Local Government Magazine
Technology

One-stop-shop for property information

Shifting property information records online has been a long, and sometimes complicated, process for Taupo District Council. Lorraine Wade talked to delegates at the ALGIM Autumn Conference through a project that has been at least 13 years in the making.

For council customers, the need for online access to property information was self-evident. Taupo District Council’s customers include local architects, plumbers, builders, real estate agents and lawyers. They were asking for information in a digital format rather than having to come in to council, view the files, select individual documents and photocopy them. In-house, meanwhile, council staff required information at their desks to process consents.

Some topline figures illustrate the scale of the project to bring documents online:

• Approximately 14,000 paper property files were scanned by 2008;

• Around 18,300 microfiche documents were digitised between 2006 and 2008;

• Building consent envelopes were scanned by 2013; and

• Council started online property files in December 2013.

A team of four employees had started scanning paper property files in 2005, completing the process in 2008 with a high degree of preparation and quality control in a managed process. Staff changed multiple times during the project. All physical files were closed and then only electronic information added to council’s document management system from
2008 onwards.

Microfiche files were digitised by an external provider in 2006 with rigorous quality control.

A group of students started scanning building envelopes in 2011 at the end of the consent process. Then the backlog was scanned in bulk by an external provider in 2013 to the current digitisation standard requirements.

Today, all inwards mail is scanned and most building consent and resource management applications are conducted via council’s online portal.

How

Council first ran a soft launch of the new online services portal by giving access to selected users such as real-estate agencies, engineers, builders, architects and surveyors. Meanwhile, members of council’s customer services team were given access to the portal and took requests from the public.

There was no cost to the customer for the information. And council leveraged the fully-automated LIMs online project integration with its internal information systems and vendors.

Customers can now make a request for information via council’s website. They log in to ‘My Account’ and accept council’s terms and conditions via a Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA) request.

Once into the system, customers can select a property by searching for either an address or a valuation number. They then choose the correct property from the ones shown with the corresponding legal description.

The customer puts in their contact details, reconfirms their email address and will receive an email containing a link to a multiple page PDF of all the public access documents. This PDF is available for 60 days.

Timing of the response is dependent on the size of the property file and how long this takes to generate. Responses for small properties can be instant.

Online property files issued from the start date of December 17, 2013 to December 31, 2017, both from Taupo District Council’s customer services team and online customers. Source: Taupo District Council.

What’s in the property files

• Building consent files; • Resource consent files;

• Health files; • Liquor files; • General property information.

Decisions about which individuals can access which files are made by staff using a security classification i.e. internal or public access.

The system ensures that access to restricted properties such as prisons, police stations, banks and women’s refuges, is automatically excluded.

Statistics & benefits

Just over 7780 applications for property information were made in the 12 months to April 13, 2018. With just 1850 of those applications coming via council’s customer services officers, this shows that the majority are made by customers using the portal.

Benefits to date include:

• Better customer experience – with 24 hour access to property information;

• Freeing up staff time for other projects; and

• Faster generation of LIM reports.

Learnings

1. Staff It is important to have enough staff resourcing for ongoing data integrity. It is also crucial to have a process around splitting property files after a subdivision or cross lease is put into effect. Similarly, make it clear which individual or department creates the new properties, and when and how they should process information.

2. Outsourcing It is imperative to have a close relationship with any chosen vendor. Set clear documented requirements including quality control, 24-hour turn-around for requested data, metadata requirements and a completion date.

3. Future Consider looking at data rather than documents. The documents are not catalogued, they are only listed and in no particular order.

Looking more broadly at possibilities for the future, councils could consider collaborating with other parties on broader ‘one-stop-shop property information’ websites.

Some websites already provide an overall view of a prospective property to rent or purchase. These sites include information and statistics on everything from schools, crime and commuting times, to the age of the local population, cultural diversity and average household incomes.

Maybe in the future, these websites could also carry local authority property information.


• Lorraine Wade is information management manager at Taupo District Council. lwade@taupo.govt.nz


This article was first published in the September 2018 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.

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