Queen Elizabeth II speaks with award winners during the annual Civil Service Awards Reception at Buckingham Palace. Credit: Press Association Images

The Queen speaks to Keith Hurst (left), Amanda Light, Ian Howe and Graham Farrant during the annual Civil Service Awards at Buckingham Palace. Credit: Press Association Images

When I was asked to lead a project that would provide customers with direct access to our index map, I never imagined that it would lead me to Buckingham Palace and to a meeting with The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh.

In the spirit of all things digital, I worked ‘virtually’ with colleagues in Coventry, Croydon, and Plymouth. Together, we envisioned, tested and developed MapSearch – an unprecedented, free to use digital service that gives customers self-service access to an online mapping tool. Early and continued customer research confirmed that there was a strong demand for this service and that we were building the right product.

Releasing usable software at the earliest opportunity and continuing to develop it with real user input proved to be a real success. The pace and scale of customer take-up of the new MapSearch service exceeded all of our expectations. Customers made over 3 million MapSearch enquiries last year. So far, customers have saved £2.6 million in fees by using MapSearch over our traditional Search of the Index Map service.

The customer response reiterated what we felt – that we had designed a digital service that was easy to use, intuitive and saved customers’ time.

We were confident that MapSearch could compete with digital services across government. So, over the summer, we put together an application for the Civil Service Awards under the Digital category.

We showcased how MapSearch used digital technology to solve a problem or make things better. That was easy. For the first time, MapSearch allowed users to quickly establish whether land and property in England or Wales is registered, view the location of registered land and property and obtain title numbers, details of freehold or leasehold tenure and other registered interests.

Civil Service Awards 2015 winners. Credit: UK Civil Service

Civil Service Awards 2015 winners. Credit: UK Civil Service

It was with immense pride that we were shortlisted for the award in September. Our competitors were the Companies House service and HM Revenue & Customs’ ‘Your Tax Account’ service. Tough competition to say the least.

The excitement of being shortlisted was soon replaced with the day job. Until, that is, the morning when my postal invitation arrived from Buckingham Palace. The postman probably couldn’t believe his eyes.


An envelope from Buckingham Palace

I had to pinch myself. I was going to Buckingham Palace with three colleagues. We might even catch a glimpse of The Queen.

Invitation to CS Awards & Buckingham Palace

The invitation

On a sunny November afternoon in London, I met up with our Chief Executive, Graham Farrant; Product Owner, Ian Howe; and Business Analyst, Amanda Light. Our walk along The Mall towards Buckingham Palace signalled that this was the start of a most memorable day. We went through security, entered the Palace and took our seats.

The moment I heard MapSearch announced as the winner of the Digital Award is one I will never forget. Accepting the award on behalf of the MapSearch project team is the most rewarding experience in my 38 years at Land Registry.

Whilst waiting to meet the Queen, the significance of what we had achieved started to sink in. The role each member of our talented team played in the process of developing MapSearch had led us to this point.

The Queen meeting Civil Service Award winners. Credit: UK Civil Service

The Queen meeting Civil Service Award winners. Credit: UK Civil Service

Having the opportunity to chat to The Queen was an immense privilege. It later dawned on us that The Queen was one of the first heads of state to use electronic mail at a demonstration of the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), which became the basis for the internet, in 1976.

And the winner is, MapSearch. The award was presented by Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP, (second right). Credit: UK Civil Service

Looking back at how far technology has come and how much Land Registry has grown digitally since we first processed computerised applications in 1986, I feel immensely proud of MapSearch and all who contributed to it. I look forward to seeing how MapSearch grows, how individuals use it to innovate in ways that were not previously possible and to witness it helping to make the process of buying and selling property quicker, cheaper and easier for all.

The Mall from Buckingham Palace. Credit: UK Civil Service

The Mall from Buckingham Palace. Credit: UK Civil Service. See more from Civil Service Awards 2015.

Keith Hurst
By Keith Hurst,
Operations Change & Delivery Leader at HM Land Registry