Customer Spotlight: Jamaica’s National Land Agenccuy A shift toward better governance with Aumentum

Jamaica’s National Land Agency

Read the interview with Elizabeth Stair, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Land Agency (NLA) of Jamaica.

More than a decade ago, Jamaica embarked on a bold plan to change the way its government operated. It transformed several official departments into executive agencies that function with some of the autonomy and many of the expectations of private-sector businesses. Their goals are to streamline operations, reduce government costs and improve services delivered to Jamaican citizens.

“It had become expected to receive poor service in a government office,” said Elizabeth Stair, CEO of the National Land Agency (NLA) of Jamaica. Today, however, customer service has become one of the key metrics in measuring government performance in the Caribbean nation, she explained.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2011, the NLA may be one of the best examples of the Jamaican government’s administrative renaissance and shift toward better governance. Among its many responsibilities, the NLA was tasked with managing Crown Lands more effectively and making land registration more accessible.

By every measure, the NLA is a success. Today, the agency has seen an increase in the number of applications for first registration (new land titles) – with a fee structure unchanged since 1995. The land registration process that once took three weeks now averages two to seven days thanks to an automated workflow. Ownership and parcel information is available online to the public and to other government agencies.

From the start, Thomson Reuters has played an important role in helping Jamaica achieve its objectives of good governance. In 2003, NLA contracted Thomson Reuters to implement the Aumentum Registry solution as the Land Registration System upon which the entire workflow has been built. Interfacing with a GIS-based parcel data management system, Aumentum Registry provides automated functionality and serves information to the Land Registry and will do so with the proposed Estate Management System, the two core NLA land management modules.

The Benefits: Deadlines Met, Productivity Increase & Real-Time Responses to Property Owners

In creating the Executive Agencies, Jamaica looked at similar government institutions in New Zealand and the United Kingdom as its guide. Each agency was given specific performance targets and was required to publish minimum standards-of-service commitments to citizens, who are considered customers. Although the agencies are not required to make a profit, they are required to earn revenues and are expected to cover their operating costs.

Transition to an executive land agency: Improving customer service by streamlining operations. Shortened the land registration process for citizens from 15 business days down to just two business days.

Transition to an executive land agency: Improving customer service by streamlining operations. Shortened the land registration process for citizens from 15 business days down to just two business days.

“Everything is measured and monitored on a constant basis,” said NLA CEO Stair.

With cutting costs and streamlining operations in mind, Jamaica decided to bring all land administration functions under one organization, forming the National Land Agency in 2001. NLA integrated the responsibilities of four separate government offices: Surveys, Land Titles, Estate Management, and Valuation. Now referred to as divisions, each continues to carry out most of the same duties as it did before the creation of NLA, but now using shared resources.

The Land Titles Division handles the registration of rights to properties, records the documentation related to land transactions, and issues certificates of title. The Estate Management Division (EMD) manages all government or Crown Lands regardless of whether they are registered. In addition, EMD oversees the acquisition, leasing and divestment of government properties. The Survey & Mapping Division conducts the surveying and mapping of Crown Lands and approves survey plans submitted by private commissioned land surveyors. The Land Valuation Division determines valuations mainly for property tax purposes.

We’re heading for a ‘one-stop-shop’ where customers can go to one office and receive all the services.

“Merging of functions is a very bold step,” said Stair. “[To better serve customers], this is a good way to go because we’re heading for a ‘one-stop shop’ where customers can go to one office and receive all the services.”

As part of its paradigm shift to improve overall service, NLA performed a series of business process reviews. The lack of automation within the divisions was quickly pinpointed as a major concern. There was previously a reliance on manual processes and paper documents, most of which were not shared amongst the divisions, wasted time and money on duplicate workflows that frustrated government employees and citizens alike.

“There were inefficiencies in the way information went from one division to another,” said Mark Samuels, a Thomson Reuters, Tax & Accounting – Government GIS Analyst working on site at NLA in Kingston.

NLA made the decision to implement an automated land registration system with GIS capabilities. At the outset, the new system’s main focus was to streamline the land titling side of the enterprise because of its frontline role in customer service and its potential for revenue generation. The system, however, would eventually need to serve as the land information management engine capable of supporting the critical functionality of, and feeding digital data to, all NLA divisions.

Automated Registration Workflows

Fujitsu, a Jamaican company, was selected by NLA to assemble a team of contractors for the project. In 2003, Fujitsu chose Thomson Reuters to implement the Aumentum Registry solution as the land registration system and NovaLIS Canada to develop the GIS component called the Parcel Database Management System (PDMS). The Aumentum Registry solution was configured to integrate with the Esri-based PDMS.

