Data Management (Asset Management Planning – a client perspective)
When the ‘booked’ speaker dropped out, at very short notice Dave Pogson was invited, by Adam Watson of Technology Forge, to speak at a seminar in Stirling, Scotland on Asset Management Planning on 4 June 2004. Asset Management Plans are only just being introduced into Scotland and the object of the talk was to give a general overview from a client perspective to a gathering of property representatives from some of the smaller, rural Scottish District Councils. This is the text of that talk with Powerpoint slides.
It was then published as an Article in the ACES ‘The Terrier’ magazine in Summer 2004.
Hello, I’m Dave Pogson , Property Services Manager for South Lakeland District Council. Thank you for inviting me here today. Adam only invited me to do this talk on Tuesday and I had nothing prepared so if it’s a bit rough around the edges, please bear with me.
Although I only work at the bottom end of the Lake District and not that far from the border with Scotland, it is to my eternal regret that I’ve only ever been to Scotland twice before in my life. Both times were when I was considerably younger and had lots of hair and the body of an athlete.
…How times have changed for the worse since then.
On both occasions I came to play rugby and on both occasions I was on the losing side. To make matters worse, on the second occasion after losing in the morning, I watched Scotland beat England at Murrayfield in the afternoon. It was that game when Gordon Brown, the giant second row forward not the Chancellor of the Exchequer, nonchalantly kicked every penalty that came his way from every corner of the ground. There was none of that modern stuff, clasping hands, psyching himself up, visualising a target in the stand. He just plonked the ball down its point, turned his back to amble away, and then slotted it through the posts. Scotland stuffed us that afternoon.
…How times have changed for the better since then.
However, since I couldn’t beat you at rugby then I’ve come here today to wreak my revenge by boring you to death. It’s only fair.
Some of you may have come across my name before. Partly because it’s unusual so people tend to remember it even if they always spell it wrong and partly because you may have come across the odd but cynical article that I’ve had published in the ACES Terrier magazine. After any length of time in Local Government most people develop a fair degree of cynicism and I’ve spent more than my fair share of time in Local Government.
So how would I describe myself? Well this is what others have said to me:
- Aggressive and Bad-tempered – by my wife.
- Hard–nosed – by a Councillor wanting me to sell land cheaply to one of his constituents. We’ve all experienced that. Most Councillors have never heard of S.123
- Having the wrong attitude – by the Policy and Performance Manager when I moaned about another daft initiative
- Why are you always so obstinate? I agree with you that it’s crap but just do it anyway – by a Chief Executive when I moaned about yet another daft initiative
- Refreshingly honest – by an ACES Member who had read one of my articles in the Terrier.
They are all obviously untrue except the last one but people can be so cruel. I hope at the end of this talk that you agree with the last one. Now why would a bloke like me, – to be honest, a bloke with a lot less enthusiasm than I used to have, a bloke who is basically looking forward to retirement in a few years if not sooner and a bloke accused of having all those unfortunate characteristics above – why would a bloke like me be bothered to get out of bed early to drive about 180 miles to talk to you about Asset Management in Local Government? You might be wondering that… Well I’m wondering that a bit too.
It’s certainly not to tell you how good a Local Government Manager I am and it’s not to tell you how wonderful an Authority South Lakeland is, as you will soon see. Believe me we both have our problems. Before we go any further though, I want to quash any rumours that it’s because Adam has some compromising photographs of me from the ACES National Conference at Windermere last month.
No – the real reason that I’ve come here today is to spread a message. The message is that even when you’ve been in Local Government for as long as I have you can still be pleasantly surprised. Even when you think you have seen it all before, you can still come across something so good, something so interesting that it rekindles your lost enthusiasm to the point that you actually feel like going out and telling people about it. So what is it that I’ve discovered that’s even better than Viagra? And I can see a delegate nodding in agreement in the front row – he knows what I mean. So what is it? Well I’ll come to that later.
In the meantime I’m going to talk about Asset Management in Local Government from the perspective of a small District Council.
