Category Archives: Housing

Aster Group

Renovating an entire housing business with a simple IT upgrade

After using Esri geographic information system (GIS) solutions for over eight years, landlord and developer Aster Group decided to migrate to Esri’s Portal for ArcGIS. This upgrade has transformed the efficiency of employees across multiple departments, leading to significant improvements in customer service, supplier management and decision making.

Customers receive faster, well-informed responses to their enquiries

Employees work more efficiently and are supported on key strategic projects

Senior managers have clearer insight into information related to fire safety

The Challenge

The not-for-dividend business Aster Group is driven by the desire to ensure everyone has a home. Over the next seven years, the organisation aims to develop 10,000 new homes for sale and shared ownership, and will reinvest the profits into developing more homes for rent. It already owns and maintains over 28,000 homes across the South and South West of England and delivers services for 75,000 customers.

For over eight years, Aster Group had used Esri’s ArcGIS platform to collate, visualise and share information about all of the organisation’s homes and assets via interactive maps. This GIS had become invaluable to the business, but following a series of acquisitions and other organisational changes, Aster Group had ended up with four separate web maps, each containing different data sets. This fragmented approach sometimes made it hard for employees to find the information that they needed and prevented them from working with optimal efficiency.

“ArcGIS has been vitally important to our business for many years, but now it plays an even more critical role by providing employees with easier access to the information they need to deliver quality customer services, support key strategic projects and make informed business decisions.”

Roger Taylor, Assistant Director (Property Investment), Aster Group

The Solution

When Esri launched Portal for ArcGIS, Aster Group realised that if it migrated to this new solution, it could create a single, interactive map to support employees across all business teams. Moreover, the organisation discovered that it could accomplish this systems enhancement with no additional expenditure on software, as the cost of the upgrade to Portal for ArcGIS was included in its annual ArcGIS maintenance package.

Recognising the importance of GIS to the business, Aster Group decided to engage consultants from Esri UK for three days, to guide the migration to Portal for ArcGIS and pass on their expertise to the in-house GIS team. “The consultancy from Esri UK was really worthwhile,” says Luke Angwin, GIS Administrator at Aster Group. “We certainly wouldn’t be where we are today without that knowledge transfer.”

The upgrade to Portal for ArcGIS enabled Aster Group to replace its four legacy asset maps with a single, enterprise-wide system, containing a far more extensive range of data sets – up to 50 layers of information in total from internal and external sources. At the same time, the upgrade enabled Aster Group to deliver improved capabilities for users, such as simplified printing, more professional report generation and the ability to mark-up areas and boundaries on maps.

“As everything is contained in one map, customer service is more straightforward now. Employees don’t have to have historical knowledge of our properties to know where to look to find answers to questions.”

Luke Angwin, GIS Administrator, Aster Group

The Benefits

From what appears, on the surface, to be a relatively simple upgrade from one Esri solution to another, Aster Group has achieved some remarkable business improvements. As Roger Taylor, Assistant Director (Property Investment) at Aster Group says, “ArcGIS has been vitally important to our business for many years, but now it plays an even more critical role by providing employees with easier access to the information they need to deliver quality customer services, support key strategic projects and make informed business decisions.”

More responsive customer service
Customer service agents can now respond far more quickly to customer enquiries, such as checking if the organisation is responsible for cutting a verge in front of a house. “As everything is contained in one map, customer service is more straightforward now,” Angwin says. “Employees don’t have to have historical knowledge of our properties to know where to look to find answers to questions.”

Improved employee efficiency
Throughout the business, teams can work more efficiently, as they can perform basic GIS tasks, such as producing and printing maps for themselves. The drainage team, for example, now uses Portal for ArcGIS to mark areas, such as car parks, calculate square meterage and produce accurate request for tender documents, with maps, to send to prospective suppliers. The team no longer has to request maps from the GIS team for this purpose, which saves time and significantly accelerates the tender process for new drainage contracts.

Stronger contractor and financial management
As all of the information displayed in Portal for ArcGIS is not only up-to-date and complete, but also easy to interpret, employees can access contract maps and customer charges more effectively. The grounds maintenance team can better monitor whether contractors are meeting their contractual obligations, as contract maps can be accessed via hyperlinks embedded directly in the maps for the first time. Equally, the garages team can more easily spot discrepancies in garages classified as basic or prime, and ensure that all customers are charged appropriately for the services they receive.

Clear understanding of health and safety responsibilities
Aster Group takes its health and safety responsibilities very seriously, and through its upgrade to Portal for ArcGIS, it has been able to improve the visibility of information that is pertinent to fire safety regulations. For instance, it can now distinguish between properties that are leaseholder and freeholder, at a glance, for the first time. This distinction was particularly critical in the light of the Grenfell fire disaster, as the organisation could see instantly where it potentially had a responsibility to carry out additional fire safety checks.

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Loch Lomond

Protecting and enhancing a spectacular natural landscape

In one of the most scenic regions of Scotland, a small organisation has accomplished a big transformation in the way that it records data in the field, using Esri’s ArcGIS Online platform and mobile GIS apps. Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority can now collect better data, monitor its conservation activities more successfully and make faster interventions to protect and enhance this popular national park.

Improved customer satisfaction with 50% fewer call centre calls relating to failures in grounds maintenance

Projected cost savings of at least 10% which can be reinvested in grounds or used to lower customer charges

68% of process steps removed or automated & weeks of effort saved in new, transparent process

The Challenge

Covering an area of 720 square miles, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park comprises twenty one Munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet), twenty two large lochs, two forest parks and the UK’s largest National Nature Reserve. The park authority has a responsibility to protect and conserve these outstanding natural environments, while allowing visitors to enjoy the area safely. To achieve these goals, it needs to collect a vast amount of information on everything from the locations of rare orchids to the conditions of footpaths.

