In the housing sector, one technology has emerged as a vital keystone. Sitting at the apex of successful organisations, it is supporting the transformation of every pillar of their business operations, from customer services and maintenance planning to housing development. That technology is GIS.
Geographic information systems (GIS) are not new to the housing sector. Indeed, over a hundred housing providers already have GIS solutions from Esri, and the vast majority of them have been using GIS to record and manage spatial data for many years. Many housing providers are now extending their use of GIS across the organisation, developing suites of GIS solutions and making them available to more employees, in offices and in the field. Through this broader use of GIS, they are making significant improvements to their asset management, customer services and operational efficiencies and successfully addressing some of the housing sector’s biggest challenges.
Organising vast amounts of data
Housing providers hold large volumes of data on everything from the number of tenants in their properties to the locations of lamp posts on their land. GIS provides the geographic context for all this data and allows housing providers to store all their maps, apps and data securely in one central place, either on-premise or in the cloud.
Once all data has been digitised and organised by location, it is much easier for employees to find the information they need, and this can have huge implications for business efficiency and customer service. When Red Kite Community Housing digitised its paper records and consolidated its business data using Esri’s ArcGIS Online solution, the time required to respond to boundary queries reduced from several hours to just a few minutes.
Reducing operating costs
The process of organising and managing data with GIS can also provide a catalyst for significant reductions in operating costs. For example, housing staff can more easily see which land the housing provider owns or manages and then avoid paying for grass cutting and other maintenance on land that is outside its responsibility. After using ArcGIS to centralise its geographic data, Saxon Weald was able to more precisely calculate its grounds maintenance requirements, negotiate more competitive service contracts and reduce its direct costs by £60,000.
Gaining insight into tenants’ needs
One of the more complex challenges that housing providers face is the need to anticipate tenants’ future needs and be ready to respond. GIS enables organisations to analyse a vast amount of data, visualise the results and gain a clear insight into what can be very sensitive issues.
For instance, Sovereign Housing successfully undertook location analysis using ArcGIS to ascertain the impact of the government’s ‘benefits cap’ on tenants over a period of 5 to ten years. The findings were displayed on a digital map with a time-lapse slider, enabling the organisation to predict not only where, but also when, households might start to experience difficulties.
Accelerating the development of new homes
In light of the ongoing, critical shortage of housing in the UK, housing providers have an important role to play in helping to build new homes. GreenSquare Group has used GIS to help it identify suitable development land faster by analysing property types, access routes, land ownership, housing demand and many other factors using ArcGIS. The organisation has also reduced the time needed to carry out feasibility studies for new development sites from 10 days to two by removing the need for multiple site visits, physical meetings and manual processes.
Sharing information with partners
The inability to share information easily with partners can be not only a frustration for housing providers but also a hindrance to strategic planning and decision making. GIS makes it very easy to share information between teams and work collaboratively with other organisations. Sovereign Housing has found ArcGIS Online particularly effective for sharing information about potential new development sites with nearby councils in a visual format. The information displayed using ArcGIS can be easily understood by everyone and helps to initiate negotiations about new, mutually-beneficial housing projects.
Working effectively in the community
Much of the work that housing providers do is in their communities, so improving mobile working is often a key goal. There are a wide range of mobile GIS solutions that improve the efficiency of processes in the field by streamlining data collection, automating manual tasks and giving employees the information they need, when and where they need it. Bracknell Forest Homes uses ArcGIS mobile solutions to deliver its ‘smart working on the go’ strategy and has saved thousands of pounds by freeing up its staff for other activities. The organisation’s ‘tree team’ can now manage 10,000 trees with just two members of staff, and share accurate information about the condition of trees with both internal and external stakeholders.
Improving customer satisfaction
Achieving customer satisfaction is the ultimate goal and yet also a common challenge. When a suite of GIS solutions is implemented successfully to transform end-to-end processes, it can have a very positive impact on the customer experience. Indeed, when Flagship Housing created a brand new, GIS-enabled process for grounds maintenance, it began to receive 50 per cent fewer calls into its contact centre relating to failures in the grounds maintenance service, while at the same time it received dozens of unprompted calls from happy customers, praising the improvements to the service.
All these examples show that GIS is no longer just one brick among many in a housing provider’s IT department, used to fulfil a single purpose. Rather, GIS is a now an important keystone that supports business transformation across all business functions, for all employees, in offices and in the field.
So, when housing providers need to improve their customer service, develop new housing faster, reduce their maintenance costs and plan for the future, they can do all of this and more using one technology: GIS.
Robert Nichols is the housing lead for Esri UK.