Oxford Properties Group, the real estate investment arm of the Ontario Municipal Employees’ Retirement System, announced the winners of its global hackathon competition, which awarded prizes to innovators for their work to disrupt the design and construction process of commercial real estate.

As real estate has proven to be an increasingly important asset class for pension plans, delving into new trends in how space is used and how it’s constructed is key to ensuring the group allocates its capital optimally, says Dean Hopkins, chief operations officer at Oxford Properties Group.

“When we think about Oxford and trying to figure out where to invest capital in the right buildings, in the right markets, we realized we need to be thoughtful about the direction . . . in every sector of real estate to make sure we’re staying current,” he says.

The Hackathon gave more than 500 people 48 hours to tackle pressing issues in commercial real estate development. Hosting events in London, Sydney, Boston and Toronto, participants were divided into 50 teams, with three teams in each city being awarded a cash prize.

“It’s an industry that for a long time did not change,” says Hopkins. “But we’re now entering a phase where it is actually starting for the first time to be disrupted or changed by innovators who are realizing it’s a multi-trillion dollar in industry in this world and it is, as yet, undisrupted.”

The winning Sydney team arrived at a concept where artificial intelligence tools crawl design files and building specs to better allow builders to compare what materials are used with a view to optimizing costs.

Boston’s winning team conceptualized a web-based solution to leverage historical building design data and best practices.

Meanwhile Toronto’s winners focused on the wants and needs of those actually using the building once constructed. The team thought up an application to collect customer-generated data in real time to create different user personas.

Finally, London’s winning team conceptualized a program to involve contractors in a more agile and collaborative working style. Used from the beginning of the design process, the program intends to allow for increased cost certainty and earlier access to the supply chain.

As the third of Oxford’s Hackathons, this year was the first time it expanded to include cities outside North America.

“This is the first time we’ve truly tried to do it globally to reflect the fact that Oxford is a global company in real estate. . . . We realized that innovations happen not just in Silicon Valley, not just in Toronto, they happen everywhere in the world.”

The Hackathons were held on Sept. 14 to 15, 2019.