Coal Authority cuts costs and speeds up delivery of homebuyer subsidence reports

The Coal Authority updates its mining report system.

The Coal Authority updates its mining report system.

The Coal Authority has implemented a new computer system to help potential house buyers quickly find out whether properties are built on old mineshafts and are in danger of subsiding.

The Coal Authority provides more than 500,000 mining reports a year, mainly to solicitors acting for those planning to buy property on or near coalfields that are in use or have been in the past.

The reports give the purchaser vital information about coalmining activity under or near the property, and are regarded by mortgage lenders and insurance companies as an essential precaution in coalfield areas.

Prior to the installation of the new system, the Coal Authority used an outmoded mainframe which took up to 10 days to process jobs and was heavily labour-dependent, leading to inevitable inaccuracies. There was also no provision for e-mail queries.

In a competitive bidding exercise, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young won the contract to design, build and run the new Mining Reports and Surface Damage System.

Under Department of Trade & Industry private finance initiative arrangements, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young financed the initial investment. Arrangements were made for repayments to be made on a long-term, per-transaction basis.

The solution involved first developing a comprehensive understanding of the Coal Authority's objectives and ways of working and then designing an overall systems architecture to include:

  • A geographical information system to turn the huge volumes of data (more than 50Gbytes of Ordnance Survey Landline data and more than one million items of primary coalmining data) into an efficient format
  • A relational database to enable the GIS to be searched more quickly and efficiently and permit the user to apply a variety of search criteria
  • A workflow system to allow the rapid turnaround of enquiries, including automatic compliance checks at each stage to ensure adherence to the timetable, and a facility to cost and record every enquiry
  • A user-friendly Windows front-end to replace specialised, non-intuitive and unappealing monochrome screens
  • Remote delivery of infrastructure management and applications management by expert Cap Gemini Ernst & Young team

Since the system was installed in 1999, turnaround times for the reports have been reduced from 10 days to two, and there is now a 24-hour service for e-mail enquiries.

Costs have been significantly reduced as a result of the new system. These savings have been passed on to customers, with the price of a standard mining report cut by 25%.

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