National Trust

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National Trust

National Trust is a 120-year-old conservation charity in the UK that protects and preserves property, land, and historical sites in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The sites that National Trust oversees, rich in both aesthetic appeal and cultural significance, total 250,000 hectares of land, containing everything from forests and farmland, to historic houses and castles. Effectively managing and safe guarding these properties required a solution that could revolutionize the data collection, storage, and the visualization process for National Trust’s preservation efforts.

Leveraging a new line-of-business solution built on Microsoft PowerApps and developed by eBECS—2016 Microsoft Partner of the Year for the UK—National Trust revamped the way it tracks the progress and measures the success of preservation efforts. This new, easy-to-use solution increases visibility into property status, offers more efficiency, and improves cost effectiveness—high priorities for a charity.

Business Needs

Managing 775 miles of coastline, 250,000 hectares of land, over 500 historic sites, and £107.1 million in project expenditures in 2015-2016, National Trust is tasked with preserving the UK’s most culturally and environmentally significant locations for future generations to enjoy. Successfully tending to 250,000 hectares worth of land and structures requires significant resources and infrastructure, which is why National Trust has 7,000 full time employees, 15,000 seasonal employees, and 65,000 volunteers spread out over 500 sites, across three countries.

Over the years, National Trust has been faced with many challenges while attempting to effectively manage and unify a staff of tens of thousands in addition to using its disparate technologies and processes across hundreds of sites in three different countries. National Trust measures its preservation success and effectiveness using the conservation performance indicator (CPI), a measure of how well the organization is doing in preserving and looking after not only the site, but any buildings, artifacts, artwork, or other historical items a given site contains.

As the name implies, National Trust is a national organization that manages locations spread throughout England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, many of them in very remote locations where telecommunications doesn’t always reach. Trying to collect CPI from these remote locations, as well as unifying CPI metrics across three countries, often proved difficult. Additionally, data and processes were frequently non-unified and were collected and inputted manually—requiring constant comparison and correlation.

Before re-evaluating its needs, National Trust had a difficult-to-use, Java-based system over the past 10 years. This system was inefficient and antiquated, offered little meaningful data, had only 50 percent user adoption, and was difficult to use because of the UI.

With the old system, representatives would typically go to the properties, record metrics using pen and paper, manually input and process the data to show progress, and then use Excel to visualize the data. Because the old system failed to meet their needs, National Trust employees spent more time managing the system and manually inputting data instead of focusing on preservation—taking time away from their core mission.

Solution

To truly safeguard the culturally significant sites of the UK in the most efficient and effective way possible, National Trust knew it needed to reimagine its data gathering, storage, and visualization practices. The organization also knew it had to consider cost and complexity, especially surrounding its existing technology investments.

National Trust then turned to trusted Microsoft partner, eBECS, to help get the job done. eBECS, helped National Trust design, build, and implement two custom applications – for the property reviewers and conservation team – to provide the most intuitive experience possible for each audience. eBECS was brought in house to pour over National Trust’s Excel reports, gain the desired data structure, and start building the PowerApps solution skeletons using Azure SQL.

Once the outline was constructed, they began creating the PowerApps apps based on National Trust’s specifications, including incorporating CPI templates and framework, Power BI integration for data visualization and interrogation, Azure SQL interoperability, and National Trust’s branding guidelines for look and feel.

The custom apps were developed and launched within 8 weeks, a significant time reduction when compared to traditional application development. This shortened timeframe can be attributed to PowerApps’ ease-of-use and no-code-required app development technology.

Almost immediately, National Trust started to see real business benefits, such as near-real time data access and insight, made possible by Microsoft Azure. Before implementing PowerApps, site data tracked in Excel would need to be imported to a central repository and formatted and analyzed manually. This inefficient process made gleaning insights a lengthy and slow-moving endeavor.

Already, end users of the PowerApps solution at National Trust have begun testing efficacy of the solution across 10 sites. Additionally, they can maintain their infrastructure using only 25 administrators, which can often be the headcount of one data center. This streamlined management means that National Trust can divert capital and other resources to other, more mission-critical projects, instead of ongoing maintenance.

Benefits

The custom solutions on PowerApps are moving National Trust forward in its approach to effectively managing, visualizing, and quantifying its preservation success data. With PowerApps, National Trust is realizing streamlined operations through increased user adoption, unified experiences, and getting the most out of its existing Microsoft investments.

Data Insights Answer Tough Questions

According to National Trust’s Technology and Information Security Director, Jon Townsend, the PowerApps solution will help National Trust record and effectively display how conservation efforts are progressing. The mission of the organization is to look after the natural and historical treasures of the UK, and the PowerApps / Power BI combination helps accomplish that goal. Additionally, the custom solution provides granular insight into whether National Trust is improving properties and allowing for easier, more-informed decisions on tough financial questions.

Cost Simplicity and Synergy

With the PowerApps solution, National Trust has been able to leverage its existing Microsoft investments—namely SharePoint, Office365, Azure, and Azure services such as SQL. The PowerApps apps pull data and workflows from those services and platforms to give users a single source of truth for project progress and status. National Trust not only gained a powerful solution that meets its criteria, but it is also well-positioned to seamlessly integrate with future Microsoft investments. PowerApps offered National Trust a robust solution solving issues concerning information flows or additional infrastructure requirements. As Jon Townsend puts it, “We’re backing the right horse in the short and long term.”

Making Quick Interventions

When dealing with aging national treasures of great value to millions of people, time is of the essence. National Trust needed a solution that would enable them to address problems such as tracking maintenance requirements, quickly before they escalated. PowerApps allowed National Trust property managers to monitor the KPIs for their properties stored in SQL Azure, identify trends using Power BI, and manage actions to improve the state of the properties—all from a single app. This solution offered National Trust a simple, unified, cost-effective solution that can solve more business-related problems. This streamlined solution that spans National Trust’s managed locations also means that when decisions need to made quickly, PowerApps can facilitate the process with near-real time information, powered by Microsoft Azure.

The insights gained by using the PowerApps solution goes to the heart of what we’re trying to achieve at National Trust. PowerApps is simple to use, and integrates well with our existing Microsoft investments, making it very cost-effective.  Jon Townsend: Technology and Information Security Director, National Trust.

Solution overview

Corporate (10,000+ employees)
We’re a charity founded in 1895 by three people who saw the importance of our nation’s heritage and open spaces and wanted to preserve them for everyone to enjoy. More than 120 years later, these values are still at the heart of everything we do. We look after special places throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland for ever, for everyone.

UK: +44 (0) 8455 441 441
Ireland: +353 (0)1 893 4831
USA: +1 (678) 701 5856
Saudi Arabia: +966 (11)920 007299

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