Conservation specialists and park rangers used to collect data in the field on paper and then either file their notes to use in reports or input them into spreadsheets. As a consequence, the data collected in the field was inconsistent, incomplete and often inaccessible. Furthermore, the GIS team needed to spend a considerable amount of time cleaning and consolidating handwritten, printed and digital data in order to create the digital maps that the park authority needed to support its conservation planning.

“The more ArcGIS mobile apps we have developed, the more opportunities we have found to use them.”

Sally Newton, GIS Manager, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority

The Solution

Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority had the inspiration to use GIS mobile apps to address its challenges when it gained free access to Esri’s ArcGIS Online solution and apps, as part of its license agreement with Esri UK for ArcGIS Desktop. “When we saw the Collector App for ArcGIS we immediately recognised the potential that it had for our organisation,” says Sally Newton, the park’s GIS manager. “We then went and talked with other organisations in Scotland that were using the app, and the tremendous results that they had already achieved really backed up our business case.”

Using ArcGIS Online, the Collector App for ArcGIS and Survey123 for ArcGIS, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority quickly created and rolled out over 12 bespoke data collection apps, for more than 30 members of staff, to support different business activities. For example, an ‘Orchid Habitats’ app allows staff to note the locations of rare orchids and complete surveys in the field to record their habitat and environment. “The more ArcGIS mobile apps we have developed, the more opportunities we have found to use them,” Newton says.

Data is entered on a variety of tablets and smartphones via dropdown boxes, making it very easy for people to collect all of the required information in a consistent format, as well as take pictures. Staff can work offline, as mobile coverage is poor in the more remote parts of the park, and upload all their data to ArcGIS Online when they reach a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Even though Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority is a relatively small organisation, with a small number of experienced GIS professionals, it has been able to develop its new apps very quickly and easily. Francis Corbett, the park authority’s GIS systems officer, says, “Once all the planning is done, and you know which survey questions need to be answered, creating the app and setting it up in ArcGIS Online can be achieved in a few hours.”

“By helping us to collect information in the field more accurately, and make it available to staff almost immediately, ArcGIS Online supports a broad range of the National Park Authority’s work including conservation, rural development and visitor experience.”

Simon Jones, Director of Conservation and Visitor Operations, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority

The Benefits

Faster interventions to preserve the park
As the data collected no longer needs to be inputted manually, with less post-processing and cleaning, the GIS team has been able to reduce the time required to create and share digital maps by as much as four weeks, for some of the mobile GIS apps introduced. Consequently, managers within the organisation have faster access to information on critical issues – such as the current whereabouts of rare species and damage to bridges and footpaths – and can make more rapid decisions about any necessary interventions. “By helping us to collect information in the field more accurately, and make it available to staff almost immediately, ArcGIS Online supports a broad range of the National Park Authority’s work including conservation, rural development and visitor experience,” says Simon Jones, Director of Conservation and Visitor Operations at Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority.

Improved monitoring of conservation schemes
The use of Collector App for ArcGIS helps the park authority to more precisely monitor the spread of non-native invasive species, as employees can capture their locations on digital maps simply by walking around the footprint of the invasive plants. “We can pick up changes in the distribution and spread of invasive species far more accurately with our mobile GIS apps,” says Newton. “We can also monitor the effectiveness of different types of treatment more closely, over time, which helps us to achieve targets for the reduction of invasive species.”

More cost-efficient park maintenance programmes
Now that the park authority is able to collect better information about the condition of footpaths, footbridges, signs and information boards around the park, it is beginning to put new processes in place that will, in the future, improve the cost efficiency of its maintenance programmes. Staff will be able to prioritise urgent repair requests and simultaneously identify other less-urgent maintenance tasks in the same vicinity, to undertake multiple nearby jobs on the same visit. As Newton says, “One of the park authority’s biggest costs is staff time, so if we can reduce repeat trips to remote areas, we can increase efficiency and reduce the number of vehicle jourmeys.”

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Flagship Housing

Cultivating greater customer satisfaction with effective grounds maintenance

As part of a bold strategy to in-source its grounds maintenance activities for over 22,000 homes, Flagship Group developed a fully integrated and automated grounds maintenance management system based on Esri’s ArcGIS platform. The initiative resulted in greater customer satisfaction, created significant internal efficiency gains and paved the way for an innovative new business venture.

Improved customer satisfaction with 50% fewer call centre calls relating to failures in grounds maintenance

Projected cost savings of at least 10% which can be reinvested in grounds or used to lower customer charges

68% of process steps removed or automated & weeks of effort saved in new, transparent process

The Challenge

With around 22,500 properties, Flagship Group is the largest housing association in the East of England, comprising Flagship Homes and repairs and maintenance company RFT Services. Since its inception, the organisation had relied on two or more subcontractors to carry out its grounds maintenance tasks, including mowing lawns, weeding driveways, trimming hedges and maintaining shrub beds. However, Flagship had little or no visibility of when and whether specific tasks were taking place and which areas were being routinely maintained. This lack of transparency hampered Flagship’s ability to respond quickly and effectively to customer queries relating to grounds maintenance.

Committed to delivering the highest possible quality of customer service, Flagship made the strategic decision to bring its grounds maintenance activities in-house, by expanding the remit of RFT Services and creating a new digital, integrated process for planning, implementing and managing the entire process. The immediate priority was to create a centralised source of accurate, up-to-date information on all aspects of the grounds maintenance service and make it accessible to employees across multiple departments.

