Housing managers often face a costly and time-consuming task when sharing licensed mapping data with their contractors. Now, geographical web services can help keep the process both quick and legal.
Housing providers have contracts with all manner of suppliers including grounds maintenance firms, architects, surveyors, engineers, planners and environmental consultants, and geographic information is an important aspect that pervades virtually all of these contracts.
For example, let’s take the management of communal gardens and green spaces. Working out where properties are or will be in the future, how much ground is covered by them and what price should be put on a maintenance contract are considerations most asset managers will recognise. Traditionally, the geographic aspects of this task were carried out via sketch maps and extracts of paper publications from bodies such as Ordnance Survey.
More and more housing providers are now using digital mapping techniques to make the collection of essential data for contract and project management more efficient. Key to this is the availability of detailed, large-scale and current mapping to support informed and commercially-sound decisions on property-related costs and investment.
Given the need to make money go further in this fragile economic climate, no housing association will want to face cost and time barriers to accessing this information. But until now, the storing, managing and sharing of geospatial data with contractors has been fraught with difficulty. Complex licensing and copyright rules have meant that ensuring contractors have the mapping data they need is labour intensive, costly and time consuming.
As an indication of the costs involved, the Local Government Association recently found that local authorities alone spend a massive £3.5m a year merely on distributing map data to contractors. So what is being done to make the process easier and cheaper for the procurer, whether private or public sector?
Ideally, short-listed or retained contractors should be able to gauge specific contract requirements using the most recent data before submitting a proposal. The successful bidder should then be able to access updated and more detailed geographic content as required to prepare for the contract work itself. Unfortunately, pre-tender mapping data is rarely available for local projects in the way that it tends to be for national infrastructure programmes. As a result, contractors working for housing providers or local authorities end up ‘best-guessing’ or waiting on over-stretched procurement managers to source the data for themselves.
Now, thankfully, web services are becoming available that allow procurers to give contractors fast, secure and legal access to mapping data. A key development is to have the contractor pay for the correct licence and take the responsibility to initiate the process, so saving costs for the procurer. This makes the sharing process easier and quicker to set up as soon as the need for specific spatial data arises.
For example, the Contractor Link service now available in the public sector has the potential to reduce that £3.5m LGA figure. There are a number of collective purchase agreements that govern how public-sector bodies receive and share licensed government map data. While these agreements have sought to widen access to mapping, allowing signatories to distribute data and appropriate licensing documentation, complexities still remain.
What Contractor Link is doing is making that process easier by putting the onus on the contractor, not the procurer, to initiate and pay. It ensures the necessary approvals are obtained from the agreement holder so that they retain total control of contractors’ access to the data in compliance with contract terms. At the same time, contractors have the assurance that they can access correctly-licensed, up-to-date mapping instantly, whenever the project demands it, reducing costly delays and enabling them to meet tight project deadlines.
It’s a good example of a service that satisfies the need for licensees to comply with their collective purchase or bilateral mapping agreements while helping contractors with the timely supply of diverse data sets on a project- and location-specific basis.
James Cutler is chief executive of Emapsite.