Real estate: Bricks, mortar and a billion bytes in between

Dec 07 2013, 16:44 IST
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Be it architectural design, structural engineering, project management, there is IT involved at every step in development of a real estate project. Be it architectural design, structural engineering, project management, there is IT involved at every step in development of a real estate project.
SummaryFrom managing project timelines to a 3D walkthrough, IT is involved at every step in real estate industry.

Imagine this. You are taking a walkthrough of your dream home. You can see how each room would look like, down to the paint on the walls, bathroom fixtures, and even furniture. This is no sample flat being shown by the developer. This is happening in 3-D, on your computer screen.

“It is almost like playing a game, except that instead of scoring points, you are designing your home,” says Sanju Thomas, founder of Ghar360.com, a Bangalore-based start-up that is focusing on the architecture and interior design market.

The unique technology that Ghar360.com has developed is to seamlessly convert a blueprint made using software such as AutoCAD into a three-dimensional visual, which eliminates the complex and expensive process of creating three-dimensional walkthroughs. Once the visual is ready, a user can try out the bells and whistles — décor, paints, fixtures.

“Interior design is a $1 billion market in this country, and there are around 8 lakh products available in the home segment,” says Thomas who is in talks with angel investors to close a round of funding before taking the website online for general users who would be able to try their hand at designing their home. He plans to tap established brands to offer their products on the platform to enable a prospective buyer experience them through what is called ‘augmented reality’ in technology parlance.

Real Estate IT

The brick and mortar real estate industry has come a long way in its adoption of information technology. Be it architectural design, structural engineering, project management, there is IT involved at every step.

“Real estate development is an information intensive process. In real estate development we integrate diverse and specialised intellectual resources and expertise; and thrive on the creation of project delivery networks based on alliances between participants from contractually-bound multiple organisations. Timely information availability and sharing can significantly improve operational efficiencies leading to reduction in project time and cost overruns that we currently face,” says Anil Sawhney, associate dean and director, School of Construction, RICS School of Built Environment, Amity University.

Value and Budget Housing Corporation, a leading player in the organised affordable housing segment has used IT solutions to keep customers informed on the progress of a project. “Live feeds on sites which can be seen by the customers when he visits the VBHC website,” says Vivek Singh, regional business head- NCR, VBHC. “IT is now being used in a major way to provide support to the construction site as well as integrate various departments and functions for better management.”

Numerous developers have adopted building information modelling (BIM) or virtual design and construction (VDC) technology to streamline the design and construction processes. “BIM or VDC allows the project team to design and construction the project twice once “virtually” and then on the site. This facilitates eradication of a majority of mistakes and inefficiencies in the processes,” says Sawhney.

Most projects, big and small, use enterprise resources planning (ERP) modules to manage both men and materials and achieve efficiency. “Most of the major developers have embraced the benefits of information technology. They realise that the advantages in terms of saved project costs, increased construction quality and optimised delivery timelines are crucial. It is only the unorganised sector, defined by smaller builders, who have yet to adopt such solutions,” says Anurag Mathur, CEO – Projects & Development Services, Jones Lang LaSalle India.

Sawhney agrees. “Internationally the construction sector has been slow to adopt IT in its various business processes. Indian scene is no different. There is reportedly low usage of IT in the sector especially due to the presence of small and medium enterprises. A plethora of problems exist—fragmented nature of the industry, lack of standardisation, restrictively framed contracts, lack of incentives, and general apprehension about IT.”

This is also reflected in the fragmented nature of the market, with a huge asymmetry of information within micromarkets in a city.

Housing.com, a start-up in the listings space, has developed proprietary tools to help a prospective buyer get around this problem. The Data Sciences Lab at Housing.com has developed innovative algorithms that trawl through this maze of data and present it to enable decision making.

One outcome of all that programming is what the website calls a Price Heat Map, which shows price variations across a locality in colour-coded form. Another initiative is the Child Friendliness Index, which is a colour-coded ranking of various localities in a metro on child-friendly parameters such as schools and parks.

“This is the first time that anyone has gleaned data from real estate and structured it. With the help of this structured data, we have come up with never seen before features that add immense value to people’s home search process,” says Advitiya Sharma, co-founder, Housing.com.

The adoption of IT in the sector is not restricted to developers and users consulting real estate portals. Governments too have got into the act and are making significant progress.

Delhi government has mapped the entire city on a 1:2000 scale, covering all underground and overground utilities that enable targeted and timely attention to problems, and effective maintenance. The government has enacted a legislation to this effect and formed a company Geospatial Delhi Limited, a portal that hosts a three-dimensional model of the city, containing a survey of all dwelling units, a first for any city in India.

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai is testing an online approval process for building permits that makes use of standard software to evaluate a proposal on regulatory and FSI guidelines. It is aiming at developing a special website that would host the approved plan for the benefit of prospective buyers.

This is also finding its way into pilot projects in urban renewal and the creation of new cities. “Recently a proof of concept activity was undertaken in Gurgaon wherein existing built environment was modelled using a vehicle mounted 360 degree video camera and laser scanner. The data collected was converted into a three-dimensional model of the 100 acre community for the purposes of urban renewal and regeneration via community input. The Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation has recommended the adoption of 3D modelling technology for all the city-level infrastructure development for Dholera city; placing the foundation of a smart city,” says Sawhney.

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