Registers of Scotland (RoS) is in the midst of an exciting transformation that will see it at the forefront of government bodies delivering services digitally. 

As a non-ministerial office of the Scottish Government RoS maintains land and property information, and some personal information, through a series of 21 registers. 

Its oldest land register, the General Register of Sasines, is the world’s oldest public land register and evidence that Scotland has long been a pioneer in this space. 

That commitment to innovation is a driving force behind what RoS is doing now and underpins its vision to be a future-focused digital registration and information business trusted for its integrity.

One of the key challenges that RoS is addressing is how to make the wealth of information held in its registers agile, accessible and able to serve everyone who uses them. 

That might mean citizens interested in house price information, policy makers and researchers seeking a deep dive into data sets, or helping legal professionals meet the rapidly evolving demands of the property conveyancing sector. 

Before the pandemic, most land register submissions were still being made via paper applications sent by courier service from solicitors’ offices to RoS. 

By the end of 2020 about 94 per cent of applications were being received by the digital submissions services RoS had designed, tested and launched to enable property transactions to continue during the pandemic. 

Digital innovation has long been a key part of RoS’s strategy, but the challenges posed by Covid-19 meant that legal professionals increasingly embraced new ways of working. 

RoS’s plans to gradually ramp-up automated services were fast-tracked during lockdown, and staff worked collaboratively with customers to implement digital solutions rapidly. 

Where solicitors had once printed-off documents, sent them physically to RoS, and waited a few days for an application to be recorded, after the digital submissions services were launched, customers could submit their documents by the press of a button. 

This gave legal professionals and people transacting property immediate reassurance that their submissions had been received and were being processed. 

One side benefit of increased automation was to iron-out any potential geographical inequalities that may have existed in the previous system whereby firms in the Highlands and Islands, for example, had to mail documents over relatively long distances. 

The digital submissions services were transformative for those customers and created a level playing field across Scotland.  

The imperative to innovate was underpinned by a commitment to deliver safe secure, customer-focussed products. By following the principles and methods of the Scottish Approach to Service Design, RoS used a collaborative, inclusive and empathetic approach to customer-centered design. 

This not only helped the organisation to build even closer relationships with the people who depend on its services but meant that digital solutions launched to overcome the immediate challenges of the pandemic became the basis for permanent change.

Subsequent services have followed those principles and the benefits are being felt across Scotland’s land and property sector. Last year, RoS launched the Register Land and Property service. 

It simplified the process of registering deeds and has been a gamechanger for the many legal professionals who use it, reducing the number of form fields that need to be populated, and consolidating previously disconnected services into one integrated experience. 

Dashboard functionality makes it much easier for customers to track the progress of their casework. 

As RoS progresses towards its vision of a fully end-to-end digital registration service it is consolidating this work and success by continuing to develop digital products and services, including self-service functions such as the self-serve copy deeds recently introduced through ScotLIS (Scotland’s land information service).

To future-proof its strategy, RoS continues to invest in improving its legacy IT systems, so it is better placed to automate processes. 

In addition, the creation of a highly successful development programme called Grown Our Own is developing and upskilling colleagues in digital and agile innovation. This will ensure the organisation has more in-house expertise to deliver and maintain its digital ecosystem. 

So, how is the success of RoS’s digital innovation being measured? Having its customers use the new services is the most visible sign that the organisation is moving at a pace that meets the needs and expectations of the people it serves. 

It is also securing wider acclaim, earlier this year for example, RoS won an Operational Delivery Professional award for its digital submissions service which revolutionised the way in which the legal profession interacts with land registration in Scotland. 

The service was recognised for embodying the modern civil service vision – to be skilled, innovative and ambitious – and for highlighting the commitment of RoS colleagues to go above and beyond to promote modernisation and reform within government. 

Securing the award was recognition that RoS is an organisation which truly pushes the boundaries in terms of digital transformation and innovation.

Kenny Crawford, director of business development at RoS, said: “It’s proof that with the right in-house talent and skills, we can work with our customers to
deliver a high-quality digital offer that can compete on a national scale for the benefit of the people of Scotland.”

Cloud journey underpins corporate objectives 

By Paul Christie

RoS decided to embark upon its cloud journey for two main reasons. First, the cloud represented an opportunity to optimise our digital agility and innovation, enabling us to deliver better against our corporate objectives – the development of new registers and the ability to utilise digital means to arrest and reduce our arrears.

Second, it will enable us to drive longer term cost efficiency and sustainability.

At RoS, we have traditionally operated an on-premises delivery model where all aspects of infrastructure management sit under our control. 

We believed a move to the cloud would allow us to adopt a shared responsibility model, so we can better serve customer demand and not worry about many of the digital maintenance activities required to keep the lights on.

We learned many lessons from our journey to the cloud. The first was how important it is to bring your stakeholders with you and to do that you need a compelling strategy. 

While you and your digital colleagues might know that cloud is the right path for your business, this will not necessarily be the case for all. 

Our strategy set out aspirations of moving towards full digital registration and how cloud technologies could accelerate our objectives in building new registers, automating manual business processes and reducing the risk of legacy systems by restructuring computer code.

For example, one of our registers – the Register of Judgments – used to sit on a 25-year-old system that could not evolve at the speed required for the industry. 

We therefore set out why the decision should be made to refactor the whole register based on business and customer demand, using state-of-the-art cloud technologies. 

The result was a fit-for-purpose, secure and resilient register that could evolve continuously.

We were careful to ensure that we did not go beyond our technical abilities or the organisation’s risk appetite, while keeping stakeholders updated and assured. 

Having the right contributions at the right stages is vital and having the correct skills is key to ensure success. At RoS, we thought about preparing for the cloud two to three years before even starting the move. 

This meant building up teams and developing our in-house systems in a way that was “cloud ready”. 

This has resulted in an enduring team with the sole purpose to empower our developers and to support the operational cloud platform.

Moving to the cloud should not be rushed – particularly if you want to be agile and reduce cost. This has been the case for us when dealing with a digital estate that is decades old.

It is important to remember that this is not about lifting and shifting our digital systems as they are – it is about taking the time to rebuild our estate in a cloud-friendly way. This is a five-year commitment, driven by business risk and value. 

Even when this is complete, the journey doesn’t stop. Customer expectations will continue to grow, and cloud technology will improve. 

We are proud of our progress so far and look forward to building the best digital services for our colleagues and customers.