With Locale celebrating their 15th birthday in 2020, we speak to one of their longest-serving team members, Dan O’Gorman, on the changing attitudes within estate management.
This November will mark Chief Product Officer Dan O’Gorman’s 10-year anniversary with Locale. Joining as a Project Manager in 2010, Dan has risen through the ranks, and has witnessed Locale’s evolution from a document storage function to being responsible for a suite of over fifteen SaaS Proptech products, utilising technology to deliver operational efficiency, transparency, tenant engagement and data-driven insights for the property industry. He is an experienced consultant, liaising with top tier property clients, including The Shard, Harrods Estates, CBRE, Savills, The Crown Estate and many more. We speak to Dan on the biggest developments within Locale, proptech and the wider real estate industry…
You’re approaching your 10 year anniversary with Locale, what has been the single biggest change you have witnessed within the company?
Locale was fundamentally a different business back then to what it is today. When I joined back in 2010, Locale’s USP was primarily document management for business parks. Proptech wasn’t a trend in 2005, and because it was a very niche subject, people didn’t realise what they were missing.
A turning point for our strategy came through our work with a residential client. Working closely with them, we realised that their building team were in need of the same tools that applied to business parks. They were very busy and bogged down with emails and spreadsheets, making management of the building slow and inefficient. By introducing our technology they were able to automate operations, track data, and focus on delivering exceptional service.
From here, we began doing more consultancy and bespoke technical projects. We would work closely with a client, defining a strategy for their building or estate by mapping out and automating their business processes. What we proved was that there was a real need and opportunity in the real estate market to improve business operations through consistency, accessibility and process standardisation which lead to increased customer satisfaction.
We had the opportunity to work closely with forward-thinking clients on landmark projects including Argent’s mixed-use redevelopment of King’s Cross, the Olympic Village’s shift to PRS – now known as East Village, prime residential developments such as One Tower Bridge and Ebury Square, News UK’s headquarters, and of course the vertical city that is The Shard.
However, to go into each building and undertake a custom project was not feasible at scale, so we realised that we needed a more flexible product that could be tailored to client’s various requirements off the shelf. We started to identify key challenges, roles, and processes that we could then package and sell to property agents. It has enabled Locale to scale up and service over 60-70 million square feet.
Scale has given us a wider variety of clients to work with across a number of asset classes, including residential, commercial, retail and business parks. Working with such a wide range of clients has revealed each areas own unique challenges and needs, which provides further opportunities to evolve the product and deliver technology to those sectors.
What has Locale done beyond tech?
While Locale itself is tech for slicker operations, we’re ultimately trying to create better places to live and work. This really is about human connection, and we provide the tools and software to facilitate this. We have worked hard to refine the operational side of the business and are now doing the same for community engagement. We’ve started a sister company that specialises in delivering strategic occupier engagement called Locale Life.
Locale Life creates a sense of community by building relationships with suppliers and local businesses, helping people within the spaces to feel at home and engage with others. The idea is to adopt the philosophy of placemaking, creating happier spaces that promote health, wellbeing, and community. Tenant experience is fast becoming an expectation amongst occupiers, and so Locale Life tailors the experience to each building, making where you live and work highly enjoyable and social.
Do you believe attitudes towards technology have changed within the property industry over the last decade?
Attitudes have changed massively. The PropTech industry is still considered fairly new and most people associate it with start-ups. People think that no one is established and yet here we are at 15 years old.
I think historically people have been tech-averse, with the property industry being very conservative. Many in the industry haven’t felt the need to change the status quo, however, we are seeing an increase in Building Managers who are more aware of how tech works, how to use it, and how it benefits them.
I believe there has been a long-held fear from estate managers that tech will automate them out of a job. This fear of the unknown is keeping the property sector from fully embracing technology and moving towards a digital future. Tech is there to do the admin work and provide insights, enabling the building team to connect with occupiers and manage user data.
Occupier expectations have also changed, as consumers have come to expect seamless experiences facilitated by technology. When you look at the most valuable companies 10 years ago, it was companies like Exon, Shell, and GE. Today tech dominates, with Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, and Amazon taking over. This is because tech capitalises on the consumer experience, providing them with convenience – online banking, social media, smart homes, virtual assistants ect. These expectations have naturally carried over to work-life and Building Managers need to play catch up to provide a high-quality service. Just focus on identifying your customers and their needs, and build the solution using tech as the facilitator – ultimately the goal is creating an amazing experience and the technology itself should be almost invisible to the end-user.
What do you believe serves as the biggest barrier to real estate from fully accepting technology as part of their DNA?
I believe the barrier really is just moving past the unknown. Proptech is relatively new, so we have to spend a bit of time educating people on the benefits. The generational change has helped speed up tech adoption, as has COVID through necessity, and the industry is moving away from being so risk-averse to innovation. Those who adopt tech are getting a competitive advantage early as they suddenly have access to data and insights they never had before. It can lead to lower operational costs, increased occupancy and retention, and increased customer satisfaction.
What are your predictions for PropTech in a post-COVID world?
COVID has accelerated trends that were witnessing beforehand. It’s proven the effectiveness of flexible and remote working at scale – that by and large productivity remains or even improves. We don’t believe this is the death knell of the office, however, as people miss the human connection – of collaborating, networking, and socialising in person. In addition to the safety measures, offices are gearing up to cater to this type of creative experience rather than simply having rows of desks. Technology can help improve the customer experience in every element of this.
Data is becoming far more important for effective, agile management of assets. By going digital, access can be tailored and a full-service history provided showing all interactions. Technology is now being adopted across the board helping building managers to deliver a great service and be the best in the market.