Tax & Accounting Blog

Where will assessment innovation converge with global technology trends?

Aumentum September 28, 2016

Where will assessment innovation converge with global technology trends?
By Christopher Barlow, Director of Marketing – Tax&Accounting, Thomson Reuters

At this year’s annual International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO) Conference in Tampa, Fla., we asked attendees a question: Where will assessment innovation converge with global technology trends? Of course the simple, self-serving answer would be that technology itself is the convergence point. But that’s not the complete answer.

The IAAO Conference is a key date on the industry’s calendar as it brings together certified assessment professionals, from not only government, but also attendees from the private sector and policy institutions. This year more than 1,200 people attended.

John Hughes, president-elect of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), along with Thomson Reuters technologists Eric Jennings and Elizabeth Strout led a session on technology disruption and trends impacting the assessment profession, particularly tech convergence.

Technology disruption, by definition, seeks to upset the “natural order” to create something new. Yet we know from literature and history that people naturally fear change. One classic example is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – a monster assembled from dead tissue and brought back to life through the miracle of science. Shelley’s monster was seen as an abomination and an affront to the “natural order” of things, but as any literature teacher will tell you, the tale was as much a parable about progress as a horror story.

Elizabeth Strout started her presentation pointing out that the reason she was on stage representing a software and information company was because of the advent of the software industry and early adoption. Her point was that rather than fear change, we need to embrace change.

From slide charts to calculators, mainframes to ortho imagery, and client-servers on the internet to GPS and mobile phones, the valuation profession has been profoundly changed by technology adaptation.

Eric Jennings continued with an analysis of tech trends that are either on the crest of a new tech wave or else beginning to swell, including cognitive machine based-learning, artificial intelligence, big data, drones/autonomous vehicles and block chain.

He surmised that technology advancement in one field augments progress for other fields. One example he offered is how artificial intelligence is supporting drone technology. Logically in the near future, we may see drones being launched autonomously to survey neighborhoods, extracting feature details based on computer-learned traits, such associating color to building material quality.

John Hughes then linked these themes together by introducing RICS research on mega-challenges that will require technology to solve for, such as rapid urbanization, rising inequality and resource scarcity. He also shared research on professions most likely to be impacted by new technology, particularly appraisal and assessment professions.

His message, however, was a reminder to embrace change and recognize this new generation (the “Millennials”) as those who will live with these mega challenges. Millennials grew up with mobile phones rather than calculators, a generation who will more intuitively turn to technology. For governments, John added, this is a salient point as changing demographics, specifically an aging workforce, require that we attract more young people into government service.

He went on to reflect on working within governments using early modems to connect a Toronto government office with an IBM mainframe computer in North Carolina. At the time, an operator had to connect the call – a profession all but entirely replaced by computer systems today.

As I reflect on the session, I see that the answer to the convergence question is collaboration between a government office and a technology development and implementation partner – commonly a private sector entity. Working together to develop, configure, test, refine and train on new technology applications is where the proverbial rubber hits the road.

Partnership is what advances the sci-fi notion of technology to a practical application that can effectively serve our communities. Early adopter government partners that are willing to try something new, stick their heads out and expend political capital because they believe a new approach will better help their citizens and governments navigate the incredible change our societies face—these pioneers are critical to this answer.