Lee McDougall explains how the latest technology will shape the future of estates management by driving efficiency and increasing service standards across the sector
HOUSING associations face increasing pressure to deliver efficiencies while simultaneously increasing the service standards for tenants.
The Building Homes, Building Trust report, which reviewed the current state of social housing provision and standards across the UK, said the next decade will see housing associations needing to at least double their development output to around 80,000-100,000 new homes annually. It claimed social purpose will grow to be at the heart of housing associations’ work and highlighted the key role of quality landlord service.
To meet those aspirations and deliver social value, housing associations will have to adapt aspects of the services they offer to take account of growing numbers of leaseholder and market rent customers. As part of that, they will have to ensure their estates management teams have the resources available to ensure the proper maintenance of existing housing estates. In this area, the latest innovations in technology could have a transformative effect.
The current model of manual record keeping employed by many estates management teams can be inefficient. Often, there can be more than one maintenance record on file, with contradictory information included in each version. Different members of an estates management team may have different copies of maintenance records. If the member of a team with the most up-to-date version of the records moves on, and a comprehensive handover is not completed, this can generate further confusion.
In simple terms, the absence of a reliable central point of information on the present condition and maintenance needs of assets on an estate can cause significant issues. In some instances, this could result in contractors being sent to complete repair work that has already been undertaken – generating unnecessary costs and inefficiencies.
A digital future for estates management
The emergence of cloud technology, and the capacity for remote working and real-time data input that this has facilitated, means new solutions to tackle these old inefficiencies are now available.
AHR has recently developed an interactive map, the first of its kind in the market, which integrates OS map data and GIS data to create a live, visual resource for understanding the current needs of an estate.
This innovation allows information from across an entire estate to be collated to create a huge database from which an accessible graphical interface can be created. GPS receivers gather detailed spatial information, including the location of assets and street furniture such as lamp posts, benches and bus shelters. This data is then used to form a data-rich map of the area, which can be easily understood and utilised by estates teams and third-party contractors.
The visual nature of the interactive map means it is much easier to communicate the location of assets within an estate – and allows the map to provide contextual information that could help identify the cause of any issue prior to a contractor arriving on site. For example, it could show that a recurring drain blockage is situated in an area where trees have overgrown. This is useful information when deciding how to mitigate future issues (but it is not information that is typically captured using traditional record-keeping techniques).
Crucially, the interactive map can be updated remotely and in real time via a mobile application, as and when maintenance issues are reported. New information can simply be tagged on the map by members of the estates team. This is vital because it allows a single, authoritative information source to be created, from which an entire estates management team can work. It eliminates the problems that can be caused by duplicated manual records and, thanks to its real-time functionality, ensures information held by the estates management team does not become outdated. This delivers significant benefits for tenants and estates teams alike.
Trust through engagement
Harnessing the latest technology to create a digital model for estates management creates new possibilities for estates teams to engage with tenants. Providing a model which can be updated in real-time to flag issues across the estate means that tenants could play a role in identifying issues.
Rather than a map of this kind simply being the preserve of the estates management team, universal access could be granted so that tenants on the estate can flag maintenance issues on the map as they encounter them. This could result in more issues being identified, much more quickly than before, with the estates team notified in real-time. In turn, this could significantly reduce response times and result in issues across the estate being resolved rapidly as well as reducing service desk costs. The improvement in service standards delivered by this preventative approach to defects is significant and could lead to greater satisfaction rates amongst tenants. As housing associations look to build trust and raise service standards, this could be crucial.
Looking to the future, it is clear the advances in technology we see today are creating new and exciting possibilities for the future of the sector. Increased efficiency, simplified working practices and an ability to increase the social value they provide are all within reach for housing associations. Empowering their teams by embracing a digital approach estates management will help them grasp this opportunity.
Lee McDougall is geomatic director at building consultancy and architecture practice AHR