“Getting it right for our customers is what matters most to us at Flagship – and ArcGIS is enabling us to do exactly that.”

Morgan Manricks – IT Business Intelligence Manager, Flagship Group

The Solution

Having recently acquired Esri’s ArcGIS Enterprise solution from Esri UK, Flagship Group set about developing a customised grounds maintenance solution, based on ArcGIS Server. The organisation was able to very easily integrate ArcGIS with its existing Microsoft Windows 365 applications, Microsoft SQL Server and bespoke intranet platform to create a fully integrated and automated enterprise system.

The ArcGIS-based grounds maintenance solution was launched on the day that the supplier contracts terminated and, from the outset, it transformed the grounds maintenance process, providing complete transparency into all aspects of the service. “Now, we don’t just have a picture of a strip of grass that needs to be cut; we can click on the map to immediately see when it was last cut, when its next cut is due, what it costs to cut and which customers pay for it,” says Abi Tassie, GIS Developer at Flagship Group.

Up to 180 employees have instant access to the interactive grounds maintenance map while in the office and PDF map booklets (derived from ArcGIS) while in the field. Grounds maintenance operatives use the solution to see which areas are (and are not) owned by Flagship and when they need to attend each site. The Field Management Team uses the solution to plan visits, reduce drive times and increase productivity. The Finance Team accesses cost information via automated reports, embedded within the interactive map, to calculate the grounds maintenance charge per property. Meanwhile, call handlers and housing officers access the system to resolve queries at point-of-contact, for example, when lawns will be mown or what is included in service charges.

“If we had not deployed ArcGIS before in-sourcing our grounds maintenance, I’d hate to think how much time and money we would have wasted.”

Matt Brazier, Director of IT, Flagship Group

The Benefits

A tangible uplift in the customer experience
Since in-sourcing its grounds maintenance activities, Flagship has been able to provide better information to customers and provide a more effective service across its 22,500 properties. Indeed, since bringing the service in-house, Flagship now receive 50% fewer calls into its contact centre relating to failures in the grounds maintenance service, while at the same time it has been delighted to receive dozens of unprompted calls from happy customers, praising the improvements to the service. “Getting it right for our customers is what matters most to us at Flagship – and ArcGIS is enabling us to do exactly that,” says Morgan Manricks, IT Business Intelligence Manager at Flagship.

10% reduction in grounds maintenance costs
Flagship has projected an annual reduction of expenditure on grounds maintenance of at least 10% by bringing the service in-house. This cost saving not only endorses the organisation’s decision to implement such wide-ranging changes in its approach to grounds maintenance, but also gives it the opportunity to improve the quality of its service.

Significant time savings from process automation
In the development of the ArcGIS-based solution for grounds maintenance, Flagship Group either removed or automated 68% of individual steps creating a far more efficient and streamlined process. The service charges team, for instance, now saves many weeks of effort every year, as it can fairly allocate grounds maintenance costs to the right customers automatically. “Having great people, using great software with great data makes life a lot easier,” says Matt Brazier, Director of IT at Flagship Group. “If we had not deployed ArcGIS before in-sourcing our grounds maintenance, I’d hate to think how much time and money we would have wasted.”

A platform for business innovation
Such has been the success of Flagship’s in-house grounds maintenance service that the business is now considering tendering for other contracts for grounds maintenance work from other organisations in its region. Tassie says, “Our automated approach based on ArcGIS allows us to do more things in the time we have available. It therefore allows us to consider innovative new business ventures that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.”

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Land Use Consultants

Meeting urgent demand for new homes in the UK

LUC, a multi-disciplinary consultancy, is using Esri’s ArcGIS platform to help local authorities respond more effectively to the critical shortage of housing in the UK. The consultancy’s use of advanced geospatial analysis enables councils to identify suitable development land for new houses far more quickly and meet Government targets for new homes.

LUC’s GIS team reduces site assessment from 7 days to 2-3 hours, using automation

Robust and consistent evidence generated from the analysis of 150+ datasets

Better decisions about sustainable future development based on in-depth criteria assessment

The Challenge

In the UK, there is currently a significant shortage of homes, contributing to rising house prices, high rental costs and even, in rare cases, homelessness. In response, the Government has committed to a range of reforms to increase the supply of new housing. As it points out in its February 2017 white paper ‘Fixing our broken housing market’, there is an urgent need to plan for “the right homes, in the right places” and, critically, “build homes faster.”

Local planning authorities have a pivotal role to play in driving the success of this Government policy. They are required to produce a Local Plan that sets a vision and framework for the future development of the area, including identifying areas suitable for housing developments and making sufficient land available to meet ambitious targets for new homes. In what is a highly complex process, they have to evaluate thousands of parcels of land throughout their administrative areas, taking into account dozens of factors ranging from flood risk and agricultural value to environmental protection and local services such as schools and transport. They also need to consider data from neighbouring local authorities and partners, as part of a fully auditable process that can produce consistent evidence for decision making.

“ A considerable percentage of local planning authorities find it hard to undertake a detailed study of their potential development land, primarily because of the enormous spatial complexity of the task. Our standardised, ArcGIS-driven approach now makes it both fast and easy for councils to make consistent well-informed decisions about the best locations for new housing

Edith Lendak – Principal GIS Consultant, LUC

The Solution

LUC recognised that it could help local authorities to identify and assess potential development land more effectively, by creating a new automated tool to analyse housing growth options. The company has been using Geographic Information System (GIS) solutions from Esri’s ArcGIS platform for 20 years, so instinctively turned to ArcGIS to design, build and deliver a brand new service for its local government customers.

