His thesis sheds light on organizational challenges
Olli Vigren is a doctoral student at the Department of Real Estate and Construction Management. He researches how the industry can solve organizational and managerial problems related to digitalisation and sustainability in the real estate and construction industry.
A few weeks ago, Olli defended his thesis "Digitalization, sustainability, and ecosystems: An application of social network analysis to the real estate sector".
– Implementation of new technologies is done in organisations, in processes that I call innovation processes. Understanding of innovation processes is important, because the real estate sector has experienced difficulties in utilising new digital technology.
There is little research on the subject
– Therefore, I focus on organisational and managerial issues related to innovation. There is little research on innovation processes related to property owners who are important decision-makers in the sector. My thesis contributes by increasing the understanding of the innovation processes and by providing an understanding of the innovation ecosystems in the sector.
Olli is from Finland, and with a background in business consulting, he started looking for a career in research. At KTH Department of Real Estate and Construction Management, he found a place where he could explore how to improve organizations and processes in them. What should innovation in organizations look like? What projects are we going to run and what are the challenges and technical conditions?
– For me, it is natural to look at the construction industry. I have previously worked with real estate clients, which is one of the reasons why I chose this sector. There are challenges in implementing technologies, but also very many opportunities. When you have such opportunities, it's important to look at solutions that can overcome challenges.
“Climate change is an urgent problem that must be solved in the built environment sector.
The IPCC report, which was released on April 4, shows that it is important that we act now against climate change. The built environment sector accounts for a large piece of the pie.
– Climate change is an acute problem that must be solved in the built environment sector. It is challenging because buildings are designed and built for, say, 50-year life cycles, and climate change issues would need to be resolved within the next 10 years. Due to the urgency of climate change, we do not have the time to rebuild cities, but we must solve the problems of the existing building stock, here and now.
Olli points out that a large part of the research in the built environment sector is focused on building new.
– Climate change creates a need for normative research. Much of the normative research focuses on regulation, building materials, and methods, which is needed. But due to the urgency related to climate change, we must learn how to become better at implementing existing technologies in the built environment, and to regulate technology adoption.
Considering the social contract
Olli Vigren emphasizes a societal perspective and asks how well the real estate sector fulfills its social contract. Does the real estate sector fulfill the function that society expects of it?
– I do not think that the real estate industry does it and many have realized that this is so. Technology can solve problems, if there is enough motivation and understanding. For example, digital locks can enable access to buildings, which can reduce mileage associated with transporting keys and save lives in the event of fire or illness. But we still use traditional keys. The real estate sector must remain relevant, and there are many existing technologies that can help the sector to renew its social contract.
In Olli's thesis, he describes this division and the challenges the various parties in the industry have in finding each other. The purpose of the thesis is to increase an understanding of digitalization and sustainability in the built environment.
– We need new concepts and methods to understand complex phenomena, such as digitalization or sustainability. For this, I propose the concepts of business ecosystem and innovation ecosystem. Furthermore, I suggest that we can use Social Network Analysis methods to study digitalization, sustainability, and ecosystems. I think the real estate sector innovation ecosystem is extremely fragmented compared to many other industries that are further in digital transformation. In my thesis I measure this fragmentation and make suggestions for the integration of innovation activities.
Rapid changes to a divided industry
Olli Vigren highlights many challenges, and one that is prominent is to find talent who understand and can change the fragmented industry as quickly as is needed to achieve climate goals.
– It must be solved in all different areas. One part is to enforce and provide resources to those that act as matchmakers in the industry. The property owners' industry associations, such as Sveriges Allmännytta and Fastighetsägarna, need to be at the forefront. They already do a lot but are limited by a lack of mandate and resources, says Olli and continues:
– A lot has already happened in recent years. Increased capabilities are an important enabler for radical innovation. There are a large number of newly founded PropTech startup companies that have entered the market and are likely to significantly increase digital transformation in the sector. PropTech companies are challenged to find property owners as customers. Therefore, PropTech startups’ and property owners' ecosystems need to be merged.
An example of existing technology that Olli highlights is artificial intelligence.
– It is possible to use AI to manage energy usage in buildings. It is a technology we have, and we need to implement it in many buildings because it can be better than a human when it comes to deciding where the energy should be allocated, says Olli Vigren.
Olli is currently seeking funding and wants to continue working within the academy. He seeks collaborations and co-authors, and encourages anyone who reads this to contact him for interesting discussions.
Text: Hanna Kalla
This is the 28th article in the School of Architecture and the Built Environment 's series of articles on selected research, education or collaboration initiatives from each department. You can find the previous articles here: Archive