Nottingham City Council (NCC) is a unitary authority providing all local government services for its 300,000-plus citizens. Among its many responsibilities, the council runs a considerable investment and operational property portfolio, managed by strategic asset and property teams. In total, it collects more than £26m annually in rental income and service charges.
In the face of unprecedented market challenges, the ability to leverage data for fast, accurate and informed strategic business decision-making has never been more important. For NCC, the need was further exacerbated by an asset rationalisation programme across its investment portfolio. In particular, its team wanted reliable information for estate rents and service charges in one single, centralised repository. Existing management systems were not suitable for the task, and having asset data siloed in multiple sources resulted in inefficient property processes.
Recognising the need for a purpose-built solution, NCC began a search for technology that could address its challenges, transform operations to create more effective workflows and enable data-driven business planning. The council ran a procurement process via the government’s G-Cloud framework, and MRI Software was one of several suppliers to answer the call. Working in close partnership, the team at MRI demonstrated their experience and expertise in the sector – and showcased how a connected digital real estate platform can deliver more effective property portfolio management and help mitigate risk. Following a detailed evaluation, NCC selected MRI Horizon as its go-forward property and asset management software together with MRI Engage for tenant self service.
“Our previous disparate systems created additional challenges for our teams, and we were frustrated by a lack of robustness – particularly as we’ve had to adapt to working from home. MRI will bring everything into a single solution, and we’ll be in a much better place to make informed decisions more efficiently.”
Michelle Webster, Senior Estates Surveyor
Nottingham City Council
A single source of property data across the NCC portfolio will mean that all stakeholders will work from the same data sets, information is more readily accessible and the data quality can be continually improved and maintained. The open and connected infrastructure approach enables departments across the organisation to work more seamlessly. Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19 restrictions, remote implementation and training on the solution is well under way – and the council’s property team is already starting to realise its benefits.
The transformation of data management processes will make collaboration easier and more efficient, and will support compliance with various legislation, such as GDPR. Audit trails will also be maintained in a searchable and flexible digital format.
Enhanced strategic planning
A centralised solution, one with intuitive reporting options, will enable NCC to identify and analyse trends and patterns to fuel effective decision-making. Data and insights will drive strategic approaches, adding resilience to the entire property department.
NCC required a solution capable of processing both rent and service charges, having previously managed more than £500,000 a year in services charges manually. They also wanted an account-based system, as opposed to invoice-based. Horizon was the only option assessed that ticked every box. The new solution will automatically send triggers to notify of key dates and events, for example lease renewals.
Alongside MRI Horizon, NCC have also opted to implement MRI Engage, a customer portal and self-service system for their commercial tenants. NCC’s objective is to add value to the property department and engage with commercial tenants by providing a portal where they can view key lease information, check service charge information and make online payments without the need to contact the property team directly.
“This will be a complete change for us and will really add value for the property department”, explains Michelle Webster. “Online payments is something we’re really trying to focus on, particularly with COVID. While we already offer online payments, MRI Engage will give us a one-stop shop where users can access account details and make payments, which will not only add value to customers but improve rental and service charge recovery processes too.”
The challenge of ensuring user uptake on the launch of the system is being met head-on by the team at NCC, who are working with MRI’s other Engage users to gather information on best practice and the most effective methods of encouraging customer adoption of the portal.
Looking further ahead, the implementation of the new property management solution at NCC forms part of a wider digital transformation initiative – one that places the council at the leading edge of its sector. Working with knowledgeable, established and scalable technology partners such as MRI aligns with the overarching vision to adopt more streamlined and efficient working practices – ones that add value and support the provision of even better service to customers.