Part 7: Managing land title records electronically

Realising benefits from six public sector technology projects.

What the project was about

Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) was formed in 1996 following the merger of the Department of Survey and Land Information and the Department of Justice Land Titles Office. LINZ was created to provide government, civil, and military survey mapping and core land information services. Core business functions of LINZ are:

  • providing information;
  • automating the lodgement process, data acquisition, and land title and survey data storage; and
  • processing information.

In November 1997, the Government decided to develop an electronic titles register and cadastre called Landonline. It was originally planned to be a two-phase project but a third phase was added post the original project. From 2006 to 2010, Landonline Phase 3 was carried out as the concluding project to the larger Landonline project. The three phases for the entire Landonline project were:

  • Phase 1 – a $40 million project to develop an electronic titles register and survey cadastre to replace the paper titles register and mature mainframe indexes and non-survey accurate information. This allowed all paper title transactions and survey plans to be imaged on receipt at LINZ and processed in the new electronic register and cadastre. Solicitors and surveyors could now search any records in Landonline anywhere in the country. In parallel, a further $100 million project captured the historical information residing in titles, documents, plans, data, and images.
  • Phase 2 – Landonline functionality was added to allow surveyors to lodge their survey plans directly into Landonline by capturing all the data as well as the image. Solicitors could now lodge routine transactions, which make up to 75% of the transaction volumes, directly into Landonline.
  • Phase 3 – a $28 million project to develop the remainder of the title transaction functionality. This would then enable LINZ to remove the paper lodgement option that was operating in parallel with the electronic lodgement process. The benefits of this phase were predicated on achieving 100% electronic lodgement uptake of land title instruments by lawyers. Without 100% e-lodgement, the need for a paper delivery service would remain, negating much of the business justification for the new system. For the project to succeed, nearly all the functions that required manual intervention from service staff had to disappear to achieve the benefits of reducing staff and facilities.

In Phase 3, five consecutive releases of Landonline were needed to achieve the 100% e-lodgement (of titles) and automation components. The business rules for all ways of processing land titles had to be fully encoded for e-lodgement to work. This resulted in the staffed service counters shutting by February 2009 and complete closure of a further three processing centres by 2010. Only about 1% of title transactions are still lodged manually.

Phase 3 of the project was delivered on a fixed price, fixed term, with IBM as prime vendor and developer. Phase 3 development was built on top of the single application developed in phases 1 and 2. This application was built on systems run by EDS for the existing infrastructure developed as part of phases 1 and 2.

Most users of Landonline are land professionals such as conveyancers (for example, lawyers), surveyors, or local authorities who transact, define and manage land.

Before Landonline, land transfer legislation meant the paper record was the legal record. To preserve that record, the statutory register required growing and costly specialist storing and managing. LINZ could have stopped at Phase 1, and accepted the partial step of imaging paper records. Instead, with support from politicians, LINZ wanted the e-record to become the record of authority for land transactions, and for land professionals to have the ability to transact directly on the register. Now, more than 70% of title transactions are registered immediately, making land conveyancing and financial reporting for solicitors and lending institutions easier.

Having the country's historical and current land title data in an electronically searchable medium means that they can be used or reported on in ways not previously possible. In the past, information was stored as static data or images of paper transactions.

Realised benefits

Direct benefits

There was more efficiency and cost savings. Automating and transferring data capture to source practitioners while introducing the mandatory 100% e-lodgement phase of Landonline dramatically reduced manual processing and storing and repeated handling of paper records, reducing staff numbers, closing branches, and eliminating storage costs for LINZ.

The transaction costs for preparing and qualifying data before entry were transferred to users. LINZ eliminated handling costs and steps to transform data, saving money and making operations more efficient.

More efficiency came from addressing the situation of demand growing faster than resources. By moving to e-lodgement and automating land transfer records, LINZ averted a looming logistical crisis in processing, storing, and retrieving land information documents. For some time, the number of transactions had been increasing. In an environment of manual processing, the only answer to this growth was to add more staff and physical storage.

LINZ benefited from improved data quality by transferring the capturing of data in an electronic form to as close as possible to the originators of the data (lawyers, surveyors, and local authorities). This eliminated double handling and the data conversion errors that happened when filling in paper forms, vetting, and then typing in data. Also, having data in digital format allows proactive data cleansing and improvement activities.

Indirect benefits

There were new business opportunities for LINZ and external partners. When the land information data was available in an electronic and consistent format, LINZ and commercial partners were able to create new information-centred products (such as geographical information system data for spatial analysis products).

The main financial beneficiaries of Landonline are legal service providers and surveyors who do conveyancing work. In many instances, the time required for land title processing was reduced from hours to minutes. However, LINZ could not directly affect whether the legal service providers and surveyors would pass on savings to their customers.

LINZ created an opportunity for legal service providers and surveyors to become more efficient internally, because of simplified procedures and more flexibility. However, LINZ could not influence whether those practitioners took the opportunity to work more efficiently.

The time taken to complete a land transfer transaction was reduced dramatically. This provides LINZ with near real-time activity and means that land title information is available to surveyors and legal practitioners almost as soon as a lawyer or surveyor enters it. It used to take days or weeks for some records to be updated and become available.

