Birmingham Property Services

Company: Ramesys (AEC)Customer: Birmingham Property ServicesSubmitted by: Decipher PR LtdBirmingham Property Services (BPS) is an integral part of Birmingham City Council’s Economic Development Division, employing approximately 100 people across 10 fee earning Business Centres.As well as providing a property focus for the Economic Development Division, BPS also offers professional property management services to other Birmingham City Council departments and to a number of external organisations.BPS is also a significant contributor to Birmingham City Council’s Accelerating Development initiative, intended to encourage investment, job creation and sustained economic growth through partnerships between the City Council and the private sector.

Selecting a System

In 1995, BPS was awarded a five-year Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) contract to provide the City Council’s property services. Under CCT, BPS would be required to bid against commercial organisations for the City Council’s property services work. In the build up to this, BPS recognised the need for a time-recording and reporting system which would be capable of meeting the complex needs of CCT contracts and allow it to account for time, charge clients and monitor progress of jobs.”It was patently obvious that our previous way of doing things, with an in-house developed database, was not going to work”, explained James Hurd, BPS Information Systems Manager. “We needed to operate as a trading organisation and be able to bill our clients for work on different bases, including standard percentage fees, lump sum or hours worked.

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Under CCT rules we had to be able to demonstrate that our costs were competitive, where direct comparison is possible, with commercial organisations providing the same service.”In order to fulfil this requirement BPS issued an Invitation to Tender and shortlisted 5 companies, including Ramesys AEC and its Conquest product. Each company and its solution was formally evaluated, in line with the Council’s standard procurement practices, using tender evaluation forms, product demonstrations and reference site visits.Ramesys AEC showed an understanding of BPS’s requirements and was able to demonstrate that Conquest could support these effectively with a solution implemented within BPS’s allocated budget. Conquest was chosen over the competing products because of the product’s ability to support BPS’s need to structure fees on a number of different bases.

Initial Implementation

BPS purchased 40 full Conquest licenses with Ramesys AEC consultants supporting the implementation and training.

Since then BPS staff have used Conquest successfully to meet the information recording and reporting requirements of its 5-year CCT contract.CCT has now been superseded by the Best Value initiative, for which Birmingham City Council is a pilot site, which brings with it a new set of requirements for information recording and reporting.

Upgrading to Best Value

“In 1999, knowing that Best Value was on the way, we wanted to be fully equipped to change the way we worked to meet the new requirements. We were also standardising on Oracle databases with NT servers across the organisation, so it made sense to move the Ramesys AEC time and billing solution onto the same platforms”, says Hurd.The strong relationship that BPS had enjoyed with Ramesys AEC for 5 years made the upgrade to Progression the obvious choice to cope with the new demands of Best Value. “Aside from the capabilities of the product, the most important factor in making our decision to upgrade to Progression was our good relationship with Ramesys AEC.

In particular, we were confident in the ability of Ramesys AEC staff to ensure that the upgrade would go as smoothly as possible and that any problems would be addressed quickly”, says Hurd, adding, “Ramesys AEC certainly put in the effort required to make our upgrade successful.”The upgrade project began in November 1999 and Ramesys AEC consultants worked with BPS to determine how their existing data should be mirrored in the Progression database. Following a successful data transfer, Progression ran alongside Conquest for 6 weeks, before taking over in January 2000.The users gained immediate benefit from the upgrade as Progression’s Windows compliant interface, together with their familiar data transferred from Conquest, kept training requirements to a minimum.The upgrade also gave BPS the opportunity to implement Ramesys AEC’s Electronic Time Capture (ETC) across the organisation.

This meant that fewer users needed access to the full Progression product, cutting the training requirements further and reducing the time required for the IT department to install and support the full product.ETC’s ease of use meant that it was implemented quickly across the organisation. The application is currently installed on every computer in BPS, allowing each person to build up their timesheet during the week. The user is presented with a list of the jobs relevant to them, from which they can select those that they have worked on and enter the number of hours. Completed timesheets can then be approved electronically by managers and before being submitted to Progression to enable accurate reporting.The use of ETC has dramatically improved the proportion of timesheets submitted on time.

“Previously, managers would have to chase staff for their timesheets. With ETC, completion of timesheets by Friday afternoon is a reality, as staff can enter information during the week, via a convenient interface which allows them to access the projects they are working on”, says Hurd, adding “We now get over 90% of timesheets processed on time, the remainder generally being staff on leave or sick.”With accurate and prompt timesheet information, BPS can use Progression’s functions to monitor resources across the different centres, enabling them to identify whether a centre has enough work, spare capacity or is over-stretched. Using this information, managers can plan resource use and allocate jobs from one centre to another where necessary. BPS is also using Progression’s forecasting features to monitor its budgets and perform ‘what if’ analyses throughout the year.

This will enable management to identify opportunities for investment at the most appropriate time, rather than waiting for a surplus at year-end.

Looking to the Future with Best Value

The upgrade to Progression and the implementation of ETC was phase one of BPS’s move to support Best Value. The department is now looking to develop its use of Progression to create a solution that fully meets the requirements of Best Value, including the capability to support BPS in providing key performance indicators to the Government and to District Audit as quickly and accurately as possible.To achieve these goals, BPS will supply Ramesys AEC with their experience of how Best Value works in practice. “With this information Ramesys AEC can provide the expertise to determine how Progression can best be used to support the requirements of Best Value”, says Hurd, adding, “Continuing our long-standing relationship with Ramesys AEC and its Progression solution will help us achieve our stated target to become recognised as the best Local Authority property service organisation in the country.”