Not a riveting subject I’m sure you will agree. But boring as it may be, it can be made a lot easier and a lot less boring if you have the right tools, and one tool in particular. I now believe that the Computer was really invented for Property Management. Not for Video Games or Accountancy packages – they’re just for nerds. Computers were invented for Property Management. But I didn’t always hold that view.
I started my career in Central Government – I used to work for the Property Services Agency of the Department of the Environment, or the Ministry of Works as it was called in those days. We had computers then – oh yes, back in the late 60s and early 70s. They were each as big as a house and were all in London, which wasn’t a lot of use to a Surveyor in Preston who spent his time touring the Lakes managing Dole Offices and looking for Telephone Exchange sites for the GPO (before they split off into British Telecom). We use to fill in forms about our Property Transactions and send them off to London where the information would be entered onto punch cards and fed into that giant Computer to produce a report that was then mailed back to us for our Property Records; telling us exactly what we’d put on the forms. I wasn’t impressed with computers.
I was even less impressed when the Government kept taking me off the safe Lake District and sending me to Northern Ireland. I think they were trying to tell me something. Eventually I got the message and left to join Lancashire County Council.
At Lancashire we had a different approach to Computers. The Property Group had one computer in a room guarded by Property Terrier Staff. It was full of good information but the Surveyors weren’t allowed to use it. Instead we had to request reports from the Terrier staff. It reached the point where it took so long to get the information that it was simpler to pick out a file and read it on the way to the Terrier Room than to complete the journey to make the request. I remained unimpressed with Computers.
When I left Lancashire County Council to join South Lakeland District Council I didn’t realise that I was stepping back in time. Computers? The Bic Biro had just replaced the quill pen by the time I arrived in 1988. I was the Council’s first Estates and Valuation Officer. In fact I was the whole Property Department. If I wanted information on property it was held in the Deed Packets in the Strong Room in the cellar. The Hirings and Lettings were listed in a book with the Address and Review date for each Agreement and no other information. The Terrier was a set of 1960s OS Sheets with boundaries drawn on in red crayon and Deed Packet Numbers added by a frustrated Solicitor. The filing system was grouped by subjects in alphabetical order so all ‘Council Estates’, all ‘Council Property’ and all ‘Council Land’ was listed under ‘C’ regardless of the location. Records were easy to find provided you had all day and didn’t mind reading through all the files to find what you wanted. Curiously ‘Caravans’ were listed under ‘M’ as ‘Moveable Dwellings’ for some reason. Immediately I felt at home – not a Computer in sight.
It stayed that way until the early 1990s. Then a new IT Group was formed and a boffin suggested that he could adapt something called Powerhouse (don’t ask me) to fit software called Data General (don’t ask me) to allow all the Hirings and Lettings to be listed into a database. This allowed some extra basic information (incredibly, like ‘the name of the tenant’ and ‘the rent’) to be included within a giant calendar to give an early warning of reviews and terminations, all to be read (in green letters only – oh yes, we had colour even then) on a monitor in my office. My eyes were opened. I was converted (but not by a Scottish second row forward). I now saw the benefit of Computers in Property Management. A further advance, just to completely convert me, was permission to photocopy all the Terrier Maps so that I could have my own readily available set although, unfortunately, red crayon comes out as grey on a photocopy.
Those of you now following my career with interest will have noted a trend – from Central Government to County Council to District Council – it’s been downhill all the way. My next move will have to be into retirement unless I find myself managing Allotments, Village Greens and Private Street Lamps for a Parish Council as the next logical step. Some would say that’s all I’ve ever been fit for.
So having been converted to the benefits of Computer power I thought South Lakeland and I had finally arrived in a new golden age. How wrong can you be? No sooner had we conquered the inadequacies of the paper system than the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister introduced Asset Management and set us back ten years. First to come was the Audit Commission’s ‘Hot Property’ to tell us what the Government wanted us to do, whether we were already doing it or not. Do you remember that publication? All good, sound advice provided one size fits all. Do you remember that plan in Hot Property? The one with a rectangular shaped district with a big office complex in the centre and small sub-offices scattered round the edges all linked by lines of communication. If you could sell all your old Town Halls and centralise onto one conveniently large enough and located smack in the middle of your District then you would be a good Estate Manager. If not then you were a duffer. That size didn’t fit South Lakeland too well. We still have 3 Town Halls.