Although Aumentum Registry is a commercial off-the-shelf product, it is a highly customizable solution. Implementation in Jamaica, therefore, focused on automating the existing manual business processes and integrating them into the digital land registration workflows. NLA business rules were programmed into the software to govern how various land transactions are processed, documents are produced and filed, and monthly reports are generated.

[It] takes the workflow from the point of contact with the customer … until the point of delivery to the customer

“[Aumentum Registry] takes the workflow from the point of contact with the customer when they get documents for registration and automates the process, including our data entry, until the point of delivery to the customer,” said Sophia Williams, Registrar of Titles. “[It’s] quicker and more transparent.”

[It’s] quicker and more transparent.

The Land Titles and Survey & Mapping Divisions each maintained paper documents dating as far back as the 1800s. A major component of the Aumentum Registry implementation, which continues today, is the digitization of property records. The Thomson Reuters Document Scanning System (DSS) has been used to scan these documents — land titles, legal property descriptions, and official surveys — for inclusion in Aumentum Registry and the PDMS. As these documents are scanned, Aumentum Registry links the digital land information with the appropriate parcel maps and related attribute data in the GIS database. Today, of course, new land transactions are carried out entirely within the registry system where property documents are created and linked digitally from the outset.

The linking of digital documents in Aumentum Registry is key to NLA’s improved customer service because it allows for rapid query and retrieval of property information, explained Williams. Accessible via the Intranet on their desktops, NLA personnel can quickly search for records in a variety of ways. For example, someone in Land Titles might query on an address or parcel ID number, while Survey personnel would click on a single parcel in the PDMS cadastral layer on the map screen. In either case, Aumentum Registry returns to their desktop computers all of the text and map documents related to the property for viewing onscreen.

The Intranet gives access to land registry information for all NLA offices island-wide. Aumentum Registry limits the type of access allowed to specific personnel in each division based on their function in the workflow. For instance, some personnel have read-only access while others can edit existing documents and maps or enter new information.

While the land registry was initially launched for access and use within the NLA, the agency has since built Internet applications on top of Aumentum Registry for use by the general public. The most popular is eLandJamaica, a fee-based service launched in 2005. Citizens can log on to search, view and print property-specific information including the title, the valuation records and certain survey diagrams. Offered at no charge is a tracking application that allows a customer to view the estimated completion date for land titles transactions.

“That alone has reduced the number of calls we get from citizens,” said Williams.

In 2010, NLA introduced another free Internet portal based on an amalgamation of spatial and text data existing across Divisions, including Aumentum Registry. iMap Jamaica enables online visitors to drill down through multiple data layers to culminate with parcel boundaries super-imposed on high resolution satellite imagery. Visitors can view the location, shape and perimeters of a given parcel obtaining the title reference and valuation number. The website does not however, provide land ownership details.

Better Management of Crown Lands

Seeing the improvements in operational efficiencies and customer service within the Land Titles Division, Thomson Reuters was contracted to build a similar module on top of the Aumentum Registry framework for the Estate Management Division. Expected to be fully operational by third quarter of 2011, the Estate Management System (EMS) will access many of the same land information documents as the Land Titling System, but it automates an entirely different set of workflows pertaining to the functions and duties in the Estate Management Division.

“The Government of Jamaica has the largest portfolio of properties on the island,” said Peter Baker, EMD Manager of Property Services. “EMD handles the divestment and management of those properties.”

As an example of the EMD functions now being automated in the EMS, Baker explained that the division manages the leasing of Government lands. This process is being automated so that notices for payment will be printed and mailed to responsible parties. Presently the system is not being effectively managed, but if a lessee falls into arrears, EMD will be notified by the system immediately so action may be taken. As required, the new system will generate legal notices for delinquent lessees and even initiate eviction procedures.

An Award-Winning Solution

When we started to improve things, [the public] said, ‘Wow!’

In considering the many benefits of implementing Aumentum Registry, NLA’s Elizabeth Stair notes the entire culture within the agency has changed as personnel have become more efficient, but she is quick to point out the ultimate measurement of success is witnessed in the reaction of the Jamaican citizens. Two years ago, NLA was awarded the coveted Prime Minister’s Trophy for best customer service entity in the public service, an honor based on a survey of the general public.

“When we started to improve things, [the public] said, ‘Wow!'” said Stair.

The NLA does not plan to rest on its laurels. The agency has several plans now under consideration to continue building on the Land Registration System.