An expanding population coupled with rising house prices is accelerating the demand for affordable housing, and executives in the housing and property sector are faced with a wide range of pressing challenges. Where to find suitable land to meet demand for new houses? How to optimise property maintenance without spiralling costs and, most critically, to ensure the safety and security of residents.
Some of the answers to these challenges lie in ready-to-use industry solutions now available in powerful online mapping and geographic software. This game-changing technology is driving innovation across the sector. Organisations are taking their first steps on their journey towards a rapid digital transformation through the adoption of mobile apps, digital maps and spatial analysis tools.
1) Data visualisation improves customer service
Safety and security for residents is a top priority for housing associations and local councils. Key to securing that is a robust asset management strategy: Being able to accurately track the fixed or moveable assets throughout all properties, maintaining their condition over time and creating accurate and regular risk assessments.
When Red Kite Community Housing needed a more efficient way to improve the accessibility of information about the 6,700 homes that it owns and maintains in the district of Wycombe it used Esri’s ArcGIS Platform. This not only gave staff more information about land assets, but also enabled them to put innovative business improvement strategies into action to help deliver better customer service.
All employees work of the same accurate map visualisations and incoming queries can now be resolved within minutes
The software was used to digitise paper records, add layers of business data and plot the locations of adjacent features such as lampposts and telegraph poles. Interactive maps were made available to at least one employee in every business department, including the call centre and the field-based neighbourhood team.
With all employees working off the same accurate visualisations, incoming queries are now resolved within minutes instead of hours. The addition of multiple layers of business data provides further insight about the condition of property assets at each location. By adopting an agile technology solution with out of the box capability Red Kite Community Housing has been able to achieve a vital objective, improving housing safety and security through effective asset management.
2) Automated Land Assessment Unlocks Development Potential
With every local council across the country preparing a local area plan, arguably their biggest challenge is ensuring that the supply of affordable housing keeps up with demand. The failure by many local authorities to meet affordable housing targets was highlighted in a study by BNP Paribas Real Estate, which revealed some had secured as little as 13 per cent affordable housing when their stated targets were as high as 50 per cent. The report also pointed to the rising value of land for profitable commercial use as being partly to blame for the shortfall.
One solution being deployed by planning and ecology specialist Land Use Consultants (LUC) is a new automated tool to analyse housing growth options. Given the spatial nature of these assessments, LUC’s GIS Consultants have developed a number of geoprocessing models to streamline and automate the assessment process. Bringing together large data sets, and visualising the data enables LUC to take unsuitable land out of the picture straight away. Once suitable land has been identified, the tool is used to analyse accessibility to public transport, schools, GPS, local/town centres.
3) Mobile Apps Increase Staff Productivity
Staff productivity is another challenge for this sector. Once new properties are occupied, housing associations are responsible for their ongoing maintenance and management. However, with limited budgets and stretched resources, their field staff need a way to locate reported issues and provide status updates to the office quickly.
We’ve saved hours of time by replacing paper based processes with mobile apps and can optimise our resources more effectively
The use of mobile apps to view, collect and update information in the field is replacing out dated paper based processes and allows a more efficient allocation of resources, especially when responding to an emergency. GreenSquare, a provider of housing, regeneration, care and support services is already using this technology to achieve operational efficiencies in field workforce activities by ensuring that everyone, whether in the field or the office, has access to the same accurate information. Collaboration and data sharing saves time and money and onsite data collection helps reduce errors and boosts productivity.
Elsewhere, these online mapping and geospatial software solutions are being adopted by organisations that need to share asset maps with colleagues, partners, contractors and other third party organisations.
Property development firm Argent is using it to provide a complete, accurate record of all assets involved in the King’s Cross development, one of London’s largest ever mixed-use development projects, and make the information accessible to everyone in the organisation. Argent is responsible for the development and asset management of this ongoing transformation and is using the technology to scrutinise how the 67 acre site will look at different points in the future and make more informed financial and business decisions.
By 2020, the 67 acre area adjacent to busy King’s Cross and St. Pancras rail station will accommodate 50 new and reused buildings, up to 2,000 homes, 20 streets and 10 public squares, providing a modern environment where some 45,000 people can work, live and study. It is an example of how the housing sector can harness the power of mapping technology to drive innovation and deliver better services to its customers, and achieve transformation in small steps with great effect.