Next came Best Value. No matter how good we were at the basic surveying – selling surplus assets, reviewing rents, getting a quart out of a pint pot from our office accommodation – we now had to prove it. Best Value was the means by which they sought to tell us that we were getting it wrong. Anyone who has ever read my article in the ACES Terrier Magazine will already know my opinion of the Best Value Inspection process by my comparison with having your haemorrhoids removed. The Inspector was a Trading Standards Officer who had once toyed with a career as an Estate Agent, so he was well qualified to tell me how to do my job.
We reviewed our Estate Management service at South Lakeland and scored a ‘A fair one star service that has uncertain prospects for improvement’. One particular criticism stood out from that Inspection Report that I fully agreed with:
Next came Asset Management Planning and our first Plan scored ‘Satisfactory’ but not good enough to win the financial incentive on offer. Still, the Director of Finance (who is paid more than me) only got ‘Satisfactory’ for his Capital Strategy so I didn’t feel too bad. By the next year we had learnt how to play the game. I borrowed Lancashire County Council’s top scoring ‘Good’ Plan from a mate and rewrote our ‘Satisfactory’ one to score a ‘Good’ that time.
The Director of Finance still only got a ‘Satisfactory’
Part of the Asset Management Plan included a schedule of proposed actions to improve our Asset Management Performance. I’ll come back to those in a moment.
If I describe South Lakeland to you I imagine that some of you from the smaller District authorities in Scotland will recognise some common issues. South Lakeland is a relatively small authority in terms of population and budget in comparison to the County Councils, Metropolitan Councils and some of the larger Borough Councils.
There’s South Lakeland at the bottom of Cumbria, propping up the rest. That’s our current position with CPA as well. However, geographically it is ¾ the size of the County of Cheshire and, being a predominantly rural district, this brings its own problems. Distances are great, settlements are scattered and transport links are stretched. You have to drive around the Lake to get anywhere. Such disadvantages are offset by the wonderful scenery and the very attractive quality of life. It is a district of great contrasts where some people enjoy a relatively wealthy existence (Sting owns a house in Grasmere – I knew you’d be impressed by that) whilst others struggle to live on the poorer wages of the farming, forestry and tourism industries. In some parts the sheep outnumber the residents, at least until the tourists arrive.
Such contrasts present great challenges for the Council, particularly in property management, as services tend to be more expensive to provide and so have to be spread more thinly. Housing is expensive for locals to buy, job creation development opportunities are limited by strict planning policies (particularly within the national parks – we have two in South Lakeland – the Lake District NP and the Yorkshire Dales NP). The older, better paid industries such as Insurance and Shoe Manufacturing are being lost from the area as a result of national and international pressures. At the same time more and more visitors want go there, bringing income certainly but putting pressure on the infrastructure and driving up costs as well. Against this background the Council has to balancep solutions for locals and visitors alike and this often involves property.
- Employment sites How do we identify sites for employment uses without destroying the landscape
- Public Conveniences Can we afford to keep our Public Conveniences open or do we close them? Keeping on top of vandalism is a costly exercise in itself.
- Affordable Housing How can we encourage visitors to come without making it unaffordable for locals to live there?
Every solution involving property needs managing and effective property management relies on good property records. South Lakeland District Council has a relatively large and varied property portfolio managed by the Property Services Group. We have to get the best out of it.
As you can see from the chart the Group has just 9 staff.
The Group comprises two distinct elements – the Estates Surveyors dealing with acquisitions, disposals, hirings and lettings, valuations and traditional estate management and the Building Surveyors dealing with the maintenance of Corporate Structures (i.e. not Council housing, thank God, as this is managed by an Arms Length Management Organisation. The Government won’t give us the money to spend on Council house improvements unless we have a Stock Transfer to a Housing Association or set up a separate Company, an ALMO, so the Council doesn’t have direct control of its own housing management.)
