Cadcorp GIS software is becoming a strategic tool for UK housing associations
Housing associations that have used geographic information systems (GIS) to make cost savings in operational activities such as grounds maintenance, are increasingly using the same technology as a strategic tool to help transform the way they work. That was the overriding message which emerged from a meeting of the Cadcorp Housing User Group in London, on 5 February .
The title of the workshop held at the London School of Economic Science reflects the centrality of location to the work of registered social landlords.
Steve Litchfield and Dean Ballard described how Orbit Group is using GIS as a business intelligence tool for analysing and presenting key geographic data sets, such as the Census and NOMIS. The technology is being used to help management decide where and what to build in order to meet predicted housing needs, and how to make best use of their existing stock of some 38,000 properties. It came as no surprise that GIS sits within Orbit’s ‘Business Excellence Team’.
Alex Hill, GIS Manager of plus dane group, made a strong case for integrating GIS technology with a housing association’s back offices systems. For Hill, integration is much more than being able to visualise properties, land, and maintenance responsibilities on a map. It is a two-way process, which also involves ‘adding spatial value’ to the back office systems. Hill quoted an example of how GIS technology is being used in plus dane to mitigate some of the consequence of welfare reform. From April 2013 families deemed to have too much living space by their local authorities will receive a reduced housing benefit payment (the so-called ‘bedroom tax’). Alex described how plus dane is using GIS to assist in mutual exchanges, by matching people in a particular neighbourhood, who are under occupying with those that are over occupied but also in the same or proximate neighbourhood. By recognising the importance of place in this way, the effects of bedroom tax can be mitigated without the disruption on schooling etc. that can come from relocating families considerable distances.
Victoria Labeodan described the progress that London & Quadrant Housing Trust (L&Q) has made since installing Cadcorp SIS in June 2012. L&Q is working closely with specialist data capture services company, Oxford Data Consultancy, to provide the necessarily detailed information which can only come from combining the use of Ordnance Survey maps and Land Registry boundaries. L&Q plans to link Cadcorp SIS with their internal housing management system, and start to exploit the resulting location intelligence for hotspot mapping of anti-social behaviour, for analysing housing stock and repair activity, and for generating tenant satisfaction maps. For the time being, L&Q is sharing information with its employees – even those which don’t have access to GIS or web mapping software - by creating map plots as layered and intelligent PDF documents.
Craig Godwin of Oxford Data Consultancy demystified what is involved in the data capture process. He reported that savings on 10%-15% of contract value are not unusual when a housing association enters contractual negotiations (and renegotiations) with grounds maintenance contractors armed with accurate data on the extent and characteristics of the grounds being maintained. He went on to point out that the data capture process often throws up inaccuracies and inconsistencies in Land Registry records which a housing association would do well to address earlier rather than later. The good news is that it is not unheard of for a housing association to benefit from the windfall that arises when the data capture process reveals the existence of properties it didn’t know it owned!
Daniel Slater and Lee Williams of emapsite, presented the case for the digital map data services provider. They argued that it is not just the quality and currency of base mapping that is important, but increasingly where this information is stored and accessed. Customers expect data to be application ready, up to date and instantly available these days. They want to control and oversee but not administer and worry about the processing and data translation overhead data. Industry standard OGC web services provide realistic and cost effective solutions in the form of WMS, WFS, WMTS and WCS.
“Housing associations represent an important and growing market for Cadcorp” noted Mike O’Neil, CEO of Cadcorp. “A number of housing associations use Cadcorp Spatial Information System software. Welfare reform combined with the economic and financial climate, means that they are all facing the biggest challenges and changes they have experienced in decades. However, throughout their history, housing associations have been innovators. It is encouraging to see just how creative and innovative they are proving to be in the many ways they are using GIS.”