B.C.’s land titles registry project takes old-school paper system to the Web

Change can be good, but it’s even better when it’s well managed.

The British Columbia Land Titles Office has spent years putting together a strategy to take its registry system online.

This past April, the project went live and is rapidly gaining the attention of thousands of applicants.

“”From our side, we were a little bit concerned about our attrition forecast,”” says Darcy Hammett, director of registry programs, standards and policy for B.C.’s Ministry of Sustainable Resource Development. Automating and decentralizing parts of the process was seen as an important way to help free up staff time.

“”We knew we couldn’t have a land titles office in every location in the province.””

Originally, users could do a name and title search online, but that solved only half of the problem, Hammett says. “”You could retrieve but you couldn’t submit.””

Receiving documents proved to be much easier than sending them in, as official forms require signatures and a consistent means of ensuring their accuracy.

Rather than spend time and money on building an in-house forms package, the organization opted for Adobe Systems’ Acrobat application in early 2000. The office had already held a failed RFP process back in 1998. A winning bid was accepted, but no deal could be worked out with the systems integrator in the end, Hammett says. “”We simply couldn’t come to a contractual arrangement.””

Also important was keeping the look and feel of the forms intact. Electronic and paper versions had to be identical, Hammett says. “”It was strictly for the purposes of change management.””

This meant keeping demands for new features at bay in order to make new Internet users comfortable with the electronic process.

“”Culturally, we have an affinity with paper,”” says Mark James, national account manager for Abobe Systems Inc.

He says the Adobe pdf format lets users fill in forms on their own time, since it can be saved and accessed later on if a user needs to find additional information while submitting.

The project has enjoyed early success. In the first eight weeks of operation, more than 6,400 electronic filings were submitted, Hammett says.

The forms contract is associated with a much bigger IT project — the B.C. OnLine initiative, which handles up to a million electronic transactions annually for the provincial government.

While Hammett would not discuss the costs of the Adobe component, he did say there were benefits for users and service providers alike.

“”The soft benefits are something more than the hard dollars saved.””

Filing times have been shortened and courier costs eliminated by switching to electronic submission, Hammett says. Ultimately, he’d like to see 80 per cent of the office’s transactions handled electronically, but is looking for a 30 per cent rate within the first year.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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