Today’s monthly series reveals how managers deal with business problems and enhance
performance. In this issue, Brendan O’Keefe, staff relations manager at
Registers of Scotland, explains how implementing an IT strategy has the
potential to open new doors for business – and for employees
of Scotland (RoS) is the executive agency responsible for framing and
maintaining records and registers relating to property and other legal
proceedings in Scotland. It currently employs about 1,400 staff. With many
processes largely unchanged since the turn of the 20th century, the creation
and maintenance of records had remained a manual job. The checking of deeds,
archiving of information and search of records has traditionally involved
plenty of book work and cutting out and glueing extracts into bound volumes.
The Land Registration
(Scotland) Act 1979 heralded the introduction of the Land Register,
fundamentally altering the process of property registration. Since then, RoS
has been undergoing significant change and development, including the introduction
of a complete IT infrastructure to replace the old- fashioned manual systems.
The transformation of
business in this way can be an unsettling time for employees. With a
traditionally low turnover of loyal staff, RoS was keen to introduce the IT
infrastructure without alienating those with few or no IT skills. There were
also fears among employees that the automation of previously labour-intensive
tasks might result in job losses.
RoS needed to find a
way to address these issues without restricting the implementation of the IT
infrastructure. Radical change was necessary, but employee confidence and
loyalty had to be maintained.
How we implemented the
With technology now
such a key driver for business and the economy, it is easy to forget that there
are companies that still rely on a more manual, methodical approach. It is easy
to assume that most of the UK’s workforce is computer literate, or at least
understands the benefits such technology can bring. However, businesses that
rely on the manual, accurate and careful archiving of records also rely on
meticulous employees. The assumption that a computer can more effectively
undertake their detailed work is not only undermining, but also not always true.
The phased nature of
the introduction of the new Land Register to the whole of Scotland led to RoS
embarking on a plan to transform business over a reasonably lengthy period.
This enabled RoS to ensure that employees could benefit from a full training
programme, as well as roll out the technology in a controlled environment.
There had to be a
level of understanding for those employees that would find the transition from
glue to "cut and paste" a difficult and intimidating one. Even so,
with one of the largest scanning operations ever to be undertaken, the
transformation from dusty files to high-speed computers required the hardest
work of all. At RoS, the transformation benefited from the input of employee
experience in finding the best ways to input and utilise records.
One of the key drivers
for the development programme was formulating new ways to align the agency with
customers’ needs. RoS could see the benefits that the new technology could
provide in terms of better communication, not just internally but with customers,
new clients and other land registry organisations. In implementing the change,
there was a focus on finding ways to improve the service rather than simply
bring it up to date.
This focus on the
improvement of service and communication meant that the training and
development of employees involved more than just learning a few computer
skills. The technology could open the door for employees to gain confidence and
to develop skills in related areas such as customer management and project
work. This had the potential to develop employees who excelled in one key area
of work but had little experience of other job opportunities. Far from making
employees feel redundant in this new high-tech environment, the idea was to
open new doors, not close them.
Positive outcomes for
technology replacing individuals have been proved to be unfounded. The
introduction of the Land Register has meant that the registration process is
initially more time-consuming, with efficiencies realised in all subsequent
With the introduction
of computers and the development of new services, there is still plenty of work
to be done and, although a redundancy plan was formulated in advance of the
process, this has not been needed.
The technology has
opened doors for employees. Although there are still routine tasks to be done,
there is greater flexibility and potential for job variety. The customer
service side of the business has grown dramatically. New customer service
centres have opened in Glasgow and Edinburgh and RoS is at the forefront of
innovation in providing comprehensive on-line public access.
As well as providing
greater public access, internal communication has improved with the
introduction of e-mail and a company intranet.
Now considered one of
the leaders in its field, RoS is in regular contact with similar agencies
worldwide, improving not just the reputation of the agency but helping staff to
be more outward-looking and to gain confidence in the new systems.
The transformation of
RoS is well on the way to completion. The ongoing development programme for
employees will ensure that the IT infrastructure continues to create
opportunities and drive the business forward.
Although the working
environment has changed at RoS, employees know that they are still the most
important asset to the organisation. The computers are doing a good job at RoS,
but without the support of staff, Registers of Scotland could not have become
the respected agency it is today.
Top Tips: Establishing
IT without fears and tears
Involve people – try to understand the fears of employees and address them
before the technology arrives.
– Investment in
comprehensive training, delivered at the right time, is essential.
– Ensure that one of
the benefits of new technology is the improvement of the working environment.
– IT is not an obvious
domain for HR involvement, but its role in gaining employee confidence and
encouraging development cannot be underestimated.
of Scotland is hosting a Best Practice Club case study day on 27 September,
where participants can learn more about the impact of IT on company culture.