Bishop’s Stortford Town Council - Ten Allotment Sites managed with Rialtas Allotments Management Solution

Bishop’s Stortford Town Council, has now gone live with the Rialtas Allotment Solution. Please read on to find out why Rialtas was chosen, and the process undertaken by the council to migrate their Ten Allotment sites, covering 672 Plots and Tenants to Rialtas.

Over to James Parker, Chief Executive Officer

"Bishop’s Stortford Town Council operates 672 allotment plots on ten sites spread across the town, previously using an in-house database which was written in 2011. Whilst the database had served the Council well, and required relatively little maintenance, it was nevertheless a business risk which had become difficult to justify. As part of the Council’s strategic plan for allotments, a review was undertaken, and it was concluded that moving to a supported solution was the way forward.

Having evaluated the options available, the Council settled on the Rialtas solution. This offers all the functionality needed and is cost effective. Later this year, we might look to further improve our processes, and consider the upcoming integration between Allotments and Rialtas Accounts.

Data migration is always a major concern and, whilst the prospect of transferring 700 allotment records was nothing like as daunting as the (recently completed) transfer of 16,000+ cemetery records, cross-typing was clearly neither a robust nor desirable option. Although the Rialtas allotments package does not have a native ‘data import’ facility, Rialtas provided a demonstration of Dataload, a freely available piece of software which can take input from excel and simulate keystrokes to the Rialtas application thereby automating the process. Rialtas also sent us a ‘template’ for Dataload which allowed some customer data to be imported into Rialtas, to get us started.

Luckily we decided to do this shortly before the ‘work experience’ season. We canvassed the local schools for, and succeeded in recruiting, an IT/Data/excel literate student. With a bit of guidance from our staff, the student built on the template provided by Rialtas and created three separate Dataload templates. The first imports the customer data, but substitutes a unique customer number for the customer surname. The second imports the plot data and, using the unique number, allocates plots to the relevant customer. Then a final stage replaces the unique customer number in every customer record with the actual surname. This three-stage process deals with the case where several customers have the same surname, which otherwise would present a problem during the assignment of customers to plots. Exporting our current data to excel was fortunately trivial, as the current database was written in Access.

As is often the case with a data migration, some thought was necessary to deal with differing representations of the data elements, in particular our fee discount/uplift structure and ‘parishioner/non-parishioner’ flags. However, once we had worked out the logic for this, it was easily implemented in excel ready for transfer to Dataload and onward to Rialtas.

After about three and a half days’ work and several ‘test’ data transfers, the student had a fully working set of dataload templates and data conversion formulae and we were able to complete a full load of all the data into a ‘test’ company in the Rialtas software. One final check on the resulting data showed a minor systematic error not previously spotted, which was easily fixed.

Late Thursday afternoon (the student started on a Monday) we took a backup of our ‘live’ data in Rialtas, our finance officer turned to other work not affecting our Bishop’s Stortford Town Council records, and we started the dataload into the real Rialtas ‘company’. The load was completed in the early evening and, on Friday morning, we went ‘live’ with the Rialtas Allotments software. A few hours were spent over the next couple of days tweaking the layouts of the form letters that Rialtas provides, and dealing with a few other minor matters, but we immediately were able to allocate plots and issue rent agreements (even though our officer had yet to receive the training). With both Cemeteries and Allotments now on supported software and thanks to the help from Rialtas, I can now sleep a bit better at night and our staff can look forward to using a properly supported and integrated system."