This is an report written by Colm Quinn, Ann-Marie Hardiman and Paul O’Grady on the SCSI National Conference for the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland quarterly magazine, the Surveyors Journal.
The SCSI National Conference was held outside of Dublin for the first time in Carton House, Co. Kildare on March 31. The opening plenary was moderated by Newstalk Breakfast presenter Shane Coleman.
The title of the conference was ‘Future of our Profession’ and SCSI President, Claire Solon said in her opening remarks that the future was about being ready for uncertainty, that it held huge hope, but fears also.
She said: “The world and country changes – we can’t know what those changes will be but we can adapt. We have proved as a nation that we can adapt to change”.
Claire set out a number of challenges that she sees as affecting the profession, with the housing shortage being the obvious one. She called for the cost of supplying units to be brought down, and criticised the fact that repeated calls from the Society for this have so far gone unheeded. Funding is also an issue, along with Brexit and building defects.
She said that our ways of sharing information have changed and become more efficient. Even though we can communicate from almost anywhere now, she said people are still more likely to work with people they’ve met and encouraged members to take advantage of events like the National Conference.
Future of business in Ireland
Martin Shanahan, CEO IDA Ireland
The head of the IDA, Martin Shanahan, spoke about the future of business in Ireland. He is concerned about the supply of office space in the country. He thinks the situation will improve in Dublin but has concerns about elsewhere, especially Galway. He said: “We want to increase investment outside of Dublin by 30-40%”. Residential building is becoming a pinch point and Martin said he will find it increasingly difficult to convince investors that housing is coming, particularly in Dublin.
He said the foreign direct investment (FDI) area is performing well and that last year 200 foreign companies invested in the country.
Brexit is a challenge he thinks, but he said that Ireland will remain in the EU. He explained that in the absence of knowing what the future relationship between the EU and the UK will be, companies are preparing for a hard Brexit. Similar uncertainty around what policies President Donald Trump will introduce is making some companies hold off on investing. He said tax reform in the US is coming and that Ireland will need to keep an eye on it.
He doesn’t see companies flooding back to America, saying most of them are abroad for a reason. They want access to a market, to talent, and to research and development.
“It is an uncertain world but Ireland looks remarkably stable”, he said.
Innovation in Ireland – the rise of new skills and enterprises
Anne Heraty, CEO and Founder, CPL Resources plc
Founder of recruitment agency CPL, Anne Heraty, spoke of the change going on in the world. She remarked that the largest “hotel” in the world owns no property – Airbnb; the largest car company owns no cars – Uber; and, the largest publisher produces none of its own content – Facebook.
Right now, driving is the second largest occupation of men in the US. She asked how will this change when self-driving cars become widespread?
Anne asked if technology will take our jobs and noted that this worry has arisen before but rather than taking jobs, technology led people into new ones.
She said that technology will take some jobs but it depends what sector you’re in and she doesn’t believe it will do away with surveyors, and will in fact free them to focus on adding value for clients.
As a recruiter, she noted how the top 10 in-demand jobs of today didn’t exist 10 years ago, and universities are struggling to keep up. With career paths changing all the time, she said what employers are now after is innovation with ideas. Her advice to people is to keep themselves up to date and she said: “We’re preparing for a world where we don’t know how it’s going to turn out”.
Together with his father, Richard, he wrote a book called The Future of the Professions, which predicts the decline of the professions and looks at the people and systems that will replace them.
Future of the professions
Daniel Susskind, Economist and Fellow in Economics, Balliol College, Oxford and Author
The keynote speaker for this year’s Conference was author and Oxford lecturer, Daniel Susskind. Together with his father, Richard, he wrote a book called The Future of the Professions, which predicts the decline of the professions and looks at the people and systems that will replace them.
His father, a lawyer, has spent decades trying to understand how technology affects the legal profession. Daniel told the crowd there would be two futures for the professions. In the medium term, we will see a more efficient version of what we have today. In the long term, machines will displace the professionals.
End of the gatekeepers
Daniel said we need professionals because no one knows everything and professionals are trusted to be gatekeepers of certain areas of knowledge. A trend he identified in the professions is that they are all being asked to do more with fewer resources.
