As we move towards a more connected, tech enabled world, integrations between technology providers becomes vital to ensure a seamless experience for the end user and to enable the merging of the physical built environment and the digital world.
In this online roundtable, sponsored by Ordnance Survey and co-chaired by Matt Partridge, UKPA Chairman and CEO of Infabode, and Michael Gordon, Strategic Product Manager of Ordnance Survey, we discussed with our members from across PropTech and Property whether there is there a willingness to plug-in and collaborate across the industry, and what can be put in place to facilitate the integration of APIs.
Application programming interfaces (APIs) are becoming increasingly important and powerful, as companies look to better manage their data and combine that with other data sources. Due to its recent surge in the past decade, arguably some of the most renowned web applications could not function without them. APIs enable businesses to work with external third-parties such as developers and business partners, as well as other internal departments within the company. As a result, this streamlined approach to data management enables services and products to utilise external and internal data through a documented interface.
The roundtable offered an invaluable opportunity for attendees to engage with fellow members, whilst also identifying strategies to tackle any challenges that arise through collaboration around the ‘virtual’ table. We were joined by our partners and members from Amro Partners, Ordnance Survey, CBRE, Coyote Software, Forbury, GPE, Infabode, Leaf Living, Lettingaproperty.com, Mallcomm, Nimbus Maps, Re-leased, rentlondonflat.com, Search Acumen, Technologywithin, Unloc, Offr and VU.City who led the way to a highly thought-provoking and insightful discussion. Here are the key themes from the discussion:
Lessons from other industries using APIs
There was a common consensus that a lot of tech is outdated, and despite improvements in adopting APIs in comparison to 5 years ago, many smaller and medium-sized businesses still hold on to a reluctance to change. If, however, we follow the example of Fintech that has made many advances, such as plugging in data sets from multiple bank accounts, and Logistics that runs seamlessly due it being an industry that promotes sharing APIs, we could see major improvements in how real estate approaches data sharing. It is no secret that there are large amounts of invisible data. Therefore, if we learn from these highly competitive industries that have nailed their approach to API integration and sharing, such as Fintech and Logistics, the general running of real estate could go from strength to strength.
Sharing data in the UK and internationally
It is indispensable that the real estate industry improves the culture of data sharing, which, indeed, requires a measure of trust that can be argued to have been non-existent until recently. Additionally, during the discussion it was suggested that it isn’t necessary to take all the data available, but rather, to pick and choose which data would be most beneficial to the company and its customers. In this way, they will not feel locked in and will be free to make choices in the interest of their company and clients. It seems that the issue lies in persuading businesses to make a conscious effort to work with competitors and share data, especially in pressing areas such as sustainability and energy consumption.
Our internationally based members highlighted that the hesitation to share data is a similar issue in Australia and New Zealand. They suggested that sharing data, especially internationally, must therefore make business sense and have clear purpose and intention behind it.
How PropTechs can better supply APIs
There should be clarity in terms of what to share and confidence amongst leaders about the long-term value of integrating APIs in their companies. It is also important not to disregard the existing tech solutions that companies are using and how collaborative approaches to better supplying APIs can be adopted.
PropTechs must be willing to share and standardise their data-sharing agreement which should form an integral part of the Service Level Agreement (SLA). Included in this agreement, should be clarity on who owns the data, to avoid any disagreements and uncertainty.
Supplying APIs successfully is centred on clarity of fitness for purpose of data and understanding what your customer base is trying to achieve. Plus, educating non technical, customer facing professionals, on what other APIs and solutions are available in the market is paramount in being able to support customers holistically. In this vein, it would be beneficial to train salespeople to be able to confidently talk about partner solutions and what they can offer.
Key challenges in integrating APIs
A key hindrance to integrating APIs is that systems in smaller to medium-sized firms are outdated, and that many firms use a particular type of CRM, but few are open to having open APIs. Another issue that frequently came up was how data is structured and how the different approaches to the storing and delivery of data can cause challenges in the expansion of data sharing via API, with little standardisation across the industry.
Another challenge is that some companies implemented their own internal data warehouse, with the vision to have all data internally controlled. Consequently, they invest heavily in their own resources which can prove problematic, as they are continually trying to validate their own internal data and how their data is being used for the outputs that they are looking for. As a result, there has been a shift in approach from many companies who are now looking elsewhere for a way to plug in data and make more sustainable decisions.
Additionally, there seems to still be a gap between what executives want from their data versus what is feasible to execute. Fortunately, there is an increasing number of property companies who are hiring specialised tech people in-house who can verbalise with executives what is doable with the data available, resulting in the future API process becoming increasingly smoother. Many companies are now using these technical hires to better organise and structure their data.
A governmental perspective
Opinions were divided on the role the government is and can be playing on the topic of API integration. Some members expressed that there is more that the government could be providing in the housing space to push digital transformation further, and that there is more data that the government has that it has yet made available. From a governmental perspective, there is a huge push to make data more readily available, and progress has been made in making data more accessible and easier to integrate.
It was suggested that the next step from the government is to incorporate more strategy and delivery, the Geospatial Commission being an example of this. Additionally, the Department of Levelling up, Housing and Communities is promoting more initiatives. Despite these measures, it may be more effective to look at local authority level where there are larger amounts of different types of data that could be more usefully combined and shared.
Concluding the discussion, although systems in small-medium enterprises are generally outdated, there do seem to be positive steps being made in teams that are open to change and to integrate APIs industry-wide. It was widely agreed that data-sharing is the way forward, with FinTech and Logistics being prime examples of the positive implications such measures could have in the long-term for real estate. In order to follow the steps of these industries, clarity of fitness of purpose of APIs amongst those in senior positions is paramount, as well as hiring technically minded individuals to lead the way. It seems that despite opinions being divided on governmental action of the topic, the government is behind releasing more data and opening up more APIs. There is more to be done, but real estate is heading in the right direction.
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