We hold 1300 Deed Titles, 700 Agreements (the majority being lettings producing income), Assets valued at £187 million and a rent roll of £925,000 p.a. excluding casual moorings on Lake Windermere. We own the bed of Lake Windermere and charge for everything that touches the bed. We maintain 270 structures ranging from small shelters in parks (which the kids burn down) to large and complex Leisure Centres (run by a Leisure Trust but maintained by us under an SLA – a scheme to allow the Leisure Centres to be run by Charitable Trusts to obtain the 80% mandatory rate relief which, once spent leaves the Trust just as short of finance as the Council was when they ran them). We have Office Blocks, Depots, Industrial Units, Town Halls, Tourist Information Centres, Car Parks and Public Conveniences in between.
Kendal Leisure Centre – a pig to maintain. With lots of complex and expensive plant and equipment and the elements attacking it from the outside and the chemicals rotting it from the inside.
South Lakeland House – our main office centre with a three-storey car park in front suffering from structural faults.
Ferry Nab Boathouse – shared by the Lake Wardens, the Police and the National Park Wardens. The boathouse has doors in the Lake water that can jam in bad weather, trapping the boats inside. Recently we had an incident on one of the jetties of a woman getting her foot trapped in one of the mooring rings securing the deck – many health and safety issues.
Coniston Public Conveniences. There are 2 PCs in Coniston, which is ridiculous for that size of village when others have none. Proposed closure of the non-DDA compliant one resulted in a successful ‘Spend a Penny’ campaign by the Parish to raise funds and sponsor its retention.
Ulverston Bank Clock – not the whole building just the Clock on top. An expensive liability held by the Council on a 999 years full repairing lease from 1900 at 5/- pa when the Bank saw us coming.
We manage agricultural and grazing land, investment property such as town centre shops, Council estate shops, Market Halls, garden tenancies, vehicle crossings and any number of oddments which don’t fit into any particular category from the historic to the downright useless. (For example, there’s not really very much you can do with a Listed limekiln). We have a Cinema, a Historic Restaurant, a Caravan Park and a ruined Castle just to add variety. We still have about 3500 Council Houses left to sell under RTB. I imagine some of you will have similar portfolios, probably even bigger if you have responsibilities for Schools and other large services. Education in South Lakeland comes under the County Council.
There’s a lot of information floating around on all those properties. We have a wealth of information held in all sorts of small programs, spreadsheets, files, map cabinets, the deed room, personal computers and even more worryingly, in people’s memories. Nothing in the way of information is truly co-ordinated.
So, going back to the Asset Management Plan – it should be a simple document. The ODPM make it difficult although they keep saying it should be written in simple language.
Mine is described above. The one I borrowed from Lancashire County Council was described by one of their top Finance Managers as TURGID.
I tried to make it less so. Lancashire County Council’s is turgid. So is mine. But who cares. I’m proud of it. Mine scored 75% on content (i.e. it met 19 out of the 26 Criteria – I know that’s only 73% but don’t tell the ODPM – actually I think when they up-rated it at the second attempt they forgot to recalculate the score). It scored ‘Good’ and we were awarded £25000 Supplementary Credit approval. The real bonus is that we don’t have to submit the AMP for approval again.
Asset Management Planning should be simple. There’s nothing wrong with the idea. We’ve all been doing it for years in one form or another. The only difference is that as Surveyors we’re so busy doing the job that we don’t have time to write books about it and we don’t tell the world how good we are at it. That’s basically what the AMP can do. It makes you sit back and write it all down and it gives you a chance to say how you are going to make it even better if only you had the time and the resources. Amongst all that number crunching and that justifying of what you do and that creating of new ways to raise the profile of property within the Council there’s a very simple concept that we should all subscribe to.
The ODPM defined it as…
(And they described mine as formal and not easy to read.)
I prefer my own version, which I use to translate for Councillors. If the ODPM definition is better than mine then I should be a Civil Servant (again).
Amongst all the turgid prose I added a summary plan of actions in a spreadsheet form at the end. It was an idea I pinched off Lancashire County Council. I don’t know if it scored me any extra points. However it summarised the main proposals to improve on what I already claimed was a perfect service.
