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NatureScot Applies Informed Solutions’ AI-Based Decision Support Platform on AWS to Enhance Environmental Decision Making

NatureScot, Scotland’s nature agency, chose AWS PartnerInformed Solutions, for a solution to support environmental decision-making, who proposed an innovative, cloud-based, AI-enabled information service built on Amazon Web Services (AWS).

The agency, responsible for the protection of the country’s natural environment, had begun receiving increasingly numerous and complex applications for land use changes, with staff struggling to find the time to resolve each one. Each request meant lengthy investigation times because critical data was located in different places in multiple formats—both structured and unstructured—across on-premises legacy systems, making it time-consuming to find the information required to support decision making. “We needed to improve efficiency and support decision making for land use inquiries,” says David Genney, protected areas and surveillance manager at NatureScot. “We also needed to free up staff time spent on casework to resource an accelerated response to the nature and climate emergency.”

To solve these issues, NatureScot wanted to harness innovative technology and data science, and needed a partner with AI expertise to help it develop a solution that would best meet its needs. It decided to put out a proposal through the UK government’s GovTech Catalyst initiative, a £20 million fund that helps public bodies solve complex problems—called challenges—using innovative digital technologies.

The GovTech Catalyst initiative invites a number of organizations to provide solutions in a competitive selection process. NatureScot chose AWS Partner Informed Solutions, which proposed an innovative, cloud-based, AI-enabled information service built on Amazon Web Services (AWS). The proposed platform included the latest advances in AI, data analytics, mapping, and satellite and earth observation imagery to simplify and resolve complex customer queries. It also provides advanced support for NatureScot’s case officers to make decisions on planning applications across the whole of Scotland.

Informed Solutions created a new platform, now called InformedDECISION, built on AWS. The platform was developed iteratively, engaging NatureScot’s customers and staff in a user-centered design, research, and development process, explicitly considering pain points to ensure the service addressed all issues to speed decision making. “Informed Solutions clearly demonstrated that they understood our needs,” says Genney. “It was clear to us that their platform would drive the consistency and efficiency we needed to process customer requests.”

Informed Solutions linked NatureScot’s casework management, document management, and geographic information systems using APIs to continually ingest hundreds of thousands of documents and process data for faster decision making.

For this, it uses a range of highly scalable serverless capabilities based on AWS Lambda, to run code without thinking about servers or clusters; AWS Fargate, to provide serverless compute for containers; and Amazon API Gateway, to manage, orchestrate, and secure complex API interactions at any scale. “We had to build a map from a wealth of data that included different species, places, operations, people, and business activities,” says David Lawton, technical director at Informed Solutions. “Combining AWS services with our own technology has allowed NatureScot to support all stakeholders in processing land use applications much more efficiently and effectively.”

According to Informed Solutions’ estimates, the InformedDECISION platform will cut pre-application processing times by up to 50 percent by minimizing the number of unnecessary and non-relevant applications and queries. It is also expected to reduce application review times by up to 50 percent, by identifying and notifying people when applications have been completed incorrectly—and by automating the prioritization and routing process.

Using Informed Solutions’ platform, NatureScot has improved digital access for individuals submitting applications, by providing self-service tools to access land use information. Faster data access also means that agency staff can now perform searches in minutes rather than several hours. This allows NatureScot’s officers to spend more time on policy and high-value initiatives such as supporting the Scottish National Planning Framework and 30 by 30, an initiative that aims to protect 30 percent of Scotland’s land and sea for nature by 2030. “Previously, we spent lots of time searching different systems to make decisions,” says Genney. “Working with Informed Solutions and AWS, we can make better sense of information, so our experts can make a positive difference to the environment and on climate change.”

NatureScot, with Informed Solutions’ help, is in the process of rolling out InformedDECISION to its National Operations South team. This involves streamlining communications with other key agencies and local authorities within Scotland. NatureScot plans to expand its use of AWS in the future, with the expertise it has gained from the new platform. The agency is looking at growing its use of machine learning and AI and increasing its ability to gain deeper insights from its data to further enhance decision making.

Based on the experience of building the InformedDECISION platform on AWS for environmental asset management, Informed Solutions is now in discussions with similar organizations that need to make important decisions based upon large volumes of distributed information.

With NatureScot able to do more with the same resources, it is now well placed to roll out its new platform across Scotland with its existing number of internal employees. “It’s not always easy to achieve wholesale change in a governmental organization—with Informed Solutions and AWS, we’ve seen that change,” concludes Genney. “It’s a massive achievement and one we’re hugely proud of.”

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