Using technology for your next development site search

30/11/2016 5:01 am

Tech Property DevelopmentAt Blockbrief we spend our working days focused on knocking down the barriers that once made real estate information – as critical as what can be developed on a property – inaccessible.

ePlanning is the provision of online planning information and services. I don’t like the term or the need for the term because it highlights how far planning has been left behind by the tech revolution. In my opinion, the term indicates that planning has to “catch up” with the tech revolution.

For example, during the past 12 months, I’ve been a part of an “ePlanning” project in the United States, which has involved digitising New Jersey zoning data.

Unfortunately, much of the information involved lives on clunky PDFs, which are often photocopies. Forget a mobile version of the website; this is a 500-billion-dollar economy!

Investors need technology that enables them to see how every parcel is zoned, its potential density, the council’s plans for it, what it last sold for, who owns it and how long they’ve owned it, as well as sales and future supply trends in the surrounding neighbourhood. This is in the form of datasets and online tools for analysis, modelling, and visualisation.

I want to focus on some trends in technology and how they’ll affect the development industry, and demonstrate how you can leverage technology to beat the big guys. These trends include big data, micro-moments and machine learning.

Big Data

Big data can been defined as capturing and merging extremely large data sources. However, it’s the ability to transform all this data into actionable insights that makes it invaluable. It’s what “Big Data” is all about.

For insights to be derived from such large data, serious technological scale and infrastructure for analytical capability is required. The advantage of utilising third-party data providers is the value they can add through the layering of insights, and the analysis created from crunching the data from a multitude of difficult-to-access datasets. This then feeds back to you in the form of useful insights and decisions points.

While town planning information is out there in the public domain, this is a little different. The same day you read about a new rezoning in the newspaper, we’re able to send our users a detailed report explaining the implications and prospects for investors and a dataset of every property potentially now in play, together with ownership information.

Town planning information tends to be very inaccessible or inconsistent, making it difficult to apply big-data principles and implications to it. Data’s useless if it’s not effectively analysed and applied to make informed decisions.

Big data leads to further disruptions to business as usual. The control of property information is increasingly being diluted from the control of professionals, big developers and local investors. Technology allows an international novice investor to be better informed than a local expert developer about development opportunities.
Big data enables better quality decisions to be made, based on fact and not assumptions or, even worse, decisions being made on data your competitor knew about well before you.


People typically check their mobile phone up to 150 times a day. A micro-moment is a digital reflex that occurs in that instant where we want help for information that will improve our decision-making. Those moments where you think, “I want to know this on the go”.

Although micro-moments are a consumer-based phenomenon, they spill into other parts of life and as a result, work is becoming more fragmented. Thus “down” moments, such as waiting for a coffee, or catching the bus, will increasingly become research time. Rather than going back to the desktop and considering an issue, we’re now researching it on the way.

Technology allows you to utilise location-based information, insights on urban planning and development issues on the go.

Decision-making is faster than ever before. Investors who utilise the right technology can compress what once would have been a week-long project into a micro-moment.

Machine learning

Machine learning is generally about giving computers the ability to learn by using algorithms to analyse data, find patterns or predict outcomes.

Machine-learning allows computers to find hidden insights without being explicitly programmed on where to look. Much of my current effort in this area is focused on helping users grasp intelligence and insight from our information.

In many cases machine-learning is invisible: you might run a search for zoning changes and you suddenly get magically better results. You may not know to ask the question “why” or “how” am I getting this result.

Let’s say you wanted to know which council proposed zoning changes this week that created capacity for more than 300 dwellings or a real value of more than $150 million. You could possibly answer that question yourself, but it would take a whole lot of legwork. With the right technology you could just type the question into the search bar and get the answer on your screen within seconds.

This represents an enormous gain in productivity for people who do this kind of research. Information providers utilise algorithms and machine-learning to automate identifying the opportunities and risks generated from planning changes.

Utilising technology in your next development site search gives you the power to capitalise on these trends, rather than be left behind by competitors and new players entering the market.