Using Esri’s ModelBuilder, LUC created an advanced geospatial analysis system that can systematically and automatically analyse parcels of land against hundreds of data sets and categorise them according to their relative levels of suitability for new housing. The solution automatically assesses factors such as flood risk, proximity to historic monuments and existing local services, drawing on data from local authorities and government advisory bodies, such as the Environment Agency and Natural England.

A key advantage of the approach is that analyses can be repeated easily, on demand, allowing LUC to test different weightings for certain planning constraints and explore a number of different options, without having to start again from scratch. Free from human error, the analysis results will always be consistent, so if LUC undertakes projects for neighbouring councils, the outputs will be directly comparable.

“ ArcGIS generates a robust evidence base which underpins Growth Options Assessments and enables decisions to be made with greater confidence

Edith Lendak – Principal GIS Consultant, LUC

The Benefits

LUC used its geospatial analysis system to help Central Bedfordshire Council identify and assess realistic options for the development of up to 20,000 new homes and related infrastructure by 2035. The benefits that the ArcGIS-based solution delivered include:

Substantial time savings
LUC’s approach, using ArcGIS to analyse the council’s area against three assessment strands (primary constraints, secondary constraints and access to services), using more than 150 datasets, ensured tight project deadlines were met. This complex evaluation process would have taken around 35 working days of manual GIS work for five iterations, whereas it took just two days for five iterations using the prepared automated models.

Repeatable, modular and flexible processes
As LUC’s geospatial analysis process is both fast and repeatable, specialist planners at LUC and Central Bedfordshire Council were able to explore different options for site assessment. They could easily make changes to their land selection criteria, change the weighting of constraint factors and re-run the analysis to model different scenarios in just a few hours. This enabled the planners to evaluate issues more thoroughly and find the right balance between meeting the needs of a growing population and protecting the environment.

Robust and defendable evidence base
The integrity and accuracy of the new GIS-based approach created an auditable process that enabled Central Bedfordshire Council to justify the selected land parcels in preparation of its Spatial Strategy, which will form part of its emerging Local Development Plan. As Lendak says, “ArcGIS generates a robust evidence base which underpins Growth Options Assessments and enables decisions to be made with greater confidence.” Rather than having multiple reports and data sources to study, planners could see at a glance, on colour-coded maps, which parcels of land may be most appropriate for sustainable development and drill down to understand why.

LUC’s GIS team is currently extending the capabilities of the Growth Options Tool, to provide even greater flexibility and speed when testing different scenarios for housing site selection. The solution forms part of a suite of tools aimed at identifying sustainable development opportunities for renewable energy and housing and will be used on projects for councils across the UK.

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Red Kite Community Housing

Putting insight into action

Red Kite Community Housing deployed Esri’s ArcGIS Platform to gain a deeper understanding of not only what assets it owned, but also how to best maintain and develop them. The company is now amassing rich business insight that will help it to put innovative business improvement strategies into action.

Easy access to boundary data allows employees to respond to customer queries in minutes

Improved understanding of land ownership and plot sizes reduces ongoing operational costs

GIS analysis reveals previously unknown development sites and pinpoints the most advantageous opportunities

The Challenge

In the housing sector, the importance of clear business insight cannot be understated. Whether organisations want to improve the cost efficiency of their property maintenance programmes, respond more effectively to customer needs or identify the development opportunities that are most likely to gain planning permission, they need a detailed understanding of their homes, land, customers and communities.

Red Kite Community Housing wanted a more efficient way to improve the accessibility of information about the 6,700 homes that it owns and maintains in the district of Wycombe. It was unable to easily determine the ownership of property boundaries, or even locate the nearest grit bins, without having to find and refer to often disparate records. This reduced the efficiency of day-to-day operations and the ability to easily and flexibly devise and implement business improvement schemes. It therefore decided to deploy a geographic information system (GIS) to give employees more information about land assets, as well as reveal business insight to inform new strategies.

“ Our continuing use of ArcGIS for analysis will give us added insight into important issues and help to inform new business strategies

Jessica Horwitz – Insight Team Leader, Red Kite Community Housing

The Solution

Red Kite Community Housing selected Esri’s ArcGIS Platform after visiting Esri UK’s annual conference. “We didn’t want a software solution that was bespoke to the housing industry, as we felt this might constrain our ability to innovate in the future,” says Jessica Horwitz, Insight Team Leader at Red Kite Community Housing. “We wanted a solution that would give us the flexibility and the advanced technology to drive improvements to our business for many years to come.”

After receiving training from Esri UK, Red Kite Community Housing began using Esri’s ArcGIS Desktop initially to digitise its paper records, add layers of business data and plot the locations of adjacent features such as lamp posts and telegraph poles. It then made interactive maps available, using ArcGIS Online, to at least one employee in every business department, including the call centre and the field-based neighbourhood team. These users can now see everything from property boundaries to the locations of play areas, at a glance, from their desktops or mobile devices.

Subsequently, employees within the insight and business teams began to use ArcGIS Desktop to interrogate and analyse the newly collated asset information, to gain a deeper insight into homes and land, as well as new business opportunities. While Red Kite Community Housing has only been performing GIS analysis for a few months, on specific projects, it is already evident that the new business insight will prove invaluable in helping the organisation to improve the efficiency and quality of its services for customers.

“ ArcGIS is revealing strips of land, previously not identified as having development potential, and unlocking new revenue opportunities for the business

Jessica Horwitz – Insight Team Leader, Red Kite Community Housing

The Benefits

Insight for improving business efficiency
ArcGIS Online has replaced cabinets of printed maps and ledgers, creating time savings in multiple business areas. In the ‘Relationship Stem’, the first point of contact for customers, it might previously have taken several hours for a member of staff to respond to a boundary issue, but queries can now be answered in as little as a few minutes by simply checking a web app. In the future, Red Kite Community Housing plans to analyse maintenance requests and the sequencing of repair jobs to reduce travel time, look at service demand and use this intelligence to shape the service it offers.

