A year later, the newly married Mr and Mrs Mapp wanted to wander off to Italy to celebrate their first wedding anniversary, but it was a challenge to see how I could leave a fledgling start up. A chance conversation with a man called Nick led to my first dalliance with remote working, courtesy of a DELL laptop, a Nokia 6120, a flimsy cable and the sound of a modem connecting across the repurposed telephone infrastructure. It was the noise of being part of the beginning of the internet – the soundtrack to an era which in turn led to WiFi, smartphones and remote working at scale, but caused quite a stir around a swimming pool somewhere deep in remote Tuscany in 1999.
That desire for flexibility and the reality that MAPP stores and processes an extraordinary amount of data, and handles zillions of pounds of client money each year, has meant that we have been a technology driven business for many years. We are up and anchored in the cloud and highly agile, which is why we were technically able to instigate remote working for all 350 of the MAPP team immediately on lockdown. We could not afford to miss a beat given the impending March quarter day and the demands placed on us by clients, suppliers and occupiers.
Technology will also be part of the solution to the current crisis, and we can and will apply technological solutions to help deliver buildings that can safely welcome back occupiers and visitors when the time is right. These solutions can broadly be split into physical interventions and those that deliver more virtual support using software based digital solutions.
Working away in the cloud over the last few weeks, MAPP, and the buildings we manage have been offered all sorts of technological solutions to the pandemic. Some have been vaguely ludicrous in their claims and ambitions, but others have credibility and we have had a good look at most of them.
As a result, we have met a number of providers at the leading edge of medical technology across the globe. The thing that shows most promise are Nano coated gloves that significantly reduce transmission rates. Nano coated filters in air handling systems are also being trialled in Asia, but we have concluded that Nanofilm technology is not quite developed enough for widespread commercial use in lift cars, on door handles, access cards and elsewhere. It is getting there though – one for 2021.
We have also looked at automated cleaning regimes like the ones you may have seen on the MTR in Hong Kong that remotely deliver specialised and targeted cleaning. The cost is eye watering to those of us charged with reducing service charges, but for some buildings or supply partners with sufficient scale they offer an interesting and potential solution.
SPOT, a robot developed by Boston Dynamics is being used in Singapore to remind people to keep 2m apart. We could see SPOT being of use in high density public realm locations, but again it comes at a significant cost.
We are ready to go with thermal imaging and more interventionist temperature reading, but while adoption rates have been high in parts of Asia we cannot see it being adopted in the UK at scale without explicit agreement from both occupiers and clients. False readings due to all that extra cycling and walking, the potential for offending occupiers and their guests, and let’s not forget GDPR, add significant complexity and risk. Thermal imaging might be adopted in retail and leisure schemes.
MAPP’s occupier portals have seen growth in users and adoption rates, as people engage with peers to help maintain a sense of involvement, continuity and community. Our occupier portals help us to communicate with occupiers and their teams in a transparent, timely and relevant way, but they are also now helping us keep the 100,000+ people who live or work in the buildings we manage safe. We are also looking at a new smartphone app, which will help us deliver plans, alerts and a digital pass to occupiers and their employees.
In all of this however we keep coming back to the costs – both financially and to people’s privacy. All this technology will make places safer, but a major consideration will be whether this is capital cost paid for by owners or recoverable and paid for by occupiers via already depleted service charge accounts. The events of 9/11 supercharged growth in surveillance technology, and we are already seeing significant growth in solutionist technology, but deploying that is challenging given the liberal free world we live in, and rightly treasure.
We will continue to ask our teams and all building users to observe any relevant Government guidelines and our site reoccupation plans will be founded on good old fashioned common sense, cooperation and highly engineered protocols.
Technology can and will assist in a variety of ways. The collective impact of large numbers of small tech and non tech interventions will help us deliver safe and secure environments for our occupiers and clients as the crisis evolves.
Unable to return to Italy for the foreseeable future, we celebrated surviving 22 years of marriage and 7 weeks of lockdown in a garden in SW13, albeit with a nod to Tuscany thanks to a dusty bottle of Brunello di Montalcino and a plate of bresaola foraged from a local deli. When I asked Mrs Mapp if 7 more weeks of lockdown was more likely to result in divorce or a sixth von Mapp I discerned (admittedly through Brunello fog) a sharply raised eyebrow.