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Being Smart Is About Improving People’s Life: RICS

RICS CEO Sean Tompkins and President-elect Chris Brooke, who were in the country recently, discussed in detail their plans with BW’s Manish Kumar Jha

Photo Credit : Ritesh Sharma


The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) that accredits professionals from the land, real estate, construction and infrastructure sectors is looking to bring the best practices and solutions to the Indian built environment. RICS CEO Sean Tompkins and President-elect Chris Brooke, who were in the country recently, discussed in detail their plans with BW’s Manish Kumar Jha.


With such a diverse range of activities, what are your core competencies?
Sean: Two things. Firstly, professionalism and ethics. This is critical to any successful real estate built environment within the sector. And secondly, the importance of having standards which are consistent and applied across the board, and regulated and monitored. For the last 150 years that is what we have been doing. We have been developing competent professionals who behave ethically and bringing in standards while ensuring that these high-standard practices are enforced.

With your global presence, you are constantly dealing with different environments and regulations across markets. The Indian real estate market is still evolving with RERA being enacted and norms being standardised. Considering all these, what are the challenges you see in India?  
Sean: I have been coming to India for the last eight years. For the first six years, I have had people telling me about the issues related to regulation, standards and corruption in the real estate and construction industry. In the last two years, there is clearly a drive to change this and we are witnessing that. The introduction of RERA, GST etc. are starting to transform the market. I think the biggest thing that we are going to see is the introduction of REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) platform. When any country introduces REIT, you start seeing the real transformation of greatest investment-able asset. The asset management or the product’s maintenance and growth is important but the REIT environment will rely on the quality of valuation. That is for me is the start of the change of the industry.

How difficult is it to convince your clients, especially in the Indian context, to adopt international practices that bring efficiency in the delivery mechanism?
Sean: We have been working on this for a while. And I am delighted that on the issue of new regulation on valuation in India, there is an agreement on international valuation standards. That’s a fantastic beginning. We as an organisation are going to play a role in the regulation of valuation. We see a welcoming move towards global standard and consistency at the government level. We are focusing on education through the work we have done with Amity University. Through the School of Built Environment, a collaborative international initiative in India, we are putting a major education programme.  People in the marketplace are also very keen on this; they are embracing the consistency standard and showing willingness to adopt.  I have seen this change in the last two years. And, industry is responding to that in many different ways.
Brooke: As a practitioner, I can say that when people see the RICS certificate they have the trust, as people who got them are working under a regulated regime. So for me and from the user point of view, the value is around that corner.

RICS’ involvement is at the policy level of various countries. Do you think there are enough regulations or mechanisms in the real estate and construction sector in India so that international practices and a greater benchmark can be followed?
Brooke: The regulation regime is moving forward quickly and this gives confidence and transparency. Consumer protection is important. Insolvency and other areas are being addressed by the government. So I think the government has the responsibility for setting the framework and this is definitely in the right direction. I think you see that through the market’s response. So more international investments, consolidation of industries, growth of service providers and professional services are leading to more maturity in the market and demonstrating the strong evolution. The market will drive a lot of things if we have the right framework. At the moment we are getting a good balance between the government regulation and market driving the industry.
Sean: No doubt putting framework is important. But the important thing is that framework goes down from the top to the bottom. That is also where the challenges lie -- to make sure the framework gets consistently applied. You can have standard, regulation and framework but you need competent people to deliver to that. And that is what we keep telling the government. We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that education and skill enhancement are keys to success in this area. So for me education, training and skill development along with regulation are the critical combination.

Can you talk more about School of Built Environment? How is it changing the environment?
Sean: India is big country. A few years ago, we had 16 chartered surveyors in India. At the end of this year, we will have 2,000 chartered surveyors. I am hoping that we will have 10,000 chartered surveyors after a few years. Perhaps, this will be able to change the professional landscape of both construction and real estate sectors. But that is not going to be enough. This is a country that has an ambitious plan for housing for everyone and 100 smart cities, which is a very bold urbanisation agenda. And therefore, we need to find ways to incentivise the enhancement of skills. Employers will have to substantially participate in upskilling the employee. It should not be left only to the academia. Academia, employers and professional bodies like us will need greater collaboration. We call it apprenticeship education. This is the best way to get mass skilled workforce.

What are the terms of engagement with Amity?  How do you ensure quality in the education programme in India? 
Sean: We help develop curriculum and competencies that are consistent globally. So we have the competencies framework. We ensure that the academic world delivers to that. We also look for those who have academic credentials along with industry experience. We just melt it together. So the programmes that we are supporting at Amity are benchmarks in international standard.  So, all of them get international standard and certification.

What is Education 4.0? Since education and skill development is an important area for you, would you like to diversify your collaboration in India? 
Sean: Education is going to transform and there is no question about that. You would need significant digitisation of delivery of education, to make education accessible to a large number of people. So Education 4.0 is about personalisation of education. This is the format.

Urbanisation in India is very haphazard and chaotic. RICS, on the other hand, has a global understanding of urbanization, which is quite different from the Indian context. How does your expertise make a difference here?
Sean: Ultimately, the most successful cities in the world will be the cities built for people. Let’s all understand what makes a city great. Great cities are where people feel safe and where people live, work and employ. They are comfortable for their children to roam around and grow. For me, smart city is a kind of buzzword, about how you use technology. Being smart is about improving the people’s life. Technology is an enabler, not an end in itself. And buildings are for people. Let’s all understand what makes a city great, where people want to live.
Brooks: It should also reflect the changing behaviour of young consumers. More than the physical space, it is about the experience.  All of that need to be reflected in urbanisation.

The Indian government’s Housing For All plan is very ambitious. What kind of technical expertise can you provide in this space? What is your advice to the government?
Sean:  The Indian government and every other government around the world is struggling with the housing problem. Even a small country like the UK is struggling with housing. If you look at this holistically, everyone is trying to cope with it. In 1900, we had two billion people on the planet, by 2025 we will have 9.5 billion people on the planet. So the question is how do you address that? Is it by continuing the way we have been doing, or can we envision different sort of housing? The success of creating a mass solution is to see housing in a different way than we have seen it so far. But it will require innovation. It will require new product development. How do you use 3D printing in building? How do we use the elements of pre-fabrication? According to a report by Mckinsey, the global construction industry has barely changed its productivity in 20 years compared with the manufacturing industry which has seen a massive change in terms of productivity. How do you change the productivity of construction industries?

Have you had any discussion with the government on this?
Sean: We met at the office of the prime minister and we discussed some of the issues of urban challenge. The property tax in India is about 3 per cent. This is a problem area. The challenge is how to create property tax issue in India so that more and more people can participate.

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magazine 10 November 2018 India's Top B-school