Proposals for improvement
The essential elements were…
- Corporate Property Strategy
- Action plan from BSVR
- Corporate asset management group
- Property advisory group
- Property reviews
- Disposals programme
- Maintenance backlog
- Data management
- Capital programme appraisals tests
It sounds like a lot of work. What are these things and what did I do about them? I’ll just quickly run through them with a bit of sketchy information:
- Establish a Corporate Property Strategy – I’ll come back to that at the end if we don’t run out of time but basically I see the AMP essentially as a strategy document and CPS as addressing more practical issues – like Asset Testing.
- Implement the action plan from the BSVR – well BSVR had some of the AMP elements in it already and basically died when CPA came along so I didn’t bother too much with that. It looked good on the list.
- and 4. Establish a Property Advisory Group and a Corporate Asset Management Group. This is all about raising the profile of Property at Member level. I had proposed splitting asset management into strategy issues and operational issues. I was ambitious. In the end it was simpler for a small authority like mine to have one body covering both. This is the PAG, it meets every two months, is chaired by the Resources Portfolio member who sits on the Cabinet and we discuss Property issues. It has 6 Members across the political spectrum but rarely do more than 3 turn up to any meeting. I use it to report progress on anything – individual properties, the maintenance spending, benchmarking statistics, introduction of the Integrated Property Management System etc. I gave the Members a little demo of the IPMS at the last meeting. The Group meets all the AMP criteria. I use it as much as anything to solve problems and exert influence to support Property Services and to help change attitudes. (e.g. the in-built resistance to selling surplus assets, the parochialism of members against development suggestions etc)
- Carry out Property Reviews. That’s revolutionary. We should all be doing these already without Government prompting. In reality this was already in existence but it looked good to add a few schemes already in the pipeline to show progress
- Set up a Disposals Programme. Haven’t we all got one already? In truth disposals had always been a haphazard process – we didn’t sell much and if we did we didn’t tell any body about it much or keep records. All this required was to be a bit more active in rooting out surplus assets, a bit more organised about setting up a programme (list) of disposals and reporting on progress.
- Deal with the Maintenance Backlog. Maintenance had always been an issue and had effectively been dealt with by a Quinquennial Survey and an injection of money previously. I had to report to Committees on performance. With the Cabinet system this reporting line disappeared so I simply claimed it was something new and steered the existing reports into the Property Advisory Group.
- Implement Data Management – I’m going to come onto this next in more detail.
- Introduce Appraisal tests in the Capital Programme – effectively the Director of Finance did this within the Capital Programme Monitoring Group.
Corporate Property Officer
The most important thing to come out of Asset Management Planning for me was to get myself appointed as Corporate Property Officer and get a pay rise out of it for the extra responsibility.
Once that was achieved, the second most important action, in my opinion, was to implement Data Management. If you don’t know what you own and why you own it then you can’t possibly be getting the best out of it. We had a list of properties and some loose groupings but essentially the information needed to manage them effectively was poor, for all the reasons that I stated earlier – the scattering of information amongst the Deed room, the old Data General Hirings and Lettings system, the old OS Terrier Sheets and most importantly the lack of integration with the Building Maintenance system for managing the Repairs Budgets and the Works Orders. That was held on another separately developed and equally antiquated Data General System.
Now I don’t want you to think that we are clueless about our properties and that we never got good results from them. We do. I have excellent staff. But it always takes such a long time to get a co-ordinated answer to anything. For example, if we want to sell a property and we want to justify that action to Members the Estate Surveyor has to scratch around for Lease details to show the income, look in the Deeds for Covenants, read a file for any relevant background and identify the relevant Portfolio Member, ask the Building Surveyors to produce the Maintenance history, try and find a plan, go out and take a photograph, get a report typed separately etc. If a Building Surveyor wants to repair a tenanted building he has to go and ask the Estates Surveyor for details of the repairing covenant responsibilities, find the tenant’s contact details, establish the future prospects for the building (e.g. will it be sold in the near future before he spends any money on it?) etc. It all takes time and uses up limited resources. Even to me it was obvious that it could all be done so much better if the information was kept in one place and INTEGRATED so we could all access it any time we wanted to.
