Dr. John Leslie Millar, Chief Development Officer at Ananda, addresses a full house at Techsauce Global Summit 2017

At first blush, a real estate development company may seem an unlikely sponsor for a tech conference. Ananda Development is the second largest property company in the Thai kingdom, growing 10x in a period of seven years. How did they achieve such exponential growth? According to Dr. John Millar, Chief Strategic Development Officer at Ananda, it’s because they handle innovation like a tech company. They don’t focus only on construction and property development — they take a broader view, looking at finance, marketing and demographics.

An estimated 3 billion people will need to be housed in urban areas in the next 30 years. This process of urbanization is occurring at the same time as the fourth Industrial Revolution, which closely integrates technology and society. Advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, biotech, the Internet of Things, 3D printing, and autonomous vehicles — all have the potential to improve the lives of urban dwellers.

The last one is particularly important with regard to the increasing urbanization of the world’s population—especially in developing countries. An estimated 3 billion people will need to be housed in urban areas in the next 30 years. Historically speaking, shifts to urban living have had a negative impact on human health — such as higher incidence of disease, exposure to pollution, and poor sanitation. However, this presents not only a challenge but an opportunity: this process of urbanization is occurring at the same time as the fourth Industrial Revolution, which closely integrates technology and society. Advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, biotech, the Internet of Things, 3D printing, and autonomous vehicles — all have the potential to improve the lives of urban dwellers. "[It is the] greatest opportunity in history to benefit the greatest number of human beings,” notes Millar.

For a company that boasts a number of urban ventures, it’s a wise strategy to look at the developments in technology that can impact the lives of urbanites and thereby sales. Millar presents the example of Ananda’s strategy to build close to mass transit stations in and around the city, as buyers are willing to pay a premium to live within 300 meters of a station to avoid walking very far in the heat or avoid sitting in Bangkok traffic. The number of people willing to pay a premium is higher than either Tokyo or London, cities known to have high real estate prices — but they are far more walkable than Bangkok and therefore cannot command as much of a premium.

According to Millar, that business model is about to be disrupted. He presented a hypothetical situation in which a resident gets into an elevator to go to work and then orders a self-driving car with their smartphone. The car is already waiting downstairs and takes him to the train station a mile away. According to estimates, it would cost approximately 30-35 cents per mile — just 10 baht — to operate such an autonomous vehicle. Implementation of smart junctions and technology that allows a car to talk to other cars, traffic lights, and the city's AI could also cut down on commuting time. By eliminating these pain points for a commute, people may not be willing to pay as much of a premium for proximity to mass transit.

While this scenario is fairly unlikely for Bangkok in the near future for a number of factors, it is still an interesting exercise for a business not traditionally associated with tech. Ananda is embracing change to survive in the long term, heeding the examples of once successful companies that are now defunct because they didn’t adapt — Kodak, once a household name, being a notable example. To that end, Ananda has established a VC arm to fund innovations in urban living. It is one of the first property companies in Thailand to expand into tech. This also marks a shift from asset management to access management -- internal development of solutions vs. discovering solutions outside the organization.

Ananda recently completed the development of its FYI Campus. Located in the heart of the Bangkok it is a coworking and innovation hub for seminars, hackathons and many more events to propel the development of Thailand's UrbanTech & urban living solutions. [Photo credit: unlockmen.com]

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