Everything starts with a base map

Sovereign Housing has been working hard to place GIS into the hands of over 500 members of staff, a strategy that led to it winning the Esri UK Customer Success Award for ‘Cartography is for Everyone’ this year. Andrew Bradley, Strategic Insight Manager at Sovereign Housing, outlines how skillful cartography helped it win.

During the last year, we have made hundreds of new maps available to staff across the company, helping them to perform better in their daily roles. Creating an enterprise GIS with ArcGIS played a major role in achieving this vision but it would not have worked without task-specific base maps. It was clear that we needed to create new base maps, which would tell a story quickly and clearly and, importantly, allow staff with no previous GIS experience to use them every day.

Alice Rhodes, our GIS Analyst and cartography expert, was responsible for creating a series of different base maps, each with custom scales and symbology for different purposes across the business. Some almost hide the base map to make it simple to see where you are, or not to detract from the data layers. Others are bolder with towns and transport networks brought to the fore.

As with any map, they all have to help the user interpret the data quickly and clearly so the message in question does not get lost. The cartography also remains the same, whether they are being printed, viewed on a tablet or in a browser, so the map constantly delivers the same message.

Good examples of this are the new maps we provide to external contractors who are responsible for grounds maintenance at our properties. The key to success here was developing base maps that could be taken on site, so contractors can instantly see what work they need to carry out, without any ambiguity. Operational data has to tell the story so the base maps fade into the background and no time is wasted trying to interpret the map. The creation of these maps has also been automated. Every month we generate 1,400 maps, twice, which go to contractors in pdf format, displaying their grounds maintenance contracts, as well as going onto our enterprise GIS for our staff to see.

The new base maps were designed using ArcMap while the high number was achieved by developing eight base mapping caches, which blend Ordnance Survey Free and Premium products to create bespoke and great-looking maps. These contain different scale maps with custom symbology layers for every zoom level. Staff now really enjoy being able to switch between base maps in our BaseMap Gallery, allowing them to zoom-in to very high resolution, while still receiving great performance thanks to the cached images.

Our enterprise GIS is now used by all 500 staff – over 250 individuals every week – and has served up 1.8 million map requests since going live in April this year. This widespread uptake of GIS has greatly exceeded our expectations. Cartography has played a vital role in this high acceptance, making maps which are fit for purpose and a joy to use – it’s not just about the data, it’s about making sure people can read the maps and instantly understand what the message is. The biggest achievement for us this year has been the impact GIS has had on staff and how it helps them do their jobs.