Urban and Real Estate Information Technology

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Urban real estate information systems: the suppression of radical innovation. John S Kirkwood
School of Environment & Development, Sheffield Hallam University E-mail: j.s.kirkwood@shu.ac.uk
___________________________________________________________________________________ John S Kirkwood Page 1 5/02/2003 Abstract
Information and communications technologies are continuing to bring about significant changes in society. These changes may be viewed as the direct consequence of technological advances, which in turn rely on scientific discovery. This paper adopts a different model predicated on the view that the rate of technological uptake depends upon recognising social and business needs and overcoming the barriers to innovation – particularly the forces that suppress radical potential. The validity and significance of this approach is examined by reference to real estate information systems. Keywords: real estate, property, innovation, information systems. Innovation brought about by new technology disrupts existing processes, practices and roles and produces either conscious or unconscious resistance by those who feel threatened. The introduction of a computerised national land information system, for example, impacts on the roles of professionals involved in real estate conveyancing, reveals information about land ownership that certain groups may prefer to remain secret, and requires government to devote limited resources to changes in legislation. Progress in all spheres of human activity necessitates change. It is impossible for either an individual or an organisation to improve by staying the same. No change may be an option but it involves risk because others may change and, in a competitive sense, move ahead. It has been suggested that continuous innovation is a pre-condition for sustaining competitive advantage (Porter, 1995) a view that is reinforced by the performance of high-technology companies, nourished by new ideas and their implementation (Manseau, 2001). As the real estate sector in the UK has adopted information and communications technology (ICT) more slowly than other sectors of the economy (Dixon, 1995; Cash, 1999), there is a need to understand fully the barriers to innovation. It is argued that new technologies are constrained and diffused only insofar as their potential for radical disruption is suppressed (Winston, 1996). Applying this model of the suppression of radical potential to real estate, it is suggested, provides a better understanding of the use of ICT within the industry, and aids the development of strategies to facilitate its use in more creative and appropriate ways. The approach adopted here consists of a review of the relevant literature to compare the merits of a model of innovation based on technological determinism with one that proposes that new technologies are only introduced when users are able to control their potential for radical disruption. This methodology is supported by the use of real estate examples. The objective is to stimulate debate and identify the case for further research, with the longer-term aim of improving performance in this sector. ___________________________________________________________________________________ John S Kirkwood Page 2 5/02/2003 Innovation and diffusion

Most new ideas essentially consist of technological innovation and it has been observed that we often use the words “innovation” and “technology” as synonyms (Rogers, 1995). ICTs in particular provide the opportunity for radical innovation in industries where information processing and knowledge management are core, such as the real estate sector. Technology is widely accepted as a major stimulus for change in society (Twiss, 1992) and in the second half of the 1980s information and communications technology (ICT) has provided more than just a new competitive weapon for commerce (Willcocks, 1997), it has led to the transformation of our material culture...
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