He asked that as we move from a print-based to a net-based society, do we need the professions anymore? Knowledge is now readily available online to everyone. He noted that more people signed up for Harvard’s online courses in a single year than attended the college in its history.
Technology is continually getting more powerful. In 1965, one of the co-founders of IBM, Gordon Moore, predicted that computer processing power would double every year. So far, he’s been right, and that phenomenon has become known as Moore’s Law. Doubling leads to exponential growth and if this continues to 2020, we will create a computer which will have the processing power of a human brain; if it continues to 2050, one as powerful as the human race. Machines are becoming increasingly capable as well. In 2011, the IBM super computer, Watson, beat the two top champions of American quiz show Jeopardy!
The pace of development and what machines can do is surprising, Daniel said: “There are machines that can detect the difference between a genuine smile and a polite one”.
Even his father, who was looking to and open to the future, didn’t expect a computer to beat the world chess champion, Garry Kasparov, in 1997.
Daniel said a lot people say they aren’t worried about losing their jobs to technology because no computer could ever think like a human but pointed out: “There are lots of ways of being smart that aren’t like us”. Or, just because a machine can’t think or behave like you, doesn’t mean it can’t achieve the same results. Daniel explained that machines operate in a fundamentally different way.
So will machines make everyone redundant? Daniel thinks in the medium term it is more about redeployment than unemployment. By 2020, he thinks we can either compete against machines or build them, and that building them is the more sensible option.
What can you do?
“Hold out till you retire”, said Daniel, only half-jokingly. But he said people have four tasks: think about new roles (he outlines some in his book); new models of working; start with a blank sheet of paper; and, change your mindset to one which that assumes sooner or later, the machines are taking over the professions.
Speaker Q&A and panel discussion
After Daniel Susskind’s talk, he was joined on stage by: Philip Farrell, estate agent and columnist; Kevin Nowlan, Hibernia REIT CEO; Neville Bourke, Change Consultant; and, Claire Solon, SCSI President.
Daniel Susskind asked at what point will it become negligent to choose a person over a machine? He made an example of a doctor in the future trying to figure out what’s wrong with you using their knowledge (which while good can never be perfect) instead of using a piece of technology which is completely accurate.
He was then asked by a delegate if he thought negotiation skills would ever be replaced by technology? While he believes interpersonal skills will continue to be important in the medium term, if you can solve a problem without the need for people negotiating, then why wouldn’t you do that?
Philip Farrell said we need to look at what we’re good at and what computers might replace. He predicts that there will always be a need for estate agents but that they’ll work alongside technology.
Neville Bourke said mindset change is the most important thing people and businesses can do. If you try and defend your right to perform a task, you will lose.
Kevin Nowlan criticised the management plan for our cities saying that it is not fit for purpose. Claire Solon said of the housing crisis: “Part of the challenge is to take account of where we are now and what we can do now”.
She said we need to get over our fear of height in Ireland when it comes to tall buildings and is concerned that it is seen as politically dangerous to support development.
There is a huge amount of vacant properties in the country and she wishes there would be more take-up of the Government’s Living Cities initiative. She said we need strong decision makers and that: “We could be doing a lot more with what we have”.
Breakout sessions: Putting the future in focus
Breakout sessions – part 1
- Funding the future
After lunch, the Conference split into three breakout sessions. One of these was entitled ‘Funding the future’ and heard from: Colm Lauder, Senior Real Estate Analyst, Goodbody; Donall O’Shea, Head of Real Estate Finanace, AIB; and, Fiona Cormican, Director of New Business, Clúid Housing, and was chaired by Michael Cleary of Cleary, McCabe & Associates.
Colm Lauder explained how the Irish market looks to international investors, especially pension funds. He said Ireland’s property market has been unique as it has outperformed its equity markets: “Ireland stands out on its own, we’ve increased our investment value”.
Donall O’Shea said that: “AIB is very ensconced in the property market”. A total of 17% of its lending last year went to the property sector, not including mortgage lending. He said the bank’s competition has changed and it is now competing with REITs and German pension funds.
