Working in partnership with DARD, Northgate is delivering a new mobile mapping/GPS system to support its aim to deliver a more effective and customer focused service.
The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Northern Ireland (DARD) aims to promote sustainable economic growth and the development of the countryside in Northern Ireland. The Department assists the competitive development of the agri-food, fishing and forestry sectors of the Northern Ireland economy, having regard for the need of the consumers, the welfare of animals and the conservation and enhancement of the environment.
DARD’s strategic objectives include achieving a customer focused department; well trained, highly informed staff; improved ICT, personnel, finance and records processes; and improved communications with customers and stakeholders.
Within DARD, the EU Area-bases Schemes Division, are responsible for the administration of payments made to farmers under the EU Common Agricultural Policy and under Agri-Environment schemes. It operates computerised systems which support both a Single Farm Payment (SFP) and a Geographic Information System (GIS) for land parcel identification. These systems support anti-fraud and expenditure control mechanisms for the annual £250 million of EU funding payments to farmers.
A major element of these anti-fraud and expenditure controls is on-farm inspections. Around 1,900 land eligibility inspections are carried out each year by the Countryside Management Compliance Branch (CMCB). Following a review of their administrative and technical procedures associated with these inspections, and in response to EU Audit recommendations, a number of areas of work were identified for improvement.
These improvements are designed to:
Provide accurate and repeatable measurements of eligible areas when determining potential financial penalties
Reduce time spent on allocation of inspections to inspectors, preparation of printed maps and claims for each inspection
Improve measuring techniques, audit results and more effective use of aerial photography in the determination of ineligible features
Introduce a more professional process using latest technology
Provide a solution which can be deployed to assist in other areas of inspection
It was identified that a mobile technology solution was required in order to introduce e-inspections. However, there were a number of challenges and considerations before a solution could be chosen.
Deployment for use in the countryside, disconnected from internal systems and operational in all weathers
Ability for Inspectors to use the system for long periods throughout the day whilst walking long distances
Ensuring a secure solution
Limited IT knowledge and skills of inspectors requiring a solution that is easy to understand and operate
Availability of training and support for inspectors
Provision for equipment failure
Requirement for the new system to interface with existing internal systems for upload and download of data.
Northgate, working in partnership with DARD, implemented a new mobile mapping/GPS system, using Northgate’s StruMap GIS software and incorporated with rugged GPS and laptop PC devices for use in the field. The GIS software enables inspectors to access corporate data and use managed editing facilities. With the ability to remotely link to DARD’s central databases, changes can be updated immediately and made available centrally. The new system has the ability to update data using red-lining functionality, enabling inspectors to identify and correct errors thus ensuring improvements to the quality of corporate data.
Phase 1 of the project, which began in June 2009, was delivered to 20 of the 50 inspectors with 35% of farm inspections carried out using the system. The second phase of the project was rolled out in 2010 with 82% of Single Farm Payment inspections completed using the new system. And in 2011 all SFP land eligibility inspections were done using the new e-inspection process. 2011 also saw the incorporation of additional enhancements to further streamline the land inspection processes and potentially allow this new technology to be used for other types of land inspections in the future.
All mobile PC devices contain full mapping coverage of Northern Ireland, including all Ordnance Survey data, aerial photography and all GIS land parcels (fields). In addition, all devices are configured to allow independent, remote synchronisation with the central Single Farm Payment system and GIS. DARD Information Systems Branch (ISB) designed and developed an ASP.NET website system to enable inspections to be downloaded and stored on the mobile PC devices and inspection results to be uploaded to the central Single Farm Payment System.
Security of these devices was also a major consideration due to multiple sites and mobile working resulting in an increase in access points and transportation of data. To address these concerns all mobile PC devices were encrypted thus protecting the data in the event of loss or theft.
New working procedures were developed to support the system along with user training and ongoing support for all inspectors.
The mobile mapping/GPS system has revolutionised the interaction between the Northern Ireland farmer and DARD inspectors. Moving from a paper based inspection, which is slow and unsuited to a modern, the efficient and responsive IT system has changed the delivery and quality of the service by providing greater precision and accuracy of information. It has also met the EU requirement to introduce improved measurement techniques into the inspection process. Using GPS technology has helped in the case against potential penalties from the EU for failure to deploy.
There is now more accurate verification of land area using electronic mapping and GPS – accurate to sub 1m compared to standard GPS devices or the previous paper based solution which are sub 5m. There is also a wider availability of data to support the inspection process and findings can now be summarised more easily. And higher quality business intelligence is readily available and produced more cost effectively, eliminating the manual extraction and collation of data previously required.
Efficiencies have been achieved through less time required to print maps, record file movements, complete report forms and issue findings – essentially making land inspections a paperless process. And the creditability of inspections has been enhanced due to inspectors being better informed, through access to aerial photography and GPS measurement, thus better placed to respond to claimant queries. This in turn has improved communication with farmers, resulting in feedback showing a more professional image of DARD.
“The mobile mapping solution implemented by Northgate Managed Services has enabled DARD to provide a more efficient delivery and quality of service as Inspectors have the ability to complete more inspections in a shorter timeframe. With more precise and accurate inspections of farms, reduced timeframes from preparation, inspection and results and wider availability of data, we have reduced administration time and costs improved communication with farmers.”
Morris Weir, DARD
Branch Business IT Manager
More accurate, consistent, repeatable and efficient inspections
Improved service quality
Improved system resilience
More productive inspectors - more detailed inspections with similar resource
Improved business intelligence