In these desperate times, every place where savings can be made is being visited. One big area for many landlords is grounds maintenance. Particularly where a LSVT has taken place, the contractor responsible for it may still be the local authority.
Stories abound too of great savings to be realised from taking grounds maintenance in house, my local landlord ‘New Charter Housing Trust’ in Greater Manchester, being the latest. NCHT are predicting savings of £1.2M over the next five years. This includes grass cutting, weeding and hedge trimming, in this example to be completed inhouse.
As an additional bonus (there’s no end of good news with this!), the new team (called appropriately ‘Green Charter’ - Geddit!) will employ up to 29 people during the summer.
So, how should IT and systems be helping us work out if we can all be making similar savings? Can it?
Step one is to define the problem. It is unlikely that currently your association is in possession of an up to date inventory of green spaces, requiring grounds maintenance. “Up to date” you say? Yes, that’s probably the crucial bit.
The strips of grass, listed trees and historic open space information provided at transfer of stock, (or even when it was initially developed) is a living, breathing thing. Its affected by many factors, new build, storms and inclement weather, changes to street furniture and land sales.
One relatively small housing association I am aware of identified savings of £40K per annum for grounds maintenance, based on new accurate information. Over 15% of spaces no longer required services being carried out (rolled over each year) and a number of additional ones were located. This task for about 4,000 homes took approximately a month
How did they do that so quickly? Well, in truth it’s not all that tricky with a modern GIS solution.
The use of GIS was traditionally a silo type operation within an organisation. Also very expensive due to the eye-watering costs of mapping tiles. Both of these things are changing, particularly costs. Its possible to have change out of a years savings on grounds maintenance, once a GIS has been acquired. Particularly in the case of savings of £1.2M, the costs of GIS is a relative drop in the ocean.
Each green space can be identified as a polygon, categorised and recorded on a mapping layer. Export or interfacing of these objects and dimensions to your housing asset management module, then enables this information to be accessed in a number of situations. Hybrid/Satelite layers makes it even easier to locate and compare grass with concrete. This opens opportunities way beyond simple use by the Assets team.
As the polygons define areas required, it is a relatively easy job to accurately estimate costs internally, for your own contractor team or to request comparison quotes from external contractors.
Exposing this data to other areas of the organisation, this information can usefully extend customer service. How good would it be when a leaseholder next calls your customer service centre, complaining about grass not being cut, that your CRM team can see the details directly from the screen in front of them. “Is your long grass at the front or rear of your property?”, “Rear”, “We are only responsible for the rectangular strip at the front. Anything else we can help you with today.......”.
You are probably getting the idea. Imaginative integration is the key to that, one of my favourite hobby horses. Ensure when you evaluate any GIS system, GGP, CadCorp or Esri etc, that the quality of links with other systems, has high prominence in your scoring. That will ensure that GIS does not remain in a silo, with two boffins in the corner of the asset management team.
I wonder how Alison Goldfrapp keeps her lawn in check?.
(c) Tony Smith, Acutance Consulting www.acutanceconsulting.co.uk
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