How digital mapping is becoming a real estate game-changer

Investors and occupiers have never had such an array of information to aid them in their decision making

October 04, 2021

Making decisions in real estate – whether buying a skyscraper, renting out office space or installing solar panels – has in most cases required showing up in person, while gathering all the necessary information was heavily dependent upon antiquated manual processes.

But now details about an entire city’s built landscape are available on a smartphone, allowing users to filter buildings by type, size or fit-out style, or dive in deeper for floorplans, tenant details, lease terms, and even virtual tours. This so-called digital mapping – a catch-all term for the application of one or multiple digital tools to provide a data-driven visualisation of properties in the context of their surroundings – is increasingly being adopted by city authorities and the real estate industry. 

While it hasn’t made visiting buildings unnecessary, it is transforming the way decisions are being made.

“The technology that exists now to bring information to life in a 3D environment full of rich information, and the creativity with which it is being applied, is accelerating decision-making and analysis,” says Travis Brousseau, who leads JLL’s GIS (geographic information system) mapping capabilities across Australia and New Zealand.

Such is the momentum and possibility that even gaming and tech giants are getting in on the action.

Digital twins

Building information modelling (BIM) is one of the key tools used in digital mapping. While for many years it has provided construction professionals a collaborative and interactive way to plan, design and manage projects through a 3D building replica on screen, it is only more recently being adopted by the property industry in the shape of digital twins, which incorporate live building data into a digital replica.

Epic Games, the company behind the video game Fortnite, is providing grants for technology companies to integrate its Unreal Engine’s visualisation technology into their digital twin platforms. The overall aim is to diversify its revenue, while shaking up the construction, real estate and design sectors with its video-game-quality visualisation.

Computer and cloud behemoth IBM teamed with JLL to create the advanced digital twin platform Prism. The product was developed to support one of the largest digitisation projects in the world: capturing the status of a 48-building mixed-use development in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and aid the transfer of information into the operations stage.

“When you’re dealing with property sizes of several million square metres, it’s difficult to envision them with any real precision,” explains Ben Jackson, JLL’s head of project and development services at JLL Middle East and North Africa, of the decision to map the precinct digitally.

“Data is at different sites and in different systems and by the time you pull it all together into a single report, it’s already outdated.”


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Digital mapping

BIM’s regular sidekick in the digital mapping space is geographic information system mapping (GIS), which provides location-based information in a visually engaging format.

From monitoring development progress across entire cities, to managing sustainability policies, or carrying out due diligence on commercial decisions, digital mapping is finding applications across the real estate ecosystem.

Businesses looking for offices, and investors looking for their next purchase, are using digital maps to quickly shortlist viable options by filtering preferences, such as proximity to public transport. Brokers and tenant representatives are using this also to communicate options to their clients.

“Mapping technology, with its increasing capabilities and creative applications is democratising the increasing deluge of data in real estate, making it far more useful than it ever could have been sitting in a spreadsheet,” Brousseau says.

Take the City of Melbourne, Australia, which is making use of mapping technology to reflect development activity across the city, categorising sites by stages of development. The map, accessible to the public, is part of a strategy to help guide the city’s growth to 2050.

The city’s government is also mapping rooftops and categorising them by their potential for garden or solar panel installation. Another interactive map offers a visualisation of vegetation cover, urban heat and heat vulnerability.

In the Philippines, digital mapping is being used to identify the best locations for logistics parks in relation to the under-construction North-South Commuter Railway – locations that would minimise the need for trucks on the road.

In one case an owner of a successful mixed-use precinct wanted to find a second site to replicate its success. Using GIS mapping, the success characteristics were overlayed with zoning data to shortlist areas approved for mixed-use development, and then evaluated against financial feasibility to narrow in on the best sites.

Growing interest from non-traditional real estate players is set propel the use of digital mapping further, says Mark Hamilton head of digital solutions – Middle East and North Africa, JLL.

“Along with the expansion of cloud computing and gaming giants in this space will be a widespread realisation of the clarity, accuracy and insight that can be gleaned from embracing digital mapping, and by comparison how onerous traditional ways of gathering and reading data have been.”

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