Guest blog: What does 2020 hold for planning tech?

I was asked recently about what I think 2020 will bring for planning tech. My response to that question might not paint a futuristic picture of digitally rendered buildings but what we’re likely to see is just as interesting. The key to all this is recognising that there is a difference between what we’d like to see in planning, and what we will actually see come to market.

There are companies already out there with some cutting-edge technology to support the planning process. For example, there are suppliers of virtual reality (VR) providing the ability to carry out a site visit without the need for anyone to leave the office. There are also specialist consultants who will provide reams of documents around the justification for the development using interactive graphs and charts.  Neither of these, in my opinion, will actually speed up the decision-making process. They are, in fact, a bolt-on to the process as a whole. They may even complicate things, which means that in 2020 we may see an increase in the processing time for planning applications. 

So what do I think we will actually see in 2020? No doubt, we'll still be tackling legacy technology and old ways of working. With the aim being to introduce new processes while changing the ‘legacy culture’ within organisations. We’ll also continue to emphasise the importance of looking at the challenges the organisation faces, and basing procurement exercises off that rather than simply looking at a reference number on the application.

On our side, we’ve recently introduced some slick ways of dealing with the management of comments submitted online that will really solidify next year. It’s a massive task that needs to be done, but it’s often overlooked in conversation.

We are also likely to see local authorities looking to replace their current back-office solutions because of commercial or financial reasons, and not because of a drive for digital transformation.

The adoption of new technology in the market such as artificial intelligence (AI) and big data will speed up. We’ve already seen projects in the London Development Database start to build quality data, and it’s projects like this that we can build on and learn from. We were lucky enough to see a recent presentation about VR being used in the appeals process, but I do think that there is a risk that this could increase the workload of the services and not create the efficiencies that are needed.

I’m confident that we will see spikes of change start to happen next year.  Last week, I visited a client who recently implemented Arcus’ Built Environment Software.  A senior planner was looking at his phone and asked me if there was a way to configure his view of cases so he could view only his.  After a quick search online, he was seeing his cases and not someone else’s.  The day before, I’d spent a day with a group looking to buy a new planning tech solution, and the policy team was included in the group of decision-makers. They discussed how all of their information could be recorded for them, rather than asking ‘who’ would be recording the information manually.

The small victories that fly under the radar will surmount to big changes in efficiency and will raise the level of service we offer to the public.  So back to the original question: what do I expect to see in 2020?  A change in opinion, a desire to improve services, and the willingness to talk to suppliers to understand your situation and how you can change it.

By Robin Barber, Product Owner - Built Environment at Arcus Global, planning tech 

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