By Colin Marrs

26 Aug 2015

By taking an agile approach and turning to the public for help with a new property app, the Land Registry scooped last year’s Civil Service Award for Innovation. Colin Marrs finds out more

Consulting customers pays dividends. The Land Registry was last year handed the Civil Service Award for Innovation after creating a new app to help fight property fraud. The idea was crowdsourced from the general public in 2013, leading to the creation of software alerting owners to unusual activity relating to their property. As Lynne Nicholson, head of data products and services at Land Registry, explains, “more than 70% of our survey respondents wanted an alert service of this nature”.

Coincidentally, the technical team at the body had realised that users were having trouble registering on its website and had begun work on a solution. Initially the team behind the property alert got involved with that work, but soon realised that it would be better to change direction. “We decoupled the project and designed our own lightweight solution because the existing work was focused on business customers,” says Nicholson.

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Following an agile development process, the team continually canvassed the public to source ideas on the look and feel of the application. “What we had to do was design a product specifically with members of the public in mind. We had done work with the private sector before but the public  was a new sector to us, and one where not all were familiar with web technology,” says Nicholson.

The minimum requirement established at the start of the process was that the app needed to send an email notification of activity to a property owner within five seconds of activity occurring on their account. “The actual message had to be in plain English and let people know what to do in response,” Nicholson says.

The system relied on using the Land Registry’s existing database, which is updated every second. Linking the app to that database proved the main challenge, according to Nicholson. She says: “We were using open source that our team wasn’t initially used to using. It was a hefty piece of work and that is what took up the bulk of the time.”

With a limited marketing budget, the team had to look at innovative ways of raising awareness about its new product. “Everything had to be earned,” says Nicholson. “We used social media channels and produced a short video in-house to reach a wider audience.” In addition, conveyancers have been encouraged to promote the app when meeting with clients.

Users can have up to 10 properties monitored – an increase from the launch total of three. And the service now has more than 20,000 subscribers. “We set up about 265 new accounts every week,” says Nicholson. Ongoing work and development is set to include a new text alert service, in an attempt to improve the service. “We are never going to get rid of fraud completely, but this app is really important in maintaining the integrity of our register,” says Nicholson. 

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