Insight for reducing operational costs
Through the use of ArcGIS, Red Kite Community Housing has found parcels of land that it was maintaining but didn’t own, which has opened up conversations with the local authority about maintenance costs. It can also now produce development site plans and documentation to support Access Permits in-house, rather than paying outside agencies to generate them, which contributes to further ongoing operational cost savings. Moving forwards, when new contracts like grounds maintenance come up for renewal in the months ahead, the organisation will be able to provide contractors with more accurate land measurements, leading to fewer assumptions and more competitive tenders.

Insight for informing development planning
In a key business initiative, Red Kite Community Housing is using ArcGIS Desktop to identify areas of land suitable for development and narrow down the search to plots of land of the right size, in the best locations, taking into account potential to work with other third party adjacent land owners. Red Kite Community Housing will also be able to consider the ongoing time that will be required to manage new development opportunities as part of the business case. “ArcGIS is revealing strips of land, previously not identified as having development potential, and unlocking new revenue opportunities for the business,” Horwitz says.

Looking ahead, Red Kite Community Housing plans to use ArcGIS to gain insight into other areas of its business by analysing customer satisfaction surveys, home turnover, geo-demographics and rental income and turning this data into actionable intelligence. Horwitz concludes, “Our continuing use of ArcGIS for analysis will give us added insight into important issues and help to inform new business strategies.”

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Bracknell Forest Homes

Transforming lives, homes and communities through process innovation

Driven by a clear vision to transform the lives of its tenants, Bracknell Forest Homes is using Esri’s ArcGIS Platform to innovate and enhance core business processes.  Through the combined use of mobile, cloud and web-based GIS apps, the organisation has significantly improved the cost effectiveness, efficiency and quality of its housing services.

Tree surveys are conducted twice as quickly and tree risks are both better understood and better managed

Anti-social behaviour issues on estates are dealt with more rapidly and at significantly less cost

Under-occupancy rates are being reduced, by precisely matching tenants’ needs with suitable properties

The Challenge

Like all housing associations, Bracknell Forest Homes has a duty to its board, stakeholders, investors and the industry regulator to offer value for money, demonstrate shrewd business management and deliver a high quality of service for tenants.  It owns and manages around 6,000 rented homes in Bracknell Forest and surrounding areas, as well as 1,075 leaseholder properties.

The organisation’s aspirational vision is to “transform lives, homes and communities” and, to achieve this, it encourages innovation in all aspects of the business.   Indeed, innovation is one of the “magnificent seven” values that Bracknell Forest Homes has identified as being critical for its success.  It defines innovation as “creativity with a job to do” and, in more ways than one, the organisation is making creative use of geographic information system (GIS) technology to drive the adoption of best practice approaches in the housing sector.

“ The mobile GIS solution for our Tree Team allows us to manage our portfolio of 10,000 trees with just two full time members of staff. We estimate that without this solution, costs would increase by at least £50,000 a year, and we would be unable to carry out necessary tasks in a proactive, cost effective manner

Andrew Keljarrett – Business Improvement Manager, Bracknell Forest Homes

The Solution

Since 2010, Bracknell Forest Homes has used a range of solutions from Esri’s ArcGIS platform to support the delivery of its services.  The association has been able to easily integrate web, mobile and cloud-based apps, to create seamless, GIS-driven processes, and thereby implement innovative new approaches to service delivery.

In brief, it uses:

  • ArcGIS Online to store all spatial data securely in the cloud and potentially make GIS services and analysis capabilities accessible to all of the company’s 240 employees
  • ArcGIS Pro to provide advanced GIS functionality, when required for specialist tasks
  • Collector for ArcGIS to allow the company’s mobile teams to collect data in the field
  • Survey123 for ArcGIS to conduct surveys with tenants and then subsequently analyse their feedback
  • ArcGIS Story Maps to present information clearly to business teams in an interactive format.

We have at least doubled the number of tree inspections that surveyors can perform in a day and given managers faster access to better information about where surveys have been undertaken

Andrew Keljarrett – Business Improvement Manager, Bracknell Forest Homes

The Benefits

Tangible cost savings from reduced administration

The creation of mobile GIS solutions has enabled Bracknell Forest Homes to make significant, sustained cost savings.  For instance, the Tree Team uses Collector for ArcGIS to carry out surveys on trees the association is responsible for. The surveyors are able to check locations of trees, carry out surveys, deal with customer queries and provide information to contractors on tree maintenance work needed – all while in the field. “The mobile GIS solution for our Tree Team allows us to manage our portfolio of 10,000 trees with just two full time members of staff,” says Andrew Keljarrett, Business Improvement Manager at Bracknell Forest Homes.  “We estimate that without this solution, costs would increase by at least £50,000 a year, and we would be unable to carry out necessary tasks in a proactive, cost effective manner.”

 Greater financial returns on estate assets

Increasingly, Bracknell Forest Homes is using ArcGIS to help it make strategic decisions that will impact the future profitability of the business.  It is, as an illustration, currently collecting data in the field about the condition of garage blocks and then analysing possible development opportunities for these sites with ArcGIS Online.  By replacing under-used, old and deteriorating garages with brightly lit parking spaces, amenity areas or new properties, the organisation can simultaneously reduce its maintenance costs, improve facilities for tenants and create new revenue opportunities.

