Streamlined systems save Thames Water £4.5m

Case study: Utility integrates IT apps to speed up conveyancing requests

Case study: Utility integrates IT apps to speed up conveyancing requests

Moving house is of one of the most stressful things anyone can do, and conveyancing - the process of transferring legal ownership of the property - can be one of the most painful parts of the whole ordeal. But few homeowners realise the enormous technical complexity hidden behind the process.

Thames Water deals with more than 250,000 conveyancing requests every year from people who need to have all the details about the pipes running under their new houses.

But because drains - unlike other utilities - depend on gravity to keep them flowing, they don't always appear where you might expect.

As a result the conveyancing requests can take quite a lot of work - in the course of each one, the system must make 6,500 different decisions.

Peter Kaye, operations manager at Thames Water Asset Data Services, said on top of this there are peaks in demand which previously meant having to bring in less experienced staff.

"We would have to bring in a number of people at peak times and there are some quite fiddly rules they have to learn. The issues we had were that manual processes were a bit slow and expensive and we had an issue with the quality of the information," he told silicon.com.

Plus, if Thames Water wanted to make any changes to the rules governing the system they could cost £7,000 each time.

To deal with all these issues the company - the world's third largest water utility - has invested £1.2m in a project to implement ILOG JRules and integrate the six different IT applications involved in the conveyancing information process.

Kay explained: "We haven't actually replaced any of the corporate data sets or systems - what we've done is put in middleware that stitches them together and makes them accessible. From the user perspective it appears as if it is one system because the middleware hides the complexity."

The company went live in with the first phase in October last year and has recently completed the second phase. "We've delivered the reduction in turnaround times and we are on track to deliver the £4.5m in savings," he said.

Kay has no doubt it has chosen the right approach by allowing some flexibility in the system, which will make it easier to amend the rules governing the process or to add new content to the product.

"We wanted a tool that could make changes quickly when we knew that changes needed to be made. If we had gone for a hard-coded approach we would have faced a high cost when we wanted to change anything," he said.

The 30 full-time employees who previously administered these tasks have been moved to other customer service positions, which is expected to save Thames Water £3m over five years. And it has cut its application response from four days to two days.

JRules will also cross-reference data from new conveyancing requests and existing data, and Thames Water expects to save another £1.4m over the next five years, due to the system flagging errors and validating incoming information.