Tech start-up of the week:

22 Sep 2013

Co-founders of and PlotBox Leona McAllister (chief business development officer); and Sean McAllister (CEO)

Our tech start-up of the week is, a Belfast-based interactive platform that mines, collates and maps data about graveyards and burial grounds, including photos of headstones and interactive maps. Another strand of the online portal is to help people carry out genealogical research about their ancestors. Husband and wife team Sean and Leona McAllister are behind the venture, which they set up in 2009.

Live for just over a year now, attracts more 4,000 monthly visitors from all over the world, according to the duo. The company name behind the website is GSS (NI).

Wikipedia for cemetery management

The idea is that can map out graveyards, so that priests and gravediggers alike can figure out who has gone before and also what remaining plots are available in a particular cemetery.

Future Human

And in terms of genealogy, the McAllisters are now on a mission to bring their platform into new markets, especially to tap into the big market for genealogical tourism, with Ireland often attracting tourists in their droves to seek out their ancestral past. This is especially true of the year of The Gathering this year.

Well, the idea is that such tourists can carry out some online research before they come to Ireland to visit a particular region, or to places such as a local parish priest for death records, or the genealogical archives in the National Library on Kildare Street, Dublin 2, for instance.

The McAllisters have also pioneered a new service in order to expand the business – this is called PlotBox. More on that later, however.

Genesis of

To give some background, Sean McAllister is a surveyor and engineer by trade, while Leona McAllister has experience in the business space.

According to Leona, the idea for first came to fruition back in 2009 when the McAllisters’ local priest in Greenlough, Co Derry, asked them to help him out with a project.

As she explains: “In 2009 Sean was asked by our local parish priest to carry out a land survey on a local graveyard to help address some issues over space. As it was the family parish, Sean also took photographs of the headstones and transcribed the data.”

She says that the reaction of the parish was overwhelming to what was a simple Excel sheet with hyperlinked photographs.

Helping cemeteries work smarter, faster

This, says Leona, spawned the idea for the duo to pioneer a graveyard management system.

“This would allow parishes to electronically record and search data linked to their graveyard map to replace the old ways of recording in burial books.”

The McAllisters set about fusing their skills so as to produce a database that would be able to record and manage burial information.

The platform, explains Leona, has a particular emphasis on the mapping requirements and how the plots can be interactively linked to the burial records and memorial photographs.

Genealogical tourism …

And here’s where the genealogy aspect come in …

“We soon realised the value for the genealogist in recording the data in such a manner.”

That’s when the McAllisters decided to commission the development of a website.

The idea, explains Sean, is that clients can use the back-end database to manage their burial data and on the front-end display the burial information – think interactive maps and photographs.

And, despite still being in its early stages, the start-up has also managed to glean a few awards. For instance, it won the ‘Innovation’ Award, in the Ballymena Borough Business Excellence Awards in late 2012. Meanwhile this past January, got third place in Who Do You Think You Are? magazine’s ‘Top 50 Websites to watch in 2013’.

Where it’s at

So, what’s the plan for then?

Leona says that to help grow the business and the size of the cemeteries that it could assist, the duo has designed ‘PlotBox’.

This is a cloud-based software package that, the duo say, aims to help meet the needs of any cemetery or burial ground manager, be it a parish, council or a privately owned entity.

“Building on feedback from our existing 30 clients along with extensive market research on cemeteries throughout the UK and Ireland, phase one of PlotBox is due for release in December,” Leona explains.

Cemetery management software

Describing it as an ‘innovate solution’ Leona says that PlotBox will offer one place to store and manage all the operations required by a cemetery, as well as linking the operations to the geographical location of the burial plot.

“The burial records are then directly connected to in order to display the records.”

From here, she says the goal will be to generate revenue from searches.

And, crucially, she says the system GSS has pioneered will respect and preserve the sensitive information held by cemeteries, especially in terms of protecting the records of the deceased.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic