Anyone who has heard me speak on the subject of data, will know that I have a huge passion for the subject. This is just as well. I am chief data officer at Registers of Scotland, the government body responsible for keeping public registers of land, property, and other legal documents in Scotland. 

In an increasingly data-driven world my team are committed to making the information held in our registers more accessible, flexible, and fit-for-purpose. The way that some of the historic data we manage has been recorded means this is a significant but not insurmountable challenge. 

Let me share a quick analogy. If you have ever researched your family history, you’ll have quickly discovered that the process of bringing information about your ancestors to life involves a lot of flicking through old records, images, certificates and documents. In short, extracting the data you need, and turning it into something meaningful, is a very hands-on process. It cannot be done by a machine. Telling the story of who owns Scotland throws up similar challenges. 

First, the good news. A wealth of information around land and property ownership is available for free at the click of a button via our ScotLIS service. This will give you access to things like property prices and the ability to view property boundaries on a map. If you want to delve deeper then, for £3-plus-VAT, you can order title documents which will tell you things like who the current owner is and whether there is a mortgage attached to the property.

One of the big questions my team is focused on is how we take the other RoS data currently held in formats that only humans can understand, such as the historic General Register of Sasines – the oldest national public land register in the world, dating back to 1617 – and turn it into something machines can read. Because when we do that, we can achieve two key things: 

  1. Automate – make it easier, safer, and faster for RoS to update high volume, simple changes to the land register
  2. Analyse – we will be able to equip policymakers, solicitors, businesses, citizens, and researchers with the kind of information they increasingly want from us. 

As we work to make some of the world’s oldest land registers into some of the most modern, RoS’ journey from documents-to-data will ultimately deliver major benefits to the people of Scotland and the wider economy.

Alan Howie will be speaking at the Transforming Public Services: Leveraging Cloud, Data & AI to build next generation services conference on January 19 in Glasgow.