 A sensitive and professional approach to under-occupancy

Bracknell Forest Homes is currently using the ArcGIS platform to help it minimise under-occupancy in its properties and incentivise tenants to downsize.  It uses Survey123 to assess the needs of householders at properties that may be under-occupied, alongside ArcGIS Online to quickly ascertain if there are other properties available within its housing portfolio that may be more suitable, such as bungalows already fitted with showers or wet-rooms for elderly people.  The organisation can, therefore, reduce under occupancy rates and make its larger properties available to families on council waiting lists, while delivering a professional and understanding service for its existing tenants.

 Improved employee productivity throughout the business

The use of ArcGIS has had a significant impact on productivity, across a wide range of business departments.  In Finance, for example, employees recently used ArcGIS Pro to reduce the time needed to define title extents for a refinancing initiative from over a month to less than one week.  Equally, employees in the Estates Team have reduced their need to return to the office to collect or return information on jobs, while the Tree Team is able to carry out more surveys in less time.  “We have at least doubled the number of tree inspections that surveyors can perform in a day and given managers faster access to better information about where surveys have been undertaken,” Keljarrett says.

Reduced exposure to the risk of litigation

Using ArcGIS Online and the tree data captured via mobile GIS, Bracknell Forest Homes can now categorise each individual tree as either ‘low’, ‘medium’ or ‘high’ risk, based on a wide range of factors including tree health, adjacent services and public access.  The clarity of the information presented by ArcGIS allows the Tree Team to provide assurances to the board and regulators that risks associated with damaged or falling trees are being managed and mitigated responsibly.  Most significantly, this GIS-driven process reduces the risk of litigation for poor tree management. At its worst, mismanagement can lead to charges of corporate manslaughter, potentially resulting in unlimited fines for an organisation and prison sentences for involved parties.

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Sovereign Housing Association

Building a successful and responsible housing organisation

Responsible for 38,000 homes across the south and south west of England, Sovereign Housing Association uses Esri’s ArcGIS platform enterprise-wide to help it address a range of business challenges. The solution helps it to deliver more responsive customer services, better understand the needs of tenants and plan strategically for future growth.

Sovereign Housing Association has extended its use of GIS in a strategic, enterprise-wide initiative that is transforming core business operations. Now, the organisation can deliver more responsive customer services, better understand the needs of its residents and plan more strategically to build new homes.

ArcGIS gives the organisation clearer insight into issues faced by tenants and their property requirements

Sovereign can respond more quickly to enquiries from tenants and deliver better customer service

The organisation uses ArcGIS to reveal business development opportunities and share information with local councils

The Challenge

Sovereign manages and maintains more than 38,000 homes across the south and south west of England. Already one of the UK’s largest housing associations, the organisation aims to grow to 50,000 homes by 2018, to help address the critical shortage of affordable property in this part of the country. It is, however, often difficult to identify suitable development sites that will pass the scrutiny of planning authorities, so Sovereign has to be able to work closely with local councils to facilitate its growth plans.

The housing association currently has more than 80,000 residents in its properties and strives to deliver the best possible services to enable these people to live comfortably and happily in their homes. To consistently achieve a high standard of customer service, it needs an accurate understanding of its residents’ needs and concerns, as well as efficient operations so that it can respond quickly and effectively.

“ When we first used ArcGIS Online in a meeting to highlight potential development sites to a team from a local council, their jaws dropped. It was incredible. ArcGIS has opened up a whole world of opportunity and will certainly help us to achieve our planned growth

Andrew Bradley – GIS Manager, Sovereign Housing Association

The Solution

Sovereign had been using geographic information system (GIS) solutions to manage spatial data for some time, but, in the year of its 25th anniversary, it took the strategic decision to exploit the powerful analysis capabilities of GIS more extensively as part of a wide-ranging business transformation programme. It selected a comprehensive suite of solutions from Esri’s ArcGIS platform, including ArcGIS Server Enterprise Advanced, ArcGIS Desktop, ArcGIS Online, 3D Analyst, Spatial Analyst and Network Analyst and began to apply GIS to pressing business challenges.

At the same time, the organisation decided to extend GIS capabilities out to the whole business, aiming to train 500 employees across all parts of its business by summer 2015. With support from Esri UK’s professional services team, Sovereign built a GIS-based web app to deliver accurate information about properties, assets, land and residents to employees working in all departments ranging from housing services to the customer call centre. Available via the company’s secure intranet, this solution gives everyone in the business instant access to up-to-date business information, all in one place, in an easy-to-use interactive map-based format.

“ ArcGIS is adding value right across our organisation and will continue to do so for years to come. It will enable us to plan and build new homes, work efficiently and deliver better services for residents

Andrew Bradley – GIS Manager, Sovereign Housing Association

Benefits

The enterprise-wide use of ArcGIS has begun to transform the way in which employees work and will deliver long-term benefits for the organisation, as Andrew Bradley, GIS manager at Sovereign, explains. “ArcGIS is adding value right across our business and will continue to do so for years to come,” he says. “It will enable us to plan and build new homes, work efficiently and deliver better services for residents.”

Sovereign employs its new ArcGIS solutions to conduct analysis and gain a deeper insight into business issues and tenant needs. For instance, the company collected data on the incomes and living costs of its residents, at all of its different locations, and performed GIS analysis to ascertain the impact that the government’s new ‘benefits cap’ would have on residents over a period of 5-10 years. When the findings were displayed on a digital map with a time lapse slider, the effects of the new policy became clear. “We could see a wave of impact coming out of London over time and identify easily where and when different types of households would start to struggle,” says Bradley. “ArcGIS is a very powerful tool, helping us to better understand and respond to our residents’ needs.”