Notice that there is a ‘W’ at the front of that last word.
So you can see my conclusion. The best way to co-ordinate, retain, interrogate and update the records on our properties is by means of an Integrated Property Management System linking data on areas, types, income, expenditure, legal documents, budgets, contracts, schedule of rates, works orders, invoices, maps, plans, schedules of condition, hazards, details of clients, occupiers, contacts and contractors and everything else.
that last entry ‘everything else’ is just as important as all the rest.
So I proposed the purchase of Asset Management Software and the Council, having been half convinced by the Best Value Service review now became totally convinced by the AMP score (as they thought it would help with the by now up-and-coming Comprehensive Performance Assessment that replaced Best Value).That last entry ‘everything else’ is just as important as all the rest.
The Council eventually scored ‘Poor’ in the CPA incidentally but that was nothing to do with Property. On service delivery they said we were good.
It was to do with:
- Poor leadership – nothing that I can change as a middle manager
- Lack of Priorities – nothing that Property Services can change as a Support Service
- Absence of a Learning Culture – Property Services cannot change the Council’s culture.
All were criticisms of top management (I’m pleased to say).
The Council agreed to fund the purchase of an Integrated Property Management System. Blessed by my conversion to the new technology brought on by the involvement with the old Data General system, this was music to my ears. This year I finally bought that system. From April we started using it. If you remember from the beginning of this talk that I mentioned that even a hard–bitten and cynical old surveyor like myself can still be pleasantly surprised and can still find something good to rekindle my enthusiasm. Well that’s what I’m talking about – The Technology Forge System. I’ve never enjoyed playing with something as much for years – if you’ll forgive the expression. It’s given me a big boost in the twilight years of my career and I recommend that you all rush out and buy it immediately. So was that a strong enough plug for you Adam?
When I set out to find the right system for South Lakeland I had no real idea what I was looking for. I had the benefit of a national survey through ACES undertaken by Tameside MBC which showed factually what other authorities had purchased but this gave no real depth on how satisfied each was with their individual purchase.
I had certain basic requirements in mind. I wanted it big enough to hold everything. Really Big. As big as I could get. I wanted to make it accessible by Clients at restricted levels. I get sick of clients asking what land we owned – it wastes time researching it for them. How much better if they can just look on the network for themselves. It had to hold plans. It had to link the Terrier with the Building Surveying system. It had to be easy to use. Bear that last one in mind and don’t underestimate its importance, especially if you are a little District Council with limited resources. That last factor was important in carrying the staff with me. In fact, if all other things had been equal that factor might have carried the day for the chosen supplier.
I’d heard horror stories from ACES members who were struggling to get their systems up and running even years after buying them. Some had good systems but having paid their money then found themselves abandoned when it came to support and backup. I started to learn the questions to ask.
I did all the usual things. I invited a few software firms to give me demonstrations and advertised. I decided that I needed to run a tender of the ones I liked but, apart form technical advice from the IT Group, I felt very much alone and very concerned about making a mistake. I also began to realise that I might have seriously under-budgeted for what I wanted. I was also pushed for time and didn’t really want to take time out to write a detailed specification. Then I had two strokes of luck. It’s better to be lucky than brilliant. I’ve built a career on that basis. Firstly Carlisle City had just gone through the same exercise so David Atkinson at Carlisle gave me his tender specification and that saved me hours of work. That tender has now gone around the North West like a dose of salts. Adam has got sick of reading it.
Elements of the Tender Specification
There are things in there that I didn’t know existed or ever knew I’d need. Certainly I’d never have drafted it on my own. It is impossible to summarise the Specification in a slide. It’s 11 pages of A4. Once IT and Legal got hold of it, it became one of a set of 4 documents.
If any body wants a copy of these just e-mail me and you can have them for free. I’ll put my e-mail address up at the end.
