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6/13/2013
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Scotland Maps Rural Farms With Open Source, Cloud

Scotland turned to small businesses and new technologies to improve access to data about its crofts -- the country's extensive network of tiny agricultural holdings.

The way Scotland registers its crofts -- its ancient network of tiny agricultural settlements -- has been brought into the 21st century via a cloud and open source mash-up built by small tech companies.

Crofting, a cherished aspect of Scotland's land tenure history, has been subject to special legal arrangements since the Victorian era. There are 17,725 crofts in Scotland, mainly in the Highlands and Islands, and around 33,000 people currently live in crofting households. The legislation governing crofts was updated in 2010 by the Holyrood-based Scottish Parliament, requiring better information for crofters and their descendants to provide certainty on boundaries, ownership and occupancy.

The Registers of Scotland, the arm of the Scottish government responsible for compiling and maintaining registers relating to property and other legal documents, has unveiled a new free-to-search online public register of crofts and common grazings.

To comply with the legislation, Registers of Scotland had to provide easy access to data about some 18,000 crofts and 900 areas of common land across more than three quarters of a million hectares. Users also had to be able to search and explore locations through an intuitive interface that would offer a highly interactive way to negotiate its Crofting Register.

Not only did the end result have to be cost-effective, robust and easy for people to use, it also had to adhere to the guidelines of Scotland's Choose Digital First program, a coordinated attempt to promote Internet use by both individuals and businesses.

[ Want to know about other technology coming into the rural Scottish Highlands and Islands? See U.K., BT Push Broadband To Rural Scotland. ]

The Registers contracted with a consortium of small tech firms led by U.K. IT consultancy Informed Solutions, which acted as prime contractor for systems integration and solution architecture, together with Emapsite, a provider of hosted map services.

The suppliers said the work was based on a combination of cloud and open source technologies that would offer all relevant map data interlinked with property-based "gazetteer" address location data. Some proprietary geographical information systems (GIS) software was also used, notably the ArcGIS platform from U.S. GIS supplier ESRI.

The result seems to have delivered what the Registers team envisioned. "The imaginative use of spatial technology has delivered a new register that provides information on crofting to the public in a clear and readily accessible format," said the organization's registration director, John King.

People now have a highly intuitive and interactive mapping and gazetteer facility that enables them to search and understand croft applications, he said. Among the search criteria are croft names and registration numbers, postcodes, parishes and organizations. Crofts can also be registered on a definitive map-based system for the first time, something the team said will be a great help in the management and reporting of the thousands of crofting applications submitted each year.

Plus, said King, as the solution behind the register has been designed around an "open and flexible architecture," it will easily and cost-effectively accommodate future changes in scale and scope.

This also provides the organization with the building block for other registers, as it looks to progressively transform its enterprise-wide technology estate.

For Justin Hassall, director of programs at Informed Solutions, "the Crofting Register is a prime example of the outstanding results that can be achieved by an agile group of [small and midsize businesses] collaborating with a government department that wishes to achieve transformation, innovation and value through new ways of working."

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