Westminster City Council

8th June 2016
Esri UK

Westminster City Council

Despite having fewer surveyors and more sites to inspect, Westminster City Council completed its 2015 planning survey nearly twice as quickly as in previous years and increased employee productivity by 20%. It made this remarkable achievement by using Esri’s ArcGIS Collector App to develop a new mobile data collection solution.

ArcGIS Collector App allowed the council to survey 17% more sites with a 20% smaller team

The council’s annual survey was completed 1.5 months more quickly than before

Use of the mobile data collection app has led to greater data accuracy and accountability

The Challenge

Westminster City Council has the busiest planning authority in the whole of the UK. Every year, it receives over 12,000 planning applications and needs to carefully manage the balance between residential, commercial and retail property to help maintain central London as a sustainable and successful city.

The council’s Evaluation and Performance team is required to survey the progress of planning permissions annually, in order to produce monitoring reports on changing land use patterns. This survey typically used to involve printing maps and forms and completing them by hand, on building sites, in all weathers. Inevitably, unnecessary inaccuracies and time delays occurred in transposing the hand-written notes back into the council’s IT systems.

When the department was reorganised, the team realised that a new survey approach was needed urgently. “The number of people in our team had reduced from five to four,” says Chris Lawrence, a spatial analyst at Westminster City Council. “However, at the same time, the number of planning applications that we needed to assess had increased by nearly 17% to 1,760.”

ArcGIS Collector App enabled us to survey 17 % more sites, with a 20 % smaller team, in nearly half the time. It has definitely contributed to cost efficiency savings for the council

Chris Lawrence – spatial analyst, Westminster City Council

The Solution

Westminster City Council has been using geographic information system (GIS) solutions from Esri UK for many years. Using the council’s existing licence for Esri’s ArcGIS platform, the team was able to take advantage of Esri’s ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Collector App to create a new mobile data collection solution. It then borrowed tablet computers from other council departments, enabling it to get up and running for almost no capital cost.

The new mobile surveying solution was introduced in the summer of 2015, allowing surveyors to plan their routes around London and complete their surveys electronically for the first time. At each site visited, surveyors selected from a range of symbols, such as green flags, to indicate if projects were progressing as anticipated. When the tablets were connected to Wi-Fi, the survey data was transferred almost instantaneously to ArcGIS Online, allowing colleagues in the office to monitor the surveyors’ progress.

This mobile app is an excellent example of how ArcGIS allows corporate GIS teams to provide business users with the tools to do innovative, time- and cost-saving work

Peter Kohler – GIS lead at Westminster City Council

The Benefits

This resourceful use of mobile GIS within the council has led to significant benefits including:

Surveyor productivity improved by 20% 
The tablet-based GIS is far easier to use than paper copies of maps and forms. Consequently, the council’s surveyors were able to gather data more quickly and plan optimum routes around the city to avoid duplicated journeys and wasted time. “ArcGIS made a huge difference to our productivity,” Lawrence says. “Whereas we used to be able to survey an average of 50 sites per day, per person, we can now survey 60 sites per day, per person.”

Project duration reduced by 1.5 months
Using its new mobile GIS solution, Westminster City Council was able to undertake the 2015 survey with four surveyors in just two months; previously, it had taken five people three and a half months to complete. This achievement is all the more noteworthy considering that there were around 250 more sites to survey this year than in previous years, as Lawrence points out. “ArcGIS Collector App enabled us to survey 17% more sites, with a 20% smaller team, in nearly half the time,” he says. “It has definitely contributed to cost efficiency savings for the council.”

Greater accuracy and accountability
As the surveyors’ observations are recorded digitally, there is less likelihood of inaccuracies occurring when notes are transposed from paper forms to the council’s database. Consequently, the quality of the council’s statutory reports is improved. In addition, the mobile GIS makes it easy for the team to look back, see who visited which site and when, answer any queries and validate the survey information.

Faster manipulation of data for reports
The versatility of ArcGIS Online enables the council to easily export its survey data into Excel spreadsheets and also extract shape files showing map images which can be easily embedded into its statutory reports. “I don’t have to manually compile spreadsheets anymore,” says Lawrence with enthusiasm. “The data component of our annual report took just a week to complete this year, rather than a month in previous years.” The Evaluation and Performance team is now looking at Esri’s story map templates and investigating ways to use them to further improve the quality its statutory reporting in the future.

Peter Kohler, GIS lead at Westminster City Council commented, “This mobile app is an excellent example of how ArcGIS allows corporate GIS teams to provide business users with the tools to do innovative, time- and cost-saving work. Projects like this help to deliver a high return on the council’s investment in GIS.”

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