Central to the cost-effective delivery of housing repairs and maintenance and tenant services is knowing the precise location of all housing stock. It might sound obvious, but being certain of where flats and homes are in relation to their environment and the nearest depot makes everyone’s job easier. What housing providers and their contractors therefore need is a system that integrates Ordnance Survey data into an online map to give an accurate picture of what stock is held and where.
The majority of housing providers or their contractors have teams operating as lone workers; using mobile devices to plan their work and tick off the jobs as they complete them. All of them encourage their teams to act on their own initiative – perhaps staying a little longer to mend a leaking pipe as well as fix a tenant’s roof. Using a digital map combined with handheld technology gives management and their contractors an overview of the properties and improves the speed and efficiency of responsive repairs and planned maintenance.
Using a geographical information system (GIS) to map the social housing stock is a simple and effective way of doing this, but it can go much further. Housing providers can use GIS data to identify all of their land and assets – obtaining accurate data is otherwise often difficult due to stock transfers, geographic spread and disparate back-office systems. Obtaining accurate information via GIS therefore helps housing providers and their contractors to visualise housing stock by category and fully understand occupancy details including socio-demographic information. They can plot specific problems against the maps, such as arrears, voids or vulnerable tenants.
Mapping accurate boundaries can be crucial in spotting problems and determining liability. For example, last year a man who had suffered brain damage when a branch from an overhanging tree fell and hit his head was awarded damages of £2.5 million from a housing association that was deemed to be liable for the land containing the tree and should therefore have carried out more thorough inspections of the tree after other instances of falling branches. It is an extreme example, but a more accurate mapping system might have resulting in better management and maintenance.
No matter what the scenario, everyone working in the housing sector needs fast, accurate and detailed geographical information. GIS and web-based mapping tools can generate such a realistic picture that it makes the allocation of resources, activity levels, management of risks and meeting the demands of stakeholders much easier. For example, by using GIS to calculate the exact area of grasses or hedges to be cut, housing providers will receive much more accurate quotes from their contractors.
Voids are an excellent example of how using GIS can help deliver value for money for everyone in the supply chain. If they are managed poorly voids undermine the general quality and community spirit on the estates, and once a tenant vacates a property, the average turnaround time might be up to 60 or even 90 days. Reducing this key-to-key period is crucial if housing providers are to get value for money from the properties they are responsible for – by using GIS they can do exactly that.
GIS technology is not difficult to use; options are available for non-IT specialists as well as more complex GIS solutions but all of them will help to turn information that might not have been known before into vital operational and cost-effective knowledge.
GIS and digital mapping puts housing providers and their contractors in control. Being able to overlay OS data with existing information and schedules will enable better management of the entire property portfolio simply because so much more accurate information will be available than before. Tenants will receive a better service, voids can be reduced, and problem areas of a portfolio can be managed more effectively.
The right housing technology holds the key to effective and efficient maintenance programmes. A digital mapping system can add value for the entire supply chain – from client and contractor to the tenant.
Sarah Buckner is development manager for PromapSolutions.