Collect Services, one of Britain’s leading firms of enforcement agents (generally known as bailiffs), has rolled out the latest version of Collections, the specialised planning and scheduling system developed by MapMechanics (www.MapMechanics.com) under the company’s guidance, and managing director David Rayner’s verdict is unequivocal: "The control that it gives us is fantastic."
He explains: "Our business is about operating efficiently, minimising costs and maximising the number of visits our agents can do in a day. Collections has become an indispensable part of this process. Basically, the system has helped to keep us in business in the recent recessionary times."
Collections helps Collect Services’ management team plan its agents’ journeys from day to day. It plans routes with the minimum distance between calls, grouping visits as tightly as possible consistent with achieving a high number of visits. "The original version saved us about 38 per cent of mileage," David Rayner says, "but the latest version is saving about 50 per cent."
Two key technologies lie behind Collections – GeoConcept, the powerful mapping and geographic information system from MapMechanics, and TruckStops, the company’s widely-used system for optimising the travel patterns of vehicles and people. These are supported by a range of mapping and related data, which is also supplied by MapMechanics.
While Collections has proved invaluable in planning optimal walking routes (even saving agents from crossing main roads too often), lately it has also proved invaluable in optimising the company’s increasing number of long-distance journeys. Around 20 per cent of the company’s visits now involve locations more than 50 miles away from its base west of London.
"A lot of our work is made up of parking fine enforcement in London and the South East," David Rayner explains, "but often the offenders live in other parts of the country. We take pride in doing all our own enforcement visits, rather than contracting out any of the work, so our agents often need to travel throughout the country to reach them."
Typically, the company will use Collections to construct a journey lasting two or three days. "For example, the agent might snake up the country, taking in several visits on the way, then spend a couple of days in Newcastle, doing visits in that area, before returning south."
David Rayner says that even on these long-distance operations, Collections enables an agent to complete between twenty and thirty calls in a day – as good as the national industry average for local operations. On purely local journeys, he says Collect Services continues to achieve 50 or more calls in a day – far above industry norms.
Overall, he says, agents are now able to make longer journeys, yet fit in more work on the way. "Agents are travelling 150 miles a day where they would have done 50 before. It’s so reliable that we can book agents’ hotels in advance, knowing they will be there in time. We could never have done that in the old days. They never run out of time and bring work back."
Collections works by taking a data feed of required visits (there are usually about 14,000 of these available) from the OneStep DebtRecovery solution (more at onestep.co.uk), then grouping them geographically with GeoConcept, and arranging them in practical daily schedules with TruckStops. Trips can start and end at agents’ own homes, and can be configured in a lozenge shape if required, giving agents the chance to return to houses where there was no one home at the first attempt without adding cost or disrupting the rest of the day’s schedule.
In use, Collections works interactively. David Rayner or a member of the operations team outlines an area on the GeoConcept screen map manually with the mouse, and visits within the area are identified automatically and scheduled into journeys by TruckStops.
"This combines the power of the software with our personal knowledge," David Rayner says. "It gives us total flexibility, and works extremely well. Using this system, we control the bailiffs’ movements – they don’t control us."
This interactivity is reinforced by parallel developments by the company. It now uses OneStep’s AgentPen product (more at onestep.co.uk) to capture data from the agents’ handheld computers wirelessly in real time, and it uses a Trafficmaster telematics system to track the location of its cars and ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) vans, which are used to scan vehicles parked near offenders’ homes.
The Collections package has been refined progressively, and the latest version is more powerful than ever, incorporating new database queries. "I can call up maps of any agent’s journey, and view reports on any stage of enforcement."
Aerial mapping now allows locations to be viewed in greater detail, and Collect Services is using street-level mapping, which provides improved linking to call locations.
In a move to reduce fuel costs, Collect Services is now introducing Toyota hybrid cars for some of its agents. "These are saving us 40 per cent on fuel costs," David Rayner says. However, he adds that the bailiffs themselves represent the biggest single cost to the company.
"That’s why the MapMechanics system is so important to us. Over the years it has saved us hundreds of thousands of pounds – possibly even millions. Without a doubt it’s the best investment we’ve ever made."