Compared to those in manual delivery, fees to practitioners are mostly lower. This results in savings to stakeholders. However, fees are still linked to the volume of land transactions. When there is a boom in house sales, transaction costs reduce but, when fewer houses are sold, transaction costs rise. Fees are legislated, so there is a lag in the change in transaction fees.

Intangible benefits

By building a mutual trust relationship with legal service providers and surveyors, LINZ has an enhanced reputation as an effective innovator.

New legislation has been introduced. Working with the Government to revise and update legislation to say that the document of record was an electronic register, not a paper register, helped make back-office work more efficient and created the opportunity to better interact with customers.

The dynamic nature of benefits realisation

After delivering the programme, the project teams and programme office were disbanded. Benefits monitoring and reporting that had been strong all through the project were neither documented in a formal sense nor transferred to an IT governance board or similar.

When Landonline was being phased in, LINZ staff considered it to be multiple major systems. Now they consider it a single business-as-usual (BAU) system. As BAU, projects to maintain and enhance systems (typically in the $20,000-$50,000 range) do not follow formal project and business case processes in the same way as a major project would. There is no long-term scrutiny of benefits realisation for Landonline.

Practices that helped to achieve benefits

Setting up a properly resourced project office helped Landonline to succeed. The office provided a dedicated focal point for making decisions and managing finances and schedules. Mandating the office to identify and review benefits realisation ensured that it effectively monitored and controlled project outcomes. As a result, it set about identifying more benefits and prepared reporting cycles for Landonline's systems.

Benefits monitoring was built into project practices at LINZ. For Landonline, LINZ had a strong focus on project methodology and emphasised managing programmes (the Projects In Controlled Environments toolkit for managing successful programmes). The Project Management Institute's Project Management, Body of Knowledge methodology was used for project schedule and reporting control. Mixing these methods created challenges for configuring the project office, where different methodologies had inconsistent language and expectations. To address this, elements of benefits realisation approaches were pragmatically "cherry picked" from the toolkits. This was a pragmatic use of formal governance, programme, and project methodologies to establish clear project mandate, accountability, and change management structures that helped project communications to be effective at a whole-of-organisation level.

Although the programme team did not continuously monitor for benefits realisation, it was never far from sight and was triggered through stakeholders, reference groups, and similar mechanisms. The 100% e-lodgement imperative and the full automation capstone for Landonline incrementally built on the lessons learned during the previous phases.

Phasing the programme sensibly into achievable stages and embedding the learning resulting from those stages of Landonline during the paper-based automation (Phase 1) and the back capture of paper records (Phase 2) meant that there was the capability maturity and depth of knowledge to achieve Phase 3.

Strongly committed and involved stakeholders, especially the law societies and surveyors' professional bodies, helped in understanding more deeply and in more detail what Landonline was required to do. Landonline project teams included paid stakeholder representatives in the project office. Stakeholders have supported ongoing work to improve the automatic systems.

Using technically skilled LINZ staff who know a lot about the business when setting up systems meant that new capability was linked to established practice. Landonline project teams used subject matter experts seconded from BAU teams, and business needs were made known quickly within the project, without specific consultation.

LINZ set up control practices to manage relationships with the main vendors in Landonline projects. Where vendor contracts were in place with organisations such as IBM, EDS, and Gen-i, the project used norms and standard practices so that new systems could be set up alongside old ones.

Having engaged and active sponsorship from the chief executive ensured that project success was in line with organisational success.

The full attention of business and technical leaders ensured that decisions about the project were made decisively.

The external advisory board that represented stakeholder interests at a governance level provided invaluable support to the project team's success and ability to set and maintain focus on priorities by helping to prioritise project areas and to resolve conflicting purposes.

LINZ is an organisation of subject-matter experts. That expertise was essential for the programme, creating a need to plan successions and a way of keeping and managing tacit and explicit knowledge, especially when there had to be long-term monitoring and review of benefits.

Lessons for other projects

Benefits realisation, especially monitoring, reporting, and governance, needs to be managed beyond the project. Once Landonline was in place, the project teams and office were disbanded.

Having stakeholder groups strongly committed and involved from early in the project was carried out by using embedded stakeholder subject-matter experts (such as from the New Zealand Law Society) in the project environment.

Stakeholders were represented at the project's governance level.

The Landonline project office's strong communications culture reinforced good practice. Stakeholder maps and analysis were reviewed often and used to monitor and plan change management actions to keep the project focused on outcomes and benefits. For example, a weekly communications briefing kept level three managers at LINZ informed and there were weekly email updates.

When setting up Landonline, LINZ did not set baseline data to make before and after comparisons. Since then, LINZ has learned that setting baseline data is good practice and data capture projects now use such data when reporting.

LINZ set up control practices to effectively manage relationships with main vendors in the Landonline projects.

Good practices

The good practices from this case study that we refer to in Part 9 are:

  • understanding the environment and making the most of circumstances, including identifying increasing or future demand for services as an impetus for change;
  • being business-led, flexible, and agile, including involving people with good knowledge of the business;
  • having strong support from senior leaders;
  • working effectively with the right people, including end users;
  • having external stakeholders' strong support and involvement; and
  • clearly stating, monitoring, and understanding the desired benefits.
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