AIB is now looking to lend to developers with proven track records and will only lend on sites that already have planning permission. The bank is more interested in funding developments on a phased basis, based on sales.
Fiona Cormican said: “If we don’t tackle social housing, we can’t tackle private housing because the people who need social housing are living in private accommodation”.
Clúid is a social housing agency and Fiona said it wants to work with the private sector and that it plans to spend €500m on 2,500 homes over the next three years.
- Tech Talk
The Tech Talk session was chaired by Robert Hoban, Managing Director of BidX1. Lucinda Kelly, founder of POPertee, was the first speaker and she explained her business as linking global brands with the right property for a pop-up shop. She said that big brands are seeking unique locations to help create good experiences associated with their products. Her solution, the POPertee company, uses data to match brands with spaces that are likely to meet their requirements for area and audience.
Paddy Ryan of Mace Group spoke about the challenge and benefits of convincing construction professionals to digitise all paperwork for a project. It involves using all drawings in a digital format and introducing asset tagging with barcodes. By using Google Sheets (which is free and easy to use), a client can be given an iPad with all up-to-date information. It also allows the personnel to see what kit is in or overdue and why.
Mauro Di Porzio, co-founder of 3D to Sell, advocated the use of 3D models to create emotional engagement for clients. With new builds, the building does not have to be finished for a client to see how it will look. When selling an existing property, a 3D tour can help prospective buyers see whether they are interested and wish to go see the property or not. He stated that of agencies they surveyed, 90% said 3D helped, 83% said they were more competitive, and 74% said they won more business.
Jim Moore, co-founder of Office Market Guru, described that business as Airbnb for office space, allowing customers to be able to access office space for periods ranging from four hours to four years. In terms of interaction with agencies, he said that Office Market Guru is seeking to partner with agencies so that the supply side of the business operates efficiently.
- Rise of the regulations: creating value while managing burden
This session was chaired by JP McDowell of McDowell Purcell Solicitors, who said that the value of regulation lies in its ability to raise standards, diffuse public dissatisfaction, and protect titles. It carries significant cost and administrative burdens, however, which can be onerous on both professionals and consumers.
Maeve Hogan, CEO of the Property Services Regulatory Authority (PSRA), said the PSRA’s function is to streamline registration, and that resources like licences.ie have helped to achieve this. She summarised a number of initiatives the PSRA has spearheaded to drive education, qualifications and standards in the industry, from the statutory requirement to provide letters of engagement, to the forthcoming introduction of CPD.
Barrister and surveyor Martin Waldron, an expert in construction disputes, spoke on regulation in relation to dispute resolution. He outlined some details of the four types of alternative dispute resolution: mediation, conciliation, arbitration and adjudication, pointing out that new legislation will compel people to consider mediation.
Janette Fogarty, Assistant Director of the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB), said the RTB has managed to significantly reduce timeframes for dispute resolution using a number of approaches, including telephone mediation. She said the RTB was always intended to be a source of cheap and speedy mediation, and that its emphasis is now moving towards education and awareness, and preventing disputes by making landlords and tenants aware of their rights and obligations.
The final speaker was John Gilmartin, CEO of Klyant, a company that provides business account software, and a sponsor of the Conference. He spoke about the importance of investing in new technology and of leveraging that technology to solve business problems and build vital trust with clients. He also pointed out that good systems reduce the administrative burden of regulation.
Breakout sessions – part 2
- Brave new world: Brexit’s impact
This session was chaired by Colm Lauder, Senior Real Estate Analyst at Goodbody, and featured a group of eminent speakers who gave a flavour of the challenges and opportunities created by Brexit.
Jill Craig, Managing Director for Brussels, Hume Brophy outlined the negotiations now beginning between the UK and the EU. She said that there is considerable sympathy for a special deal for Ireland, given its unique situation, but that this was by no means universal. She spoke of the political implications, and said that many countries, including Ireland, will need to redefine their role within Europe.
Maree Gallagher, MGA and Chair of the British Irish Chamber spoke on the likely impact on the food and agriculture sector. The UK is a hugely-significant market for Ireland, and the best outcome would be continued free trade, but this seems unlikely. She said Ireland would need to be very involved in trade discussions, and to be aware of challenges from currency fluctuations and regulatory divergence. She also pointed out possible opportunities, as companies from the UK and further afield (such as Japan) consider locating in Ireland.
