Digital transformation in housing gathers pace

Esri UK’s ‘digital transformation in housing’ conference saw over 100 delegates gather to hear how GIS is helping to create more efficient processes, cut costs and improve tenant services. Chris Jackson, head of commercial markets at Esri UK, highlights some of the projects showcased and key points raised

With more than double the number of delegates compared to last year’s event, it was clear that the appetite for spatial analysis and digital mapping is growing. And this mirrors what we’re experiencing in the sector across our 100+ housing industry customers. As GIS becomes easier to use and more accessible, users are finding more innovative ways to apply it, transforming business processes and generating deeper insights about their organisation.

Digital transformation projects showcased ranged from a new, faster approach for assessing development sites for local authorities to streamlining the regeneration and development process for creating new homes. What was evident throughout the day was the strong spirit of innovation, focused on creating new ways of improving services, driving down costs and tackling the challenges ahead – all through the use of location technologies.

Delegates were from diverse backgrounds, ranging from Head of Digital and Director of ICT, to Head of Property and Head of Digital Transformation, showing the growing awareness of GIS – it’s no longer only specialist GIS teams who use it.


Accelerating development plans

Land Use Consultants (LUC), the environmental consultancy, described how GIS is proving fundamental in the planning of new housing developments. Delegates heard how the use of advanced spatial analytics is enabling councils to identify suitable land for new houses more quickly than before.

LUC showcased its work for Central Bedfordshire Council, which feeds into the council’s Spatial Strategy and Local Development Plan and is helping it meet the need for new homes. By automating the processes involved in assessing the multiple constraints for new developments, LUC has made this complex task more accurate and efficient. The result is a robust, standardised and repeatable process which enables development decisions to be made not only faster but with greater confidence.

The new system was used to help the council identify and assess options for the development of up to 20,000 new homes by 2035. LUC outlined how its new approach helped overcome the mammoth challenge of evaluating thousands of parcels of land, taking into account factors ranging from flood risk and agricultural value to environmental protection and existing services, plus data from neighbouring local authorities.

By creating a tool to automatically analyse growth options, LUC made the assessment process faster and repeatable with minimal effort. The system automatically analyses plots of land against 150+ datasets and categorises them according to their suitability for new housing. Rather than having numerous reports and data sources to study, planners can see at a glance on maps, which parcels of land are best and drill down to understand why.

Designed for the easy exploration of different development scenarios, by changing the weighting of constraint factors, the model can be re-run in a few hours not several days as it would traditionally take with manual methods.


Development and regeneration

GreenSquare Group gave an insight into how GIS has made a significant difference to its business over the last six years, since its enterprise platform went live. Having used GIS in over 24 different areas, from maintenance to neighbourhood projects, customer satisfaction to welfare reform, the system is delivering both operational and strategic benefits and is available to every member of staff.

GreenSquare highlighted how GIS is being used for strategic asset management for all development and regeneration schemes. By providing the digital framework to visualise, query and share the spatial analysis, teams including Strategic Asset Management, Development, Neighbourhoods and Property Services can work together more easily and make faster decisions about future developments. Something not possible with paper maps and manual workflows. Having this common operational picture also improves collaboration with local authorities when working on joint development projects.

One example was the Culverhay regeneration project in Cricklade, which got underway in the Spring. This includes demolishing 65 non-traditionally constructed properties and replacing them with 109 new, energy efficient and comfortable homes, for shared ownership, affordable rent and outright sale. GreenSquare was able to share the project maps which fostered better joint working with Cricklade Town Council.


Top five event takeaways

  • GIS has become easier to use and is more accessible by all staff across every department, from front line workers to board level, helping to change the way people work
  • Steps to achieve a successful GIS programme include: build a roadmap, align key stakeholders, understand and communicate the business value, agree which workflows can be improved the most and pinpoint quick wins
  • The rise of cohesive enterprise, desktop, web and mobile GIS is helping to meet the demands of all users and audiences, from power users to the public
  • Mobile GIS continues to introduce new ways of working in the field, including planning and co-ordinating field operations, conducting surveys, inspections and data capture, increasing productivity and reducing errors
  • New developments in 3D mapping, processing drone data and the emergence of real-time spatial data, such as traffic or smart meter data, will soon be helping users transform operations further and shape housing strategies

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