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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.”