We learn how the PlotBox Funeral Director Portal has helped Lisburn and Castlereagh City council to provide a more efficient, direct service to...
Streamlined Processes for Flintshire with PlotBox Cemetery Management System
Located in North Wales, Flintshire County Council operates 15 cemeteries, providing a number of burial and memorialisation options, including a natural burial site at Kelsterton Cemetery - established in response to the growing demand for more natural and organic funerals.
We spoke with Bereavement Services Manager, Richard Blake who explained why digital transformation was essential for their cemetery operations and why they choose PlotBox as their solution provider.
Can you tell us about your role and responsibilities?
As Bereavement Services Manager I have responsibility for all of our cemeteries, as well as a closed church, dealing with all of the interments that take place within those locations. We currently average between 400 - 450 interments a year, along with carrying out the associated grounds maintenance activities.
I'm also responsible for public health burials - [that is] people who pass away with no next of kin or funds. As well as myself, the team consists of my Bereavement Services Officer, Andrea, and six ground staff - sextons who do all the work in the cemeteries for us.
What did your systems and processes look like prior to PlotBox?
We had a mixture of systems and didn't have anything in one place. We were using another administration software system for our most recent graves and burials, but the older grave records [around 10 years prior to that] were on an old Excel spreadsheet and in our burial registers.
We had a mix of record keeping scenarios which wasn't ideal, so came to the decision that we needed to get them all into one place
What was the biggest driver for implementing a new software system?
Covid was the biggest driver behind the change. When we were sent home without remote access to our records, we knew we needed to get access to anything that wasn't digitised. So we needed a solution that would allow us to have access to everything while working remotely, or hybrid working.
That’s when I started to look around for what was on offer. I was obviously aware of PlotBox before that through industry conferences and things like that.
We also spoke to another council close to us who were using PlotBox who highly recommended it.
But [remote access] was the biggest driver behind it.
What was important to you when shortlisting potential vendors?
We had to bear in mind the Authority’s digital strategy. Flintshire County Council is looking to move the majority of their IT infrastructure over to the cloud, so we wanted a solution that would keep us aligned with where we were heading.
We also wanted a supplier that could do everything that we needed - a cloud-based system that would manage all of our burials, utilising a digital mapping system.
They were the main areas that we looked at.
What about PlotBox stood out to you?
We went through our procurement processes to test the market. We issued a notice of interest, had a few companies reply, and found that PlotBox was the most comprehensive - you could offer everything that we wanted.
Probably the biggest driver, other than having everything in one place, was the digital mapping element.
We were working off old paper plans, which were not in great condition - so getting an up to date digital mapping system was key to us in moving forward.
What did the implementation look like in practice?
We migrated all of the existing data from our current system. For that, PlotBox put a project plan in place. That included putting all of the information for all 15 cemeteries together, as well as the PlotBox team going onsite to carry out all of the [drone] mapping work, data verification and so forth.
That was carried out over a period of time that I was comfortable with, given the scope of the work, which, across 15 cemeteries, is not a quick fix.
I didn't want to do just 3 or 4 cemeteries - I thought that if we were going to invest in it, I wanted them all done together.
What training and support did you receive from PlotBox?
The training was great. We had numerous sessions - some even before getting to the stage of importing data. That provided us with detailed knowledge of how to use the system before we went live. [Our Customer Success Manager] Dawn was really supportive of that as well.
If you're making big changes like this, people can be daunted and hesitant to change, but to be fair, it’s been really smooth - we're already noticing little efficiencies [with] how quick tasks have become.
You went live with PlotBox earlier this year. What benefits have you experienced?
The whole process is a lot more streamlined.
We're getting most of our forms sent into us electronically now, with working remotely, so we’re able to get those uploaded and straight into the system.
So [together] it makes the whole process of what we do in terms of recording and registering the burials much more streamlined, quicker and more efficient.
I was speaking with Andrea recently and we were thinking that there must be more to it, that we’ve not done something [that we should have] - but there wasn’t, we did it.
It’s really good.
How will the digital mapping help you practically?
Our ground staff will all be issued with iPads which will improve our communication and management with them. We’ll be able to send out all their work instructions electronically, directly from the system.
Previously, we were providing them with paper forms, and they had paper versions of the maps, where now they'll have access to the maps digitally via their iPads.
When they receive queries in the cemeteries from members of the public [who are] trying to locate graves, they'd ring us and ask us to find the grave. Now they won't have to do that, so it will improve their efficiency as well.
And also when we issue iPads to the grounds team, we'll be able to track what's been done and when - along with sending the work instructions, we'll be able to tell when work has been completed and things like that.
When Andrea and I went on site to locate graves for the grounds team to excavate and so on, we’d go out with a paper list with grave location instructions written down.
Now we're out with our iPad, we can enter the grave number into the app and it takes us straight to it.
We have a lot of ground to cover with the 15 cemeteries. We can get queries from funeral directors, for example, when they're booking graves asking us if there's a headstone.
Now [with PlotBox] we just enter the grave and look to see if there is a photo of the headstone there.
So it's helpful with regards to not always having to go to the site to check what's there, what isn't, etc.
How has the team adapted to the new system?
We were probably a little bit nervous about it to start with, as I said, everybody gets a little bit nervous with change, especially when it's a big change all in one.
Certainly Andrea is enjoying using the system now and growing in confidence [using it]. She sees that it's made her job a lot more streamlined and easier, so she is fully on board with it.
Would you recommend PlotBox to other Local Authorities?
Absolutely, 100 percent I would. I've already spoken to another Authority about PlotBox.
We're really happy with the decisions that we made. I think as we go further into the journey with PlotBox we can begin to utilise those elements we’re not using fully - so as we get more confident, things will improve further.
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