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Letting the photos take the strain

Exemplar Award Winner - Winner Services Award 2012: Bath and North East Somerset Council

Bath and North East Somerset Council has commissioned 360-degree street level photography for integration into its web based GIS. In order to make the data fully searchable, as well as maximise the return on investment, the photography has been dynamically linked to the LLPG, and so searching on an LLPG address or UPRN automatically shows the correct image of that property.

Bath and North East Somerset Council covers 350 km 2 and in 2011 spent £1 million on staff travel costs, largely by car. It was considered that the growth in these costs was unsustainable.

There was much duplication of effort in officers making site visits to the same place. In addition, with a growth in the use of Google Streetview, it was shown that there was a demand for street-level photography, but that this would lead to the potential for additional costs from Google’s new mapping charges.

Additionally, there was no comprehensive record of the appearance of buildings or roads, which often made it hard to defend legal claims or prove enforcement cases.

All these reasons pointed to the need for a comprehensive survey of street-level photography covering the authority, and, for it to be of any practical use, that these photographs had to be linked to the LLPG.

As such, the service drivers for the project were:

1. to reduce the amount of staff car travel, including cost and CO 2 reductions

2. to improve customer interaction, especially over the phone

3. to provide a photographic record of roads and buildings within the authority.

How the project was carried out

The council commissioned Cyclomedia to take about 500km of 360° street-level photography, which equated to about 100,000 photographs in all. The project was explained, in advance, to parish councils so that they were aware what was going to happen and could respond to any enquiries from their communities. This, in turn, raised interest in the data from the parishes and they were added as recipients into the project.

The photography was then dynamically linked to the LLPG by spatial data and GIS specialists GetMapping who integrated it into the council’s web-based mapping system, District Online, which meant that searching on an address or UPRN would automatically return a photograph of that property. This was an essential part of the project as staff could not be expected to know what a property looked like e.g. on a housing estate where many houses can look the same.

Outcomes

The photography was captured in April 2012 and the full system went live in June of that year. The user interface in District Online is easy to learn and use, includes the ability to have the photography full screen or split screen with other GIS data, and the average time to retrieve a photograph from a search is four seconds, making it easy to use whilst mobile.

With the project costing £30,000 and £1 million spent on staff travel costs, only a 3% reduction in this cost from the use of street photography is required to see the project break even, with demonstrable financial savings beyond that point.

Reducing car mileage also contributes to reducing the council’s CO 2 output, with a target of 30% reduction over the period 2009-14 being set that cannot be achieved without reducing car use.

Although it had been expected that initial uptake would meet with some resistance from staff, the project has been so well received that users are already asking for additional features. Beyond the reduction in travel, examples of usage across the council include: the insurance section for validating claims and eliminating fraudulent cases; schools admissions using it to resolved disputes without the need for an appeal hearing; and the customer contact centre getting a view of a customer’s property as they are talking on the phone.

Key benefits

• reduction in the amount of staff car travel resulting in cost saving and reduced CO 2 emissions, as well as freeing up staff time due to a reduction in journeys

• customer Contact Centre staff now get a direct view of a customer’s property and they can orientate themselves to be in the position of the customer they are talking to on the phone

• insurance section can use the photography for validating claims and eliminating fraudulent cases

• Planning and Building Control can cut and paste a UPRN from their systems into the search box and get straight to the photograph

• Schools Admissions can use it to identify the correct point on a building that should be used for distance to school measurements; and three cases have been resolved without the need for the anticipated appeal hearing

• ward Councillors are finding it useful with their case work • parish Councils are pleased to have a record of their towns and villages

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