Public Sector Focus

21.12.15

Making procurement more efficient using GIS

Source: PSE Dec/Jan 16

Westminster City Council has saved money and improved the efficiency of a major procurement exercise through the use of geospatial data. PSE talked to the council’s GIS lead, Peter Kohler.

GIS – geographic information systems – once depended on highly technical software, specialist knowledge and teams with their own dedicated analysts, but recently it has become far easier to use by non-specialists ‘out of the box’ and to integrate with other tools and systems. 

Used properly, it can add a lot of value to any organisation, and both the private and public sectors are finding new ways of making use of its capabilities. 

Westminster City Council used its own in-house GIS skills, coupled with ArcGIS Online, to streamline an ongoing procurement process through which the council is seeking new waste disposal and recycling contractors. 

Travel time to and from depots was a key concern, so the council wanted to encourage bids from companies whose sites were shorter drive-times from the centre of the borough. Accurately measuring these drive-times – on busy streets, along hundreds of alternative routes, at different times of the day – seemed as if it would be a complex task, and indeed a firm of transportation consultants quoted £20,000 to do the study. 

But when the cleansing department approached the council’s GIS team, an alternative option arose. 

Multiple benefits 

Peter Kohler, GIS lead at the council, explained: “By restricting the drive-time area, they increase the number of trips the trucks can potentially do, increasing efficiency. This means they get more value for money from the contract – it means that trucks aren’t stuck in traffic, or travelling for as long as they would be otherwise. So that saves the residents money, gives them a better service, and also potentially cuts down on pollution. It makes sense.” 

To work out what the drive-time figure should be, Kohler used ArcGIS Online and network routing data for central London to put together an impressive initial proof of concept that took just 15 minutes and about 30p in user credits. The GIS team then used real GPS data from its waste collection vehicles to get their average speeds at different times of day. 

Some more analysis, and work with the cleansing department, produced a reliable map showing a 35-minute drive-time boundary from Marble Arch, a well-known landmark in the centre of the borough. And it is that figure that appeared in the official procurement notice and tender documentation, published in August (contract award is expected in mid-2016, with the contract beginning in September 2017). 

Unacceptable travel distance could add up to £6 per mile, so when annual mileage, vehicle numbers, staff and overtime are all taken into account, the total annual avoided cost could be as much as £2m, according to council waste services manager Jarno Stet. 

Active promotion 

Kohler cited another project that made use of the ArcGIS ‘Collector’ app (for use in the field) that cut two months of work for the policy, performance and communications team down to just two weeks. “The key to this is that the platform, GIS, helps to automate workflows,” Kohler explained. “Those particular staff members gained six weeks of time, which allowed them to focus on other areas. That increases the productivity of the council, enabling them to do more for the same sort of budget, if you look at staff costs.” 

The ArcGIS suite of programmes is made by Esri, which gave PSE other examples of its solutions in action in the public sector – for example, on mobile library provision in Cornwall, and on building footprints and heat loss in Harrow. 

Simon Weaver, analytics programme manager at Esri UK, told PSE: “We’ve deliberately taken this approach with the platform, of opening it out and making it much more easy to use through simplified user interfaces in browsers and through mobile devices. You can deploy a native mobile app to the common platform without doing any software development or without having much technical specialist knowledge. We’re seeing, more and more, our customers are able to deploy the technology and use it more widely – it’s becoming, very much, an enterprise technology. We see that in both the public and the private sector. 

“For a time, GIS was a very specialist, siloed capability that happened in one area of an organisation.  But it’s really opening out now and becoming something that people can use to intuitively visualise data, and collect data in the field, and so on, in a very accessible way.”

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