case study

Enhancing Efficiency: PlotBox at Mangere Lawn Cemetery

Learn why it was the right time for one of Auckland's oldest cemeteries to digitally transform and how PlotBox is helping them to enhance customer service.

Opened in 1890, Mangere Lawn Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in Auckland, New Zealand.

Originally operated by farmers as a local enterprise in service of the local community of European settlers, it has grown and expanded, as the city boundaries have merged and melded to become a multi-denominational lawn cemetery, serving those from a number of faiths and cultures, including the Maori and those from the Pacific Islands.

In the 1980s a lounge and chapel were built, accommodating funeral services, as well as a crematorium, with the first cremation taking place in 1992.

With a rich and storied history, its trustees “continue to be diligent and forward-thinking” to ensure the cemetery remains a sacred place for generations to come.

We spoke with Director Chris Curlett on why now was the time to implement a new cemetery management system, and why they chose PlotBox as their transformation partner.

Why the need for a new cemetery management system?

“We weren’t very automated in our systems”, Chris explains, 

“At one stage, so many excel spreadsheets linked together ran so many processes, and we were probably a little bit stuck in that era.  We had a plot system running independent of the accounting system – all very administratively top heavy”. 

When I became involved, it was very quickly apparent that we were very much behind technology. It was highlighted by the fact that the software we were using wasn’t being updated to keep pace with Microsoft developments - there was a very big risk of the systems crashing due to compatibility issues. The accounting wasn’t linked to the plot database  and it was run as a batch-based system where there were distinct advantages in an integrated approach..

With the current solution becoming a problem, we tried to find a solution within New Zealand but nothing was suitable.

We undertook some initial research to look at refining the system we operated  for developing our own systems, but it became very apparent very quickly these options were not cost-effective. That’s when we found PlotBox and a couple of others and went through the evaluation process.”

What were the challenges posed by your existing cemetery systems?

“Providing the comfort of data integrity required far greater manual antecedents throughout the process, and having accounts coming in once a month we had to undertake a mini-audit to make sure that transfer was happening. The inefficiencies and cost of this was considerable. 

We had a historic paper based archive-type detailed record system for each burial or cremation and had manual paper maps of where plots were. Whilst plots were traceable it was exceedingly time intensive and inefficient when people came in.   

For those records on the database we had in place we found that the system we were using was accurate but it looked like a DOS (Disk-based Operating System) with the inherent lack of user compatibility.

Really, we had to move and catch up.”

What did the evaluation process look like?

“It was an interesting process. I made sure my office staff were physically involved in that evaluation - that got away from me thinking that I understood what they needed, to them being the ones to decide. [In that way] they were the main drivers in the solution we were looking for - because they were the ones that would be working with it.

They also fully understood the concerns and the issues we had with our current systems because they've been involved and aware of the process well before the actual evaluation process began. The whole decision-making process was very transparent because they had to be part of that decision.”

Why PlotBox?

“It’s a hard thing to define, but it had the right feel.”, says Chris.

“I was highly impressed with the mapping which looked impressive. I was highly impressed when we did it, that it did what PlotBox said it would. Initially I was a bit cynical so I was really pleased when it performed as promised.

Also, the fact that it was cloud-based and we could get rid of our servers and [eliminate] the high cost of maintaining them and the associated infrastructure in the short-term - we haven’t yet, but eventually will.

User-friendliness was also a big thing, as was being able to be searched by the public [using the Everafter public portal], enabling us to reduce our office overheads in respect of enquiries.

In terms of the proposals put forward by your Australian team, they were succinct, quick and answered the questions, especially in respect of costs. Also, the upgrade path with PlotBox seemed very good and has proved to be so, along with support.

Mangere Lawn 2

What did the implementation process look like?

“I made a decision when I signed up that we would handle the implementation internally. Staff being right behind it paid big dividends, but from my point of view I didn’t fully appreciate the workload involved, then it was aggravated further by the fact Covid arrived and I lost half my staff straight away as we operated in two teams. 

We made the decision to continue with PlotBox and the implementation during Covid. PlotBox were fantastic in their support during the implementation. The implementation slowed down because we didn’t have the staff resource due to Covid, however PlotBox stood by us throughout which was tremendous and ensured it happened.

Two things I was exceptionally impressed with during that implementation process, were, one: the mapping - it happened as explained, which I still think is amazing, and two: the conversion of the data from the existing systems into PlotBox, which was tremendous.  The resource that PlotBox put into this proved invaluable and contributed greatly to the success of the data transfer.

Again, this was very much driven by PlotBox. PlotBox stood by us throughout this process and full credit to them, it happened exactly as they said it would.

The support that came out of Australia was extremely timely, and pretty much instant. They answered all the questions as they happened, not just from my level, but also from the people using [the system].

There wasn't any of the procrastination that you sometimes get with these situations when they hand over from the sales team to the implementation team - it was seamless, the salespeople stayed involved and were able to answer questions very quickly, constructively, and with an efficient and ethical approach.

What efficiencies has PlotBox brought about?

“The recording of information within PlotBox is very good. The online enquiries from customers themselves - that’s releasing a lot of staff time when looking for things, being able to use the android technology to look around [the digital cemetery maps], that’s saving a lot of time - and that saving and that benefit is increasing all the time.

Now we have the QR codes, accessible on mobile phones [taking customers to Everafter record search website] - that is going to further enhance that service we provide to families. Where we were originally open Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 4.30pm, we’re now open 24 hours!

The feedback we’re getting on that is really great.

Another thing I like about PlotBox is the scanning of the records - protecting those records and making them easier to find in the future. We have an archive - which every cemetery does - of all of our paperwork in various qualities from throughout the years, and PlotBox makes it very much easier [to access this information].

What does the future look like for you and PlotBox?

“The feedback I’m getting from our team is that it was the right decision and we wouldn’t make a different one - which from my point of view is exceptionally heartening.

We are currently in the process of the last big stage, which is the integration of the accounting systems. I suspect that greater things will happen - adding value to the services we can provide.

It will be an evolving process and PlotBox will evolve as well. 

When we bring the Funeral Director Portal on, that will add value as well. I’ve put in a number of systems over the years - I’ve learned that you do it in stages, and that’s going to be one of the next stages.”

And finally, would you recommend PlotBox?

“I have recommended and continue to recommend PlotBox to other people. PlotBox has constantly met its promises, it hasn’t overpromised and underdelivered, in fact quite the opposite which is a nice change with software!

If I had to make the same decision to go with PlotBox, I would still make that same decision. I want to re-emphasize that the assistance we’ve had from your Australian team has been a major factor in that level of satisfaction.”

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