← Back to Case Studies

UBS from Unite - Student Rooms on the Web

Student accommodation provider UNITE uses PMC business change skills for systems for in house system replacement and web-based self-service booking solution.

UNITE uniquely undertakes the acquisition, planning, development and management of all it's properties, working closely with universities, city councils and partners, to deliver a choice of modern purpose-built accommodation for students across the UK.

Established in 1991 in Bristol, The UNITE Group plc (UNITE) began regenerating old office blocks standing on prime city-centre locations into student accommodation. By 1995, the company had 500 beds in Bristol. Listed on the stock exchange in 2000, UNITE is now home to some 38,000 students in 135 properties across 31 towns and cities. it's customers represent over 140 different countries - from Albania to Zambia.

With it's continued growth UNITE's housing management and bookings administration system could not support it's projected business needs. In particular it lacked an on-line booking capability, which drove high administration costs caused by keying in client application data.

James Granger, Finance Director, UK Student Hospitality at UNITE, states: "We wanted a solution to significantly improve our customer offering, set us apart from the competition and offer a platform to market complementary services. We already knew PMC plus their business change and implementation skills. In 2004 we asked them to conduct a full business systems review to identify constraints and issues with our current system and the change needed to support our strategic growth plans. Our vision was to create a multi-channel business, remove scalability issues, enable customer self-service and local service through new channels."

PMC set up a series of workshops to understand existing processes, IT business systems and key issues restricting UNITE's organic business growth. PMC also started requirements workshops to define new business processes, organizational change (resourcing, skills and training), and business systems requirements.

As part of the project, PMC reviewed the solutions on offer and carried out extensive market research. Unable to find a suitable package or modifiable solution, PMC produced a detailed report which prompted a 'buy v build' discussion at UNITE and it became clear that a custom-built solution was the best course of action.

Granger continues: "PMC's report made it clear we could develop our own custom-built system. Their due diligence enabled us to make a solid business decision that a custom application would be the most cost-effective alternative for UNITE."

During 2005 PMC and UNITE developed business requirements from shop floor to boardroom building a full business model and business case. The solution was then designed, technology partners identified, selected and engaged. The project was resourced between PMC, UNITE and the selected partner. With the project involving many man-years development, PMC talked to a number of vendors before selecting Perot Systems. To manage the programme, PMC decided to use a streamed approach to improve overall management and control. As a result project work streams were split into customer experience, finance, business change, infrastructure, data migration, development of software, testing and training.

The result of the year-plus project was UBS (UNITE Booking System). The sheer scale of the project meant that the delivery was split into three areas – reference and master data, booking functionality and back office systems, and 'living with us' functionality – between November 2006 and May 2007. The first in house implementation began in May 2007 phased through to June 2007, with the web site going live in July 2007.

Mark Allan, Chief Executive Officer at UNITE states: "Over the past three years UNITE has been on a journey of significant positive change; a new senior leadership team, a new strategy and a new business system. PMC has been an integral part of that change."

"Our university student customers are at the heart of everything we do and are the motivation for why and how we developed UBS. It was a three-year project with a target window of six weeks for implementation because of the academic year and the key house hunting period in July and August. This was the first time we approached a systems project as a business change with cross-functional teams, our first development in India, and the first time we used external programme management expertise. We will apply this approach to any future projects."

UBS has enabled business growth without linear administration growth. UNITE's administration costs per room booking have more than halved due to student self-booking and improved processes. Systems risk is reduced while resilience and performance have increased. Allan confirms: "UBS gives us a centrally managed single version of the truth."

Since it's implementation the UBS system has helped some 38,000 students move into UNITE's properties. The system has enabled UNITE's hospitality teams to have more time to concentrate on customer service, providing students with the best possible customer experience.

Granger closes: "UBS is an awesome project. The solution involved over 95% business change to our operational model as well as re-engineering how our 135 properties manage their room allocations locally with global visibility on the web. UBS is an innovative approach to the customer experience. And this is just the beginning. Social content, mobile technologies, experience personalisation are all in the future UBS programme of technology which will deliver both customer and business satisfaction."