As the value of long-term assets depreciate and rental yields peak, asset owners focus on reducing operating costs

May Khizam, co-founder, SMARTInvest Real Estate by The Grid Media Ltd interviewed James Nicholson, Strategy Director, Towa Technologies Holdings Limited about the TOWA network that enables peers to connect in order to manage and maintain properties.

How would you best describe the solution that the TOWA portal offers asset owners?
It is a property and community management portal to streamline the management of commercial or residential units for asset owners reducing building management and maintenance costs and facilitating and streamlining transactions through the application of blockchain technologies.

Essentially the portal matches asset owners and vetted vendors and streamlines contracts and payments in a single window application. Can you list all prospective users?

Yes, on the commercial side it is as follows:

  • Property developers
  • Property management companies
  • Community management companies
  • Facilities management companies
  • Specialist service providers
  • Home owners associations (HOA/OA)

As an asset owner, can you walk me through the user experience of the portal?
Sure, first of all, portal subscription is free. You only require a smart phone to use it. We help you onboard your asset onto the portal to access real time data to benchmark the cost and service standards of vendors.

The asset owner can directly manage and place all kinds of contracts such as maintenance, cleaning and security contracts with the vendors. Smart contracts can be issued through the portal using blockchain and payments can be made to vendors in crypto or conventional currencies.

We also offer owners validation of the asset including verification of BoQ, which, as we all know, can cause a lot of issues downstream if un-audited. Similarly, we can verify ‘as built’ drawings too, which are often contested upon retrofit or sale of the asset.

If the owners are already using asset management software solutions such as SAP or Maximo, the portal can always be integrated into these systems.

Finally, there is a social media feel to the interface to maximize engagement which makes it familiar and easy to use.

How do you vet service providers that register with the TOWA portal?
All types of vendors from MEP, security, cleaning, elevator services, pest control and others will register with the portal. There is a standard check of company registration, insurance, ISO certification and other criteria against which credibility is assigned. As the vendors bid on and perform contracts, their performance continues to be reviewed and rated.

Of all the technology-enabled solutions creating a value network to manage buildings and communities available in the market, what is the portal’s USP?

TOWA is first to market with a distinct and innovative feature set and seeks to disrupt the industry in the mid to long term by decentralising services, creating on-demand building management and maintenance services.

The platform is accessed primarily by mobile application (iOS and Android) and secondarily through a web application. Why ‘mobile-first’?

Given the nature of the industry the majority of professionals are field based. Web first applications are traditionally cumbersome and expensive for the service provider; this often leads to poor uptake and subsequent inefficiencies.

Our Mobile first solution is easy and free to use which reduces the barriers to adoption, this increases usability and therefore viability of the network. It is rare for someone to see an issue, photograph it and then upload the photo to their desktop and send the email, people are too busy. With our technology you see it, record it, report it and rectify it at the click of a button.

Over time, the portal will collect and collate data on buildings, BoQ’s as well as service contract transaction history and ‘building performance’ data. You will be the stewards of the data and repository but who actually owns that data?

One of the great challenges within the industry is a central repository of information. Throughout the lifespan of a building owners and service providers change. Much of the inefficiency is about verifying data but typically this results in many discrepancies.

The TOWA repository means that not only can this data be accessed by the guardian of the asset at any given time but it also provides historical information on work undertaken by whom and when. This not only provides accountability but allows for accurate forecasting for future budgets and sinking funds.

You are launching first in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in June 2019 with subsequent rollouts planned for AsiaPac, the UK and the US. Why have you chosen the UAE to launch the product?

Firstly, the founders have over 25 years combined experience in the Middle East. We are also supported by investors with wide networks and connections at all levels of government and the private sector to facilitate the rollout.

Property management related transactions in the UAE alone are valued around $28 billion per annum.  The breakdown of that number in terms of market transactions amounts to approximately $22 billion in rent followed by $3 billion in service charges with the balance coming from property, community and facilities management contracts.

There are approximately 12,500 buildings with shared facilities in the UAE, each requiring various services such as OA management, security, maintenance and cleaning in order to function.

Each building has an average 14 contractors, each using their own system (IT or paper-based) with no inter-connectivity.  This creates massive inefficiency, lack of transparency and often delays payments.

This is where we can add value and increase efficiencies to lower operating costs for owners and occupiers.

This article is provided as general information to readers of The Grid Media Ltd. It does not constitute, and should not be construed as, advice on any specific matter or advice on which you should rely, nor does it create any contractual, tortuous or fiduciary relationship. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of this information.