I went out to tender and got back the result that I didn’t want. All the Software Suppliers that I secretly fancied were outside my budget. The IT Group then assessed them all for technical merit and ruled out all but three as incompatible for various reasons or else they just didn’t like them. The 3 that were left were all unaffordable. I also realised that I’d need extra money to buy a server and pay for some Data capture. I’d had some bad advice on that from IT Group. Don’t trust I.T. when it comes to costing out what you want. And don’t trust estimates from optimistic software salesmen.
Then I had my second stroke of luck. I discovered that my two neighbouring authorities, Barrow-in-Furness Borough Council and Lancaster City Council were almost at the same stage and thinking along the same lines as me and with all the same concerns. It was also co-incidental that we were being thrown together for a proposed Local Government reorganisation of the Northwest and that one option for change could result in the 3 Districts becoming one authority.
LGR Option 2 – a bit of Lancashire and a bit of Cumbria.
Not a popular merger with our Members. Our hung Council, with the largest group being the Liberals, can see themselves being swallowed up by the Labour controlled Councils of Barrow and Lancaster.
I was momentarily distracted by the pleasant prospect that LGR might bring early retirement with its enhanced redundancy payments but quickly realised that it could still be some years away. But it did make sense for us all to combine, share the effort of the work and use our joint muscle to negotiate a bargain solution. The modular system meant that we could each buy the bits we could afford or needed and expand later if necessary. It also meant that we could form our own local User Group to share knowledge and solve problems. But first we all had to agree on the one we liked best. Fortunately this turned out to be the easiest part because we all favoured Technology Forge as a clear leader. We checked their references. Graham Cox from Lancaster visited Barnsley to see the system in action. I trusted his judgement. We asked for another demo for our staff – the staff overwhelmingly liked it – it looked easy to use – and struck a price with Adam that brought it back within my budget. It only remained to ask Members to suspend Standing Orders and buy it, which they did.
It’s not all been plan sailing. I had to compromise on training and buy only the modules that I really needed. Joint purchase, joint implementation and joint training sounded a good idea in principle but never properly worked in practice. That wasn’t the fault of TF. The idea that 3 busy authorities could actually organise themselves to bring in a joint project on time was probably a bit naïve. But what the hell, I was getting something I wanted at a price that I could never have afforded any other way.
SLDC is bringing the software in on a module by module basis so it is staggered approach. We have started with the Works Orders module as I wanted to start spending the Planned Maintenance Budget from the start of a financial year. TF loaded all our initial data – Structures to be maintained, Contractors used, examples of budgets (as we didn’t have the final breakdowns until the last minute), Schedule of Rates items and prices etc. Training comprised one session for me, the Admin Officer dealing with Invoices and the Senior Building Surveyor. We trained the other two Building Surveyors in the basics of issuing Works Orders (Instructions as TF calls them) and then we went live within a day of loading all the budgets. This is the beauty of TF – because it is based on Windows it is so easy to use. That was one of the important factors in gaining the staff’s support for it. After one sales demo by Adam all the staff were convinced that they would have no trouble using it. Of those now on-line that has proved to be the case in practice. Another important factor was Support. Since we’ve gone live we’ve found snags but we expected them. Most of the snags are down to our own ignorance and skimping on training. However, we’ve had no problems contacting TF and getting instant help, with most problems being solved over the phone and the odd one referred for further discussion or enhancement.
We are now awaiting the loading of the Estates Data from the old Data General System to bring the Estates Surveyors on line. The deadline for that is the end of June. I understand that Barrow are ahead of us because they only have a small property portfolio and Lancaster are behind because, well because they’re Lancaster. No it’s because they bought some special interfaces to link to their Revenues Accounting system and this has proved somewhat more complicated to implement. Again Lancaster admit that this is more their fault than TFs.
As regards the Asset Management Plan, I still have to submit the Context Sheets and the KPI’s each year. I don’t expect to have this year’s return ready in the TF system to submit to the ODPM by the end of July deadline because I have yet to input all the classifications, asset values, condition ratings etc. However I do expect that this year will be the last year that I have to do it all on the back of a fag packet.
So the message is…
“Technology Forge – as recommended by firstname.lastname@example.org”
©David Lewis Pogson 2004