The enterprise ArcGIS platform is proving particularly beneficial for Sovereign’s strategic asset management group, a team tasked with identifying and qualifying development opportunities. It has successfully used ArcGIS to pinpoint locations where Sovereign-owned land lies adjacent to under-utilised council-owned land. It then uses ArcGIS Online to share this information with councils and commence negotiations about mutually-beneficial new housing projects. Bradley recalls: “When we first used ArcGIS Online in a meeting to highlight potential development sites to a team from a local council, their jaws dropped. It was incredible. ArcGIS has opened up a whole world of opportunity and will certainly help us to achieve our planned growth.”

Now, if residents contact Sovereign with an enquiry about a boundary, employees can quickly check on the Intranet-based GIS and often clarify issues instantly. Previously, such boundary enquiries had to be passed on to the company’s legal team, and responses could take up to 21 days according to the company’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). “Our employees are empowered with information that they simply didn’t have before,” Alice Rhodes, GIS Analyst at Sovereign says. “Customers get accurate information much more quickly.”

Finally, ArcGIS is enabling Sovereign to improve its operational efficiency, as all employees can share information much more easily. They no longer have to send emails from team to team requesting data and waste time chasing up further details. Instead, they can simply look up the information they need straight away and work more productively.

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Yarlington Housing Group

Saving time and money when sourcing Ordnance Survey data

After selecting Esri’s ArcGIS platform for its first ever corporate GIS solution, Yarlington Housing Group (YHG) turned to Esri UK for help and advice in sourcing and loading data from Ordnance Survey and other third parties. The support and expertise provided by Esri UK’s Data Services group equipped the organisation with precisely the data it needed saving weeks of effort.

The Customer

Yarlington Housing Group (YHG) provides affordable housing across the South West of England, owning and managing over 9,000 properties in Somerset, Devon and Dorset. Working closely with local authorities, the group provides homes to rent and also offers Government-funded schemes to give people the chance to buy their own home. Based in Yeovil, YHG employs over 300 staff and was established in 1999 through a Large Scale Voluntary Transfer.

Esri UK’s Data Services professionals saved YHG around two weeks of time, by supplying data in precisely the right format for its GIS

The data experts were able to advise YHG on the most appropriate data types to acquire to deliver added benefits for the business

YHG asserts that Esri UK’s data services delivered better value for money than similar services offered by other vendors

The Challenge

YHG wanted to create a new corporate geographic information system (GIS), from which the entire housing association would benefit. By combining data from Housing Management, Asset Management, Workflow Management Tool, Repairs and Services, the company-wide GIS would give a complete view of the business and deliver valuable new insights in order to make informed strategic decisions and for users to quickly access and view information collated from a range of disparate systems in one central location.

With no previous GIS at YHG, the group had already decided to use Esri UK’s ArcGIS as its new GIS platform, but needed the most suitable Ordnance Survey (OS) data to underpin it.

“Embarking on a GIS project with such far-reaching implications meant expectations were high, so we needed the best approach to source our OS data,” explained Chris Reed, GIS Administrator, Yarlington Housing Group. “Customer service, housing specific knowledge, data quality, efficiency and costs were the main drivers behind our search for a supplier.”

After examining the market, YHG concluded that Esri UK could meet its OS data needs and offer other invaluable benefits.

“ The Esri approach presented a seamless OS dataset ready for use, resulting in an efficient integration into the GIS. We were up and running in a fraction of the time compared to buying data on its own

Chris Reed – GIS Administrator, Yarlington Housing Group

The Solution

For our initial phase of the implementation, YHG selected a combination of OS OpenData services, OS mastermap and OS 1:25 000 Scale Raster for its base map data but recently updated the raster data to VectorMap Local following Esri UK’s recommendation. Delivered in file-geodatabase format and already set-up to the group’s specific scale, style and projection criteria, the new data was supplied optimised and cached for their GIS.

“While VectorMap Local was more expensive, we felt it presented better value for money for the organisation. It provided a greater level of flexibility by having a number of different map styles and had all the benefits of vector data, such as the ability to carry out analysis, feature integration and calculations. We were also able to take advantage of a three year contract providing a year’s cost saving compared to an annual agreement,” explained Chris Reed. “Esri provided the OS data in the correct format for our GIS and its bespoke service meant data arrived just for the area we needed, with the correct cartographic layer .mxd files, styled to our requirements.”

At no additional cost, Esri UK also provided a cache of the base-map data, geo-coded property lists and online data services such as OS OpenData, already pre-cached and in the correct format.

“Esri UK’s data consultants are experts in the housing sector and could therefore recommend and supply the most appropriate OS data,” said Chris Reed. “But it was the extra services they offered included in the price that made their solution most attractive. The team is very accessible and quick to help with any queries and we’ve built a strong working relationship.”

Another factor in YHG’s decision was that it already had a contract with Esri UK for the GIS software. Being able to deal with the same supplier for its OS data made the whole process easy and straightforward.

“ Esri UK’s data consultants are experts in the housing sector and could therefore recommend and supply the most appropriate OS data

Chris Reed – GIS Administrator, Yarlington Housing Group

Benefits

Selecting Esri UK’s OS data solution has saved the Yarlington Housing Group’s GIS team a significant amount of time and effort.

No extra work was needed to convert or load the data, match tiles or create the desired symbology, as Chris Reed explained: “The Esri approach presented a seamless OS dataset ready for use, resulting in an efficient integration into the GIS. We were up and running in a fraction of the time compared to buying the data on its own.”

Another major time saving has been realised from the map cache. Previously, when YHG had first received its OS Raster data and master maps, creating a cache had taken them several days due to the caching process and processing issues. Now the team simply load the cache into their GIS and it becomes live the same day, with the GIS performance levels that users demand. The cache will also play a vital part in future plans for new web and mobile-based GIS services.

