New London Architecture

Five Minutes With... Natasha Patel

Tuesday 29 August 2023

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

David Taylor catches up with Avison Young’s UK Head of Innovation and Insight,Natasha Patel, to talk through AVANT – the firm’s tool to help clients make location-based decisions. But does it replace the agent?


David Taylor  
Hi, Natasha, how are you? 
 
Natasha Patel  
I'm well, thank you, and yourself?
 
David Taylor  
Very good. Thank you. I wanted to talk to you about your AVANT platform, which I understand you've been working on as an organization for around four years or so, in gestation? Could you just outline for those who don't know anything about it at all, what it is and who it's aimed at? 
 
Natasha Patel  
Yeah, absolutely. AVANT is Avison Young's proprietary research and intelligence platform where we're capturing detail on the marketplace. So: not only around assets, and asset level information, but any detailed data that would allow us to understand the market in more detail, creating transparency around assets, around locations, around cities and places, so that we're better able to advise our clients, but also able to help offer solutions around questions that our clients may have. 
 
David Taylor  
And who is it actually aimed at? What sort of sectors? Or is it all sectors of all buildings - potential building owners or occupiers? 
 
Natasha Patel  
Yeah, we cover both the investor and occupier angles, but we're looking at all of the core sectors. So: offices, industrial, retail, residential marketplace, and we're really looking to service our clients through not only the information that we're capturing, but we also work with clients. We can ingest their data so that we can help create more transparency and support our clients with strategies with regards to their portfolios, whether they're looking for expansion, whether they're looking to sell buildings, or they're thinking about what their total portfolio looks like, in terms of the performance. We cover all those different angles. 
 
David Taylor  
So: I'm a building owner in central London with a company of, let's say, 40 staff, and I'm looking to relocate. What do I do? Do I come to you and say, these are my areas? These are my specific needs, and you run it through the system? How does it work? 
 
Natasha Patel  
There's a couple of different ways that we can look at it. But the first thing I want to say is that this platform is not meant to replace any of the advice that our agents’ teams might be able to offer. It's a service that we put on top of that. So it's really the picture behind what we're offering. And we're able to back up some of the detail that we are providing in terms of our advice with that granular data to help tell the story. That's essentially what we're trying to achieve. Whenever we go to speak to any of our clients, data driven insights, creating the decision-making based on evidence is one of the things that we are hearing time and time again. So through AVANT, what we're able to offer is that real insight in terms of: okay, if you're comparing location A to location B in terms of where you might want to relocate, or where you might want to go and pick your office space, why does vocation A work better for you and your organization versus location B?

Looking at things like, you know, where's my talent going to come from? What are the points of interest - the things that might attract employees back to the offices? How well located is it in terms of accessibility and transport? You know, commute times, if you're relocating, are often something we get asked a lot about with regards to how it can impact the employee base. And through the AVANT platform, we're able to answer these types of questions. You know, if you're looking for a specific type of talent such as young tech talent, you might have access to that talent space in location B or is it better in location A? So: it's that real, evidence-based approach to that decision-making process that we're able to offer through this platform.
David Taylor  
Are there any softer, qualitative judgments on place, for example? So, could you say: well, where's got nice public realm around for my workers to have a nice sandwich in a park? 
 
Natasha Patel  
Yeah, absolutely! Looking at things like access to green space, air quality - what's the access to water features? Because access to water is another thing that we've noted come up quite a bit. And some of the other aspects – crime, etc. You can look at all of these factors relative to your location when you're assessing the locations. One of the nice things that we've developed is a scoring mechanism, so that you can essentially cherry-pick the things that are important to you when you're deciding on a specific place or location. It could have things like access to talent, as we've talked about, and the amenities within the building. And it could be some of those softer factors, as you mentioned, around, you know, what's the quality of the education in the area? Or house prices? Or green space? Or access to public realm, as you said. All are indexed and can provide a scoring mechanism to assess location to location.
 
David Taylor  
And presumably there are also metrics like BREEAM and various other environmental measures, are there, in terms of building performance?
 
Natasha Patel  
Absolutely. EPCs, as you can imagine, are quite an important factor at the moment with regards to these regulations. So: understanding the suitability of a building or an asset in respect to some of those credentials, is really important. So yes, that has all been incorporated in.
 
David Taylor  
So: how's it gone so far? How is it to use? And how has it added to the business in terms of what it offers?
 
Natasha Patel  
The bits that I talked about are just one transactional element of the tool. And that's working really, really well. But what we've noticed, with regards to how we're utilizing with clients is almost, when we're speaking to clients, they have a specific problem or a specific question that they'd like help answering. It could be incorporating in planning data, or it could be incorporating in data on health service data, for example. Understanding the specific question that we're trying to help that client answer; that's where I've seen the most value come out of the tool, because what we're able to do is take the real estate information that we're capturing, as you would expect us to capture as a property advisory firm, but overlaying on top of that any kind of relevant data, be it around health care or be it around education, or any of these other areas we could be looking at, or what we're calling adjacency that help answer these specific questions.
 
David Taylor  
You were very careful at the outset to say that this was an addition to what your employees offer. But, nevertheless, do you think there is an area where AI can really take a lot of the function of the agent out of the equation?
 
Natasha Patel  
I think AI will take away a certain element of the sort of mundane. replicable aspects of the role. But – and I'm sure a lot of people will feel this way – there is an element that comes with the agents that you're not going to get replicated by AI. They know their market, inside out. They have, almost a third eye, as it were, in understanding what's going on, that I do not believe is replicable by AI. So, in that respect, data analytic AI machine-learning isn't going to replace the role of the agent.
 
David Taylor  
And just to ensure I'm not speaking to a robot...(laughs)
 
Natasha Patel  
(laughs)
 
David Taylor  
...can you say something that makes it very clear that you're not? (laughs). I feel like I'm on Bladerunner doing the replicant test! 
 
Natasha Patel  
Oh no! Oh gosh I do apologise! (laughs)
 
David Taylor  
(laughs) No, I’m not saying you are! I was just having a joke with you!
 
Natasha Patel  
Yeah, I know, I know!
 
David Taylor  
So: the agent’s role is safe, in your view, even with facilities and platforms like AVANT?
 
Natasha Patel  
I think what this does is make the agents' role more efficient, and really allows them to create that value-add proposition in their advice. What this does is help them to get to the potential options that they could be offering a client or help them to back up. You know, if we're suggesting market pricing of X, where's the evidence to back that up? The role of this tool is, as I said, to create that backdrop in which we're offering that advice, and to help underpin the decision-making with live data. Increasingly, we're being asked to give more evidence to support decision-making, particularly in today's environment. And this tool, this platform, allows us to do that more efficiently.
 
David Taylor  
Well, congratulations on it; it looks really impressive. And I'm glad you've still got a job for the next 10, 20, 30 years! So, congratulations again! 
 
Natasha Patel  
Thanks a lot! (laughs) Perfect!


David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly



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