience and expertise to respond quickly and help our clients.

What do you think the future of the property industry looks like?

In the office market, I see a stronger demand for tenant experience with focus on health, wellbeing, collaboration and socializing. Importance of data analytics and insights will also increase as companies aim to better understand how their employees use physical space. We are likely to see more IoT devices, robots and AI with the aim of more efficient operations. The best offices and companies will need to provide employees’ with different types of office spaces, but also allow for flexibility and remote working.

In retail, if there was already a need for a more unique experience to drive traffic, now it will be even more crucial. The move from offline to online shopping has accelerated and the trend might continue.

Looking at residential, even though we are not active in this space, I’m a strong believer in co-living and flexible residential products.

We can expect to see health, safety and wellbeing being a strong theme in the next period and HealthTech merging with PropTech to offer some new solutions. Personally, I hope sustainability will be even more prominent with more tangible solutions having a positive impact on the environment.

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