Deene Park: Digital transformation

Written by Lee Murphy 11 May 2018

Deene Park: Digital transformation

The complete modernisation and digitalisation of estate management at Deene Park has transformed day-to-day work and led to significant financial benefits. Lee Murphy visited the Northamptonshire estate to find out more.

When Mark Coombs looks through his filing cabinets at Deene Park, part of Brudenell Estates, it is unlikely that he is searching for paperwork. In fact, aside from a few hard hats and safety boots, there is not much in the cabinets at all. They are merely additional storage. As estate manager Mark has led a major modernisation in the day-to-day office management of the estate that is now a near paperless operation.

“When I first started in my post at Deene Park it is fair to say the office was Dickensian at best,” says Mark. “We had a fire in one of the properties and found that we were really underinsured. It made me realise that I had to survey every building on the estate, review all our paperwork, and get the right insurance schedules into place.” The fire kick started a process that led to a complete change in all aspects of estate management.

Mark assembled a team consisting of an expert in planning and countryside management, a chartered building surveyor and an aerial drone photography specialist to analyse and question every element of how the estate office functioned. At around 10,000 acres and 600 plus buildings, it was not an easy or quick task.

The team gathered information on all of the estates assets through site surveying, drone photography, 3D mapping and office research, which included going through all files and documents, scanning and uploading relevant information to their database system (Landmark Systems KEYPrime). Then, by designing a coding system, the information was linked to their database and accounts. This has now allowed for almost instant online access to any report or information about the estate at the click of a button.

“We brought the team in and initially got every property surveyed, took the estate database system to another level, and digitalised estate maps and important documents so they could be accessed easily,” says Mark. “Using a drone, we undertook aerial surveys and images of every property, which we now access online. This has proved invaluable in a range of uses, from repair quotes, to heritage exemption (for inheritance tax purposes) and consultations on potential property developments. This survey data helps us with everything from locating asbestos through to planning maintenance and optimising insurance.”

Mark admits that this process was painstaking – with his PA Lindsey Coulston describing it as a “positive and progressive move”. The financial savings that have resulted far outweigh the short-term transitional phase of moving to a new way of working. “The new system has saved £25,000 per annum in administration costs alone,” says Mark. “The detailed information we have about the properties on the estate has led to a 30% decrease in insurance premiums despite a fivefold increase in the sums insured.”

These financial benefits are both immediate and ongoing. The owners and trustees at the estate can now, through the detailed information the system provides, identify core and non-core properties. Low yielding assets are sold which enables reinvestment into the estate. Ultimately, it means informed judgements can be made on important business decisions.

A serious undertaking

The size of this technological change was immense and would not have been possible without the team focusing purely on the project through the transition phase and not getting distracted by the day-to-day business on the estate.

Mark admits he and his team have learned a lot during the transformation of the estate management. So much so they have developed a new business called Estate Asset Capture that aims to support other estates that are considering going on a similar journey of technological change.

“When we eventually came to the end of our project and everything was in place we thought we would have to disband the team,” says Mark. “Following the challenges we had encountered and experiences and skills the team had developed this didn’t seem right. I spoke to the Brudenell family and trustees to see if there was a new business opportunity that could be developed that packaged up everything we have learnt to help other estates. That is what we have done and that journey is now beginning for us.”

The dramatic changes to the way Deene Park is managed and the nature of the initial planning and volume of additional work may make many estate owners baulk at ever considering going through such a change. “It is a brave approach,” admits Mark. “It requires an estate to completely change its outlook on how it oversees and manages its daily tasks. Setting up the system can be quite daunting but there are so many benefits that can come out of it in the end.

“It is the sort of approach that would suit an estate that is embarking on a lot of change – be it new owners, a new manager – or where there is going to be a strategic change in direction. You don’t need to go to the full extreme like we have either. You could choose to just implement some parts of what we have done – surveying your properties with the drones for example.”

The modernisation and cutting edge technology at Deene Park shows how it can be possible to uphold traditions of an estate but modernise the estate management to help maintain commercial viability. It may just be a blueprint for the future.

Estate Asset Capture

Estate Asset Capture (EAC) gathers every detail of an estate’s assets through site surveying, drone technology and office research. Then, by designing a coding system, it anchors all the information within your estate terrier database (for example KEYPrime) and links it to your accounts. This allows for almost instant access to any report or answer you need and facilitates a paperless office. For more information visit www.estateassetcapture.co.uk 

Deene Park

Deene Park in Northamptonshire and Leicestershire’s Welland Valley form Brudenell Estates which comprises approximately 10,000 acres of land. The Brudenell family have carefully stewarded the house, parkland and rural estates for more than 500 years. Deene Park is a ring-fenced estate, bisected by the A43 road linking Corby to Stamford. The estate is centred on Deene Park with its medieval hall and designed landscape, gardens and parkland.

It is located in a tranquil, rural part of Northamptonshire which retains a high scenic appeal and forms an important part of the historic Rockingham Forest, one of the great Royal hunting grounds of the Midlands Counties. The parkland is included in the English Heritage register of parks and gardens of historic interest (grade 2) and is designated in the national context as a Landscape of Special Interest.

This article was first published in the CLA magazine, follow the link for more information http://www.cla.org.uk/about/members-area/land-business-magazine 

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