Marie Hunt, Executive Director, Head of Research at CBRE said that other jurisdictions are aggressively looking for post-Brexit business, and Ireland will have to do likewise. She felt that Brexit will be bad overall for the Irish economy but that the office sector is likely to benefit, as a number of companies are seriously considering relocating to Ireland. However, infrastructure deficit, in particular around housing, will need to be addressed.
The final speaker was Niall Cogan, Director at PwC, who outlined some of the practical implications for doing business, such as dealing with customs and tariffs in two jurisdictions. North/south movement of goods will also be a major issue, and Revenue is currently looking into methods such as tagging to address this. Currency management is also likely to be a challenge, as is movement of people.
- Building the future: digital construction
In the second round of breakout sessions, one covered digital construction and urged the take-up of building information modelling (BIM). It was chaired by Claire Crowley of Facebook who oversaw: Ralph Montague, Managing Partner, ArcDox; Michael Durnin, Head of Digital Construction, Murphy Surveys; and, Gary Comerford, BIM Lead at Linesight.
Claire Crowley introduced Ralph Montague by saying: “He really is a BIM champion”. He said projects rely on the quality of information. If there is good information the project will probably go well, if not, it will more than likely go poorly.
He said the way we produce information is costly. Paper-based information is difficult to query and difficult to search. BIM is a process of virtually building a structure. The benefit is that everyone can look at it and know what you’re talking about, whereas traditional drawings just look like lines on a page for most people. He said BIM is a far more efficient way of working, but that none of this will happen unless there is a process to make people work this way.
Michael Durnin explained how Murphy Surveys are now producing a lot of 3D data. This can be used for sales or planning. Gary Comerford is currently working on the National Children’s Hospital and said BIM has allowed them to do very quick analysis. He said that BIM will now be mandated in public tenders and companies will need to be able to demonstrate capacity.
Concluding Plenary – Finding Direction, Making a path
Panel: The future of our profession and innovation in our business
Shane Coleman took over again as moderator after the second round of breakout sessions. The first panel of the afternoon featured: Damien English TD, Minister of State for Housing and Urban Renewal; Robert Hoban, MD and Founder of BIDX1; Simon Betty, Director of Retail at Hammerson; Colin Bray, Chief Executive and Chief Surveyor at OSi; and, Jackie Doheny, Group Recruitment Manager at Linesight.
Minister of State English said he wants industry and local authorities to become more urgent in their approach and that we need to be able to deliver housing more quickly. He also raised the issue of vacant housing and highlighted how there are grants of €40,000 available to make vacant properties liveable.
Robert Hoban said the length of time for property transactions in Ireland is a problem, with an average sale cycle of six to 11 months, compared to around three months in the UK.
Simon Betty spoke about how the country is too reliant on Dublin, which produces 50% of Irish GDP, whereas London and Paris only produce around 20% of the UK’s and France’s, respectively.
The Minister said that from May 10, the planning process will become more streamlined. He said Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan will not make any tax changes outside of budget time and that if surveyors want tax cuts, they will have to prove it will increase supply without raising costs.
The panellists were asked to give one thought that delegates should take away. Simon Betty said surveyors need to move away from thinking historic information has value anymore, it doesn’t, it’s all online.
The Minister said there will be a vacant site levy in 2018 and that a vacant housing levy is being considered. Jackie Doheny said to embrace technology but not forget about softer skills. Colin Bray said there is no innovation without risk. Robert wants a change in the process of how property is sold.
Provocateur Address – Future proofing Ireland
John Moran, Former Secretary General of the Department of Finance
Former Secretary General of the Department of Finance, John Moran, in his provocateur address said that Ireland is Dublin heavy and that we should: “Put the east on a diet”.
John has been involved in the Ireland 2040 project and has been putting his ideas into the consultation. He said that we have a great country but we’ve done a terrible job of planning for the future. In Ireland 2040, he said the right issues are on the table and that the responsibility now passes to politicians to implement them. We are no longer in a recession and we have the money to fix these issues.
