Geographic information systems (GIS) are now being taken up by many innovative housing providers to create efficiencies, transform their businesses and provide strategic insights.
99 per cent of housing data has some form of spatial element, such as property location, street furniture, communal grounds, estates, commercial buildings and development sites. By taking housing data and visualising and analysing it within a GIS gives you a strategic overview of your organisation by providing you with accurate information and helping you with improving processes, visualising data, potentially saving you money along with many other benefits such as enabling mobile working.
We all want to save money when we can and having your grounds maintenance information in a GIS offers the most tangible saving. Housing providers who have gone down this route have reported savings of 10-15 per cent on their grounds maintenance contracts.
The traditional way is to give potential contractors a pile of maps, let them work out the area of grass then add a bit on for contingencies and give you a price. Using GIS, your grounds maintenance data is captured over OS Mastermap giving an accurate record of the area of grass allowing your contractor to price on an accurate record without adding ‘extras’. Capturing this information in a digital format allows an organisation to truly see their responsibilities and assists with upcoming tenders to reduce costs as well as helping to produce accurate service charges and providing information to those that need it.
Other cost savings may not be as obvious, but if a task can be done more efficiently then there is a saving in man hours, or it could be a situation where strategic decisions need to be made and the more information that can be brought to bear, the more informed your decision. All departments gain to benefit from using GIS corporately. The following examples demonstrate this.
Programmes of work – does the rest of the organisation know where and when you are working on improvement works? Having a programme of works is one thing but what about sharing this with the rest of the organisation? Sharing this information through web mapping can help housing officers when dealing with queries on the ground from tenants rather than wasting staff and customer time in finding the information or the right person who has the information. Also by having this information in a GIS allows for more efficient and effective planning of these works.
NPV thematic maps – making best use of your NPV data for more informed decisions. If you have a net present value for your stock then you are in a great position to start thinking strategically about your stock going forward and whether you invest, maintain or release; visualising this data spatially can give more information and insight than any spreadsheet or database. Combining NPV data with other information can help you to view this information in a completely different way.
Repairs analysis – where are the true hotspots? Producing reports on the number or type of repairs for a particular estate or patch is achievable but this only shows you themes or issues at these pre-designed geographical areas. Visualising this data and analysis within a GIS allows you to look past these boundaries from your housing management system and allows you to see the data overlaid on real-world geographies / groups of properties. GIS also allows for simple data filtering without the need to request a new report or build one from your housing management system.
Vulnerable tenant mapping – spot where you have concentrations of vulnerable tenants and see how close they are to the particular services you offer. This can help to coordinate particular initiatives or new services which you are offering and also links to community investment.
Location profiling of your properties to help with lettings – to help you ‘sell’ to a prospective tenant, a location profile, specific to each property, will give them information about local services, school catchment areas, public transport, post offices, community centres, doctors surgeries, etc.
Service charge setting – analyse which properties are paying service charges and clearly define what they should be paying. Using a GIS and the grounds maintenance data you have had captured, you can establish an exact amount of land which is maintained and divide this up equally by properties within the area, resulting in service charges that are more accurate, fair and transparent for your tenants.
Create new housing / repairs patches based on service demand and geography – are you looking to reshape your workforce, or do you think your mobile teams could have fairer, more effective patches? By analysing your demand, you can create new patches or estates based on the result, and building in geographical considerations to minimise travelling in order to increase productivity.
Development & sales
Development site feasibility – where are we building and what should we be building? GIS can be used to look at potential development sites and establish information about a site without extensive site visits or consultants by looking at flood risk, radon risk, local services and infrastructure to name just a few criteria.
These are merely a small selection of tasks that can be done using GIS. As a tool to capture information, GIS allows you to compare your property list with land ownership and property boundaries and find out exactly what you own.
Nowadays, GIS is very flexible and can run on desktops, tablets or mobile phones. Costs are much more realistic and can be adapted to suit most budgets. With the amount of data now available (not just your own but also open-source data), to make the most of it requires an innovative approach and GIS, although having been around for a long time, is now proving to be the ideal vehicle for housing providers to develop for the future.
Rick Thompson is a GIS consultant at Oxford Data Consultancy.