A booking management system for Unite Students

Unite Students is the country’s leading provider of student accommodation. With a property portfolio of across 140 properties over 24 leading university towns and cities in England and Scotland and plans to deliver a further 8000 beds until 2020, Unite needed a robust and user-friendly system to support the internal processes that underpin its business operations.

Challenge: Future proofing the booking system

Having experienced significant growth in recent years and planning for further growth, Unite Students decided to invest in a new leading class accommodation booking system that could allow for future growth. It was intended that the new system would:

  • Improve user experience through being intuitive and therefore less time consuming to use.
  • Respond to the needs of their changing customer base – Millennials.
  • Decrease the amount of manual form filling and therefore become paperless.
  • Be more cost efficient to maintain.
  • Provide increased functionality.
  • Improve integration with the other systems used by Unite, particularly its Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software.

As a result, Ghyston was enlisted to create the ‘front-end’ of the booking system, which would form a part of Unite’s system ‘Prism’, and would be used by Unite employees. Another third party partner was tasked with customising the ERP.

The Ghyston Approach: A leading booking system

To establish the core specification we held several workshops with the Unite employees who were currently using the legacy system. We then held detailed focus groups to further scrutinise the requirements, ensuring that the end product would strike an optimal balance between user and business requirements.

Throughout the project we worked in close collaboration with the third party partner in charge of ERP, which greatly eased Prism’s integration with Oracle e-Business Suite. We also spent dedicated time on-site with both Unite and the third party to maintain a culture of open communication and collaborative working.

When testing Prism, we used continuous integration and a comprehensive automated test suite to guarantee its stability and robustness. As a result, Unite spent considerably less than predicted on supporting the system; the code is of such a high quality that since launch there has been a very low bug and incident rate.

Prism was built as a single page application, which means that it preloads all data, preventing users from having to wait for pages to load as they move through the site and thereby improving productivity. The service layer was built using a Java Spring Stack and the front end was written using CoffeeScript.

Outcome: Increased efficiency, higher revenue, happier employees

Since going live, the system has provided several additional features beyond the original specification. The implementation has also facilitated a wider overall business transformation, innovating several internal processes, which now align more closely with Unite’s growth strategy.

The main benefits include:

  • A new ‘online tenancy’ function, which has improved sales conversion.
  • The digitisation of the tenancy return process, which has reduced the average time to receive tenancy returns from 9 days to 4 days, meaning that the number of customers lost to competitors has reduced significantly
  • The transition of several manual processes to paperless, reducing environmental impact.
  • Several process improvements, which have enabled employees to use their time more efficiently, allowing them to become more involved in supporting business growth and providing great customer service.
  • Adding value to the buyer process and to Unite’s purpose of providing a ‘Home for Success’ for students.
"For us it was all about quality and that really aligns with Ghyston’s ethos. From the diligence of the recruitment to the superior nature of the code, exceptional quality resonates in everything they do" Ashley Hewson, Director of IT and Digital at Unite