“Overall, the new approach from Esri UK has saved the organisation approximately 2 weeks of development work,” stated Chris Reed. “We no longer have to convert data, geocode properties, create symbology and build a cache, allowing us to focus on developing functionality, data and services that our users require.”

All of Yarlington Housing Group’s OS data needs were met by Esri UK along with the additional value-add offered by their data consultancy services. Data updates are now also provided on a six-monthly basis via ftp download.

“Esri UK has an in-depth understanding of the housing market and sourcing OS data from them has cut significant costs from the whole GIS process,” concluded Chris Reed. “The total solution has cost us the same as other vendors were quoting purely for the data, so we achieved great value for money.”

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Saxon Weald

Opening the door to GIS best practices

This Sussex and Hampshire-based housing association has calculated that it saves at least £124,000 a year from its use of GIS. It has deployed a range of solutions from Esri UK, which have significantly improved the efficiency of its maintenance activities while presenting more incisive management information.

The Customer

Saxon Weald Homes Limited (Saxon Weald) is a housing association managing over 5,000 properties across Sussex and Hampshire. It aims to improve the quality of life for residents and manages housing for general needs, retirement and shared ownership.

Esri’s ArcGIS platform saves £60,000 a year from more accurate maintenance contracts, £40,0000 a year from improved tree works and £24,000 a year from consolidated invoicing

Saxon Weald is able to operate more efficiently, as it no longer needs to conduct as many property visits to gather information and data

ArcGIS gives the organisation more incisive management information, which it uses to help plan strategically for the future

The Challenge

When Saxon Weald became independent of the local authority, it inherited 175 land titles. Each had a grounds maintenance liability, but “we didn’t know explicitly how much ground we were responsible for, what it was and where it was… we discovered that we were routinely cutting grass that didn’t belong to us, while missing out grass that did”, explains Justin Chamberlin, GIS Manager.

A better way of managing and maintaining its assets was needed, but “our old solution didn’t hold attribute data behind the maps”, recalls Chamberlin. “We therefore couldn’t record information such as how frequently grounds maintenance teams were required to visit each location.”

“ ArcGIS helps us to identify issues that we wouldn’t otherwise be aware of and direct services towards people who need it

Justin Chamberlin – GIS Manager

The Solution

Saxon Weald deployed ArcMap geographic information system (GIS) with the ProductivitySuite Housing extension. Staff quickly converted paper plans into digital maps, making it easier to view and interpret the data. GIS was then extended to managing boundaries, properties, liabilities, grounds maintenance, and disabled access, for which Saxon Weald upgraded to ArcGIS Server, with GIS for Housing. A dedicated, virtualised server provides all staff with access to central geographic data, via the intranet. GIS for Housing was specifically designed to help housing associations meet the needs of tenants and neighbourhoods, and comply with legislation. It includes tools such as Amenity Manager (for comparing contractor costs) and a Boundary T Marking tool.

ArcGIS is a critical business system, managing more than just property and land; social and demographic information, such as anti-social behaviour, is recorded and analysed too. “ArcGIS helps us to identify issues that we wouldn’t otherwise be aware of and direct services towards people who need it”, says Chamberlin.

“ We expect to save a further £40,000 by better managing the maintenance of trees and in addition to the quantifiable, cashable benefits, there are also high-level, strategic benefits that are just as valuable

Justin Chamberlin – GIS Manager

The Benefits

Saving at least £124,000
By precisely calculating its land assets and maintenance requirements, Saxon Weald negotiated more competitive service contracts and reduced direct costs by £60,000. “We expect to save a further £40,000 by better managing the maintenance of trees”, says Chamberlin.

ArcGIS helped identify land parcels that were not needed, but had a maintenance obligation; by selling these, Saxon Weald got cash and reduced maintenance costs. Another GIS-enabled process saves an estimated £24,000 a year by reducing the time to generate separate invoices for rent and services. “This process used to take us about three weeks. With ArcGIS, it now takes about ten minutes”, says Chamberlin.

Time savings
Staff can collate local service information (banks, schools, bus stops etc) for prospective tenants, without site visits, and architects’ CAD drawings are imported into ArcGIS and used to map floor layouts and communal corridors. “We can produce accurate Lease Plans that are recognised by the Land Registry without reference to external agencies”, explains Chamberlin. Aerial photography is invaluable, too. “I could look at aerial photography to get an indicative view of where footpaths are and then plot them directly onto our property maps – and do all that sitting in the office”, says Chamberlin.

Efficient working practices
Interfacing ArcGIS with the existing document management system means easy retrieval of internal floor plans, pictures and other documents about a property on a map. “We can get the answers we need in no time at all”, says Chamberlin. “In addition to the quantifiable, cashable benefits, there are also high-level, strategic benefits that are just as valuable.”

Better management information
Housing associations are legally obliged to risk assess all their trees. Saxon Weald equips its tree surveyors with hand-held GPS devices for recording assessments against precise locations, and the data is analysed to schedule maintenance. “This helps us to forecast the required spend two years in advance”, says Chamberlin. Similar processes reduce emergency call-outs (previously around 12,000 per year, at about £150 each) by scheduling proactive property maintenance. Properties with rent arrears are highlighted so staff can visit when they are in the area, and analysis shows where there are problems and which collection strategies work best.

Evangelising GIS
Saxon Weald promotes GIS to other associations, partly via www.Gi4housing.com, and the Audit Commission declared its use of GIS ‘best practice’. Chamberlin concludes: “We are so convinced of the benefits of using ArcGIS that we want to raise the profile of GIS in the housing sector.”

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