The real estate industry is primed for the deployment of robotic and cognitive automation (R&CA) technology, an innovation that has made it possible to improve administrative functions in a variety of capacities. While categorized together, robotic automation and cognitive automation are actually two distinct approaches towards automation with their own respective potential and limitations.
How does robotic and cognitive automation work?
Robotics process automation (RPA) utilizes frameworks and “if/then” conditions to efficiently complete repetitive tasks with remarkable amounts of accuracy, regardless of the quantities of data involved.
Cognitive automation (CA), on the other hand, uses machine learning, natural language processing, and knowledge-based technology to perform judgement-based operations that would normally require a human.
What applications does it have for real estate?
Real estate companies currently have plenty of operations that could benefit from R&CA. According to Deloitte, “Many documents—such as lease agreements, deeds, brokerage contracts, vendor payables and credit applications, property management agreements, and property tax assessments—are still maintained in a physical (either scanned or spreadsheet) format”. Substantial effort is required for a company to create, update, track, and maintain those documents.
Moreover, they come with unavoidably high margins of error and inaccuracy on account of the number of people manually interacting with them.
For example, consider something like a lease administration system. A robotic and cognitive automation solution can provide an improvement in efficiency, operation, and use of resources. Normally, a lease would need to be created, and updated with multiple drafts over the course of negotiations—a lengthy, time-consuming process. Multiplied by all of a company’s clients, that amounts to a considerable amount of time sunk on what is ultimately a repetitive task requiring more effort spent on producing versus validating it. R&CA can be used in this scenario to automate the generation of a lease initially and reduce the amount of human input required during the drafting process.
How can R&CA be acquired and implemented?
Bearing in mind the respective strengths and utility of R&CA, companies should identify areas of their operation which perform tasks that are suitable candidates for automation. Depending on the volume of tasks involved, the next step is to either engage a proptech company for a custom solution, or shop for existing products that can adequately handle the work required.
Should a real estate company employ processes so idiosyncratic or specific that general solutions cannot be adapted for them, proptech firms can develop a robotic or cognitive automation application and tailor it to address the particular needs of that company. This will naturally be accompanied by a commensurately large price tag, which will in turn need to be weighed against the value of the efficiency, hours saved, and error reduction from automation in the first place.
On the other hand, assuming the processes aren’t so prohibitively unique, companies can consider solutions housed on platforms such as AWS’s RoboMaker or the Google Cloud Robotics Platform which enable robotics as a service (RaaS). RaaS applications are subscription-based solutions, which makes them inherently more affordable (since you can cancel without a sunk investment cost) and scalable. Expanding a solution to different parts of a company becomes a lot easier, as does scaling-down usage should the need arise.
The benefits and effects of R&CA implementation
To reiterate: R&CA excels at repetitive, data-heavy tasks as well as processes requiring an element of judgement, analysis, and decision-making. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of their respective strengths:
Robotic process automation is great for tasks such as:
- Routine data extraction and digitization from documents
- Producing and formatting data for ease of analysis and/or compliance
- Generating iterative versions of documents like leases
Cognitive automation shines at:
- Streamlining records management using optical character recognition to digitize documents that are normally recorded manually, priming them for meta-analysis
- Extracting relevant data from unstructured documents using machine learning and natural language processing
While improvements in efficiency, error-reduction, and data analysis are clear, we haven’t touched on the effects of automation on staff employed by real estate companies. With automation of any kind, there is the potential for redundancy, but R&CA solutions are more a means to free employees to work on tasks that would benefit more greatly from human involvement.
By reducing or eliminating repetitive tasks, companies have the flexibility to assign people to other, more complex and productive tasks. Moreover, even the sophisticated levels of automation available with this new technology functions best as aids to improve the capabilities of workers, allowing for more informed decision-making and insightful analysis. Human interaction and input vital for any kind of R&CA process, but the focus has shifted from quantity to quality. People will still be working with this data – they just won’t have to do all the painful, heavy lifting anymore!
Freelance writer and communications professional at the University of Toronto. He’s an avid cinephile, voracious reader, and a terror at karaoke bars.