He has a vision of Ireland’s other cities growing to populations of between 300,000 and 400,000 and said this is as important for Dublin as it is for the rest of the country. He believes we can fix the capital by focusing on other places. By properly connecting Ireland’s cities nationally and internationally, it will take the pressure off Dublin. Ireland will gain another Dublin in terms of population in the next 30-40 years.
Ireland’s cities should be connected to each other and to Dublin, particularly by high-speed rail. He lamented the fact that Ireland is near the bottom of the table for infrastructure spend in the EU.
It is vital that countries invest in infrastructure, he said and that we can’t just go on a spending splurge in terms of taxes, wages and the public sector. He said we need to make hard choices and have hard conversations.
We cannot do business as usual and John said that we need to look at the choices we make in a different way. He said there are far too many people who “are just about managing” and that we’re creating a country that is making it worse for them.
He talked about the haves and the have-nots in Ireland, which are not terms he used in the traditional sense. The haves are the people who are invested in the status quo, who stand to gain from doing things the way we’ve been doing them. The have-nots are the people for whom we should be making the country better.
Let’s ditch suburbia
We should ditch suburbia he said; it’s an idea we got from America and from The Brady Bunch and that the only solution for a population like Ireland’s is density and height. He thinks we must address lifestyle along with housing.
He was critical of how infrastructure decisions are made by people who drive cars, like putting train stations in the middle of nowhere, saying you should be able to get off a train and walk into a town. We should be looking to reduce car usage and ownership almost entirely. He believes there are many Irish people under 35 who may never aspire to owning a car.
Suburbia only leads to more cars and congestion in our cities, making things worse for the people who live there who use public transport or cycle. He said that in Dublin we’ve managed to create the problems of much bigger cities.
John believes the recession saved us from our climate change obligations and that we don’t talk about the issue properly. He doubts we’ll hit our targets on emissions reductions.
There are many people in rural Ireland who don’t want to live in isolation, afraid of getting broken into. This doesn’t mean moving people from Connemara to Cork city. What he means is that in other countries they’ve built rural communities which are clustered together near to where the residents have spent their lives. He said we hear a lot about how a certain percentage of housing developments need to be social housing but noted that we have an ageing population and suggested we have a certain percentage of housing for older people. The population of over 65s in Ireland will soon be more than the population of under 25s, perhaps as early as by the middle of the next decade.
After John Moran’s address, he was joined on stage for the final panel discussion of the day by: Paul Hogan, Senior Planning Advisor, Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government; Niall Gleeson, CEO of Veolia; Dr Chris van Egeraat, Senior Lecturer at NUI Maynooth Department of Geography; and, Marian Finnegan, Chief Economist at Cushman & Wakefield.
Paul Nolan agreed with much of John Moran’s address. He said Dublin faces real problems and there is too much reliance on the city. Dublin’s dominance economically is not necessarily a bad thing he said, but there is scope for one or two more investment centres. However, regional development doesn’t mean equality everywhere.
Chris van Egeraat said that regional development requires a large urban centre with international, national and regional connectivity. He said we should be upgrading our regional airports rather than downgrading them.
Marian Finnegan said that a big problem in Ireland is that we focus on the present and the short term too much. She warned that our population is exploding and said rather than the stated requirement of 25,000 housing units that need to be built yearly, we really need to build 35-40,000.
Niall Gleeson said we should build an alternative to Dublin but not at the expense of the capital. If Dublin is neglected, foreign investment will go elsewhere.
Concluding the day’s talks, Shane Coleman asked the panellists if we’ll see change. John Moran said we have no choice and that if we don’t act now Ireland will become unstable and unfair. He believes we should redraw the administrative areas of the country so they’re less county based.
Marian Finnegan said changing Ireland is incredibly difficult and that we need to change the political structure to succeed. Chris van Egeraat believes we need buy-in from voters from the beginning. Niall Gleeson is sceptical because each government likes to come in with its own plan, and there should be a cross-party agreement on a way to tackle these issues. Paul Hogan said this is a national project, and that we should keep people involved locally but it is about the whole country.