The Digital Cemetery Plan

In times of digitalization, the question arises of how cemetery management processes can be made more efficient. Stefan Schumacher explains the contribution that digital cemetery plans can make.

“Digitalization” is a topic of great political and social relevance. As an indicator of the importance of “digitalization” in politics, the annual economic report of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy can be used. While the term “digitalization” was mentioned only eleven times in 2014, the number of mentions increased to 62 in 2018, almost six times as many. Digitalization is, therefore, on people’s minds. But what does this mean for cemetery administrations?

Digital Cemetery Management

Even for public and church cemetery administrations, an increase in the importance of digitalization is noticeable. The software company pbsgeo (Cologne) conducted a market study on this from 2016 to 2017. A total of 2,053 administrations were contacted. The conversations revealed that cemetery management programs are used in about 88 percent of cases. Although the numbers mentioned are not representative, they indicate trends that the author believes reflect reality. The topic of digital cemetery plans is also gaining importance.

Some municipalities already have their plans in digital formats, mostly without a database connection. It seems that many administrations still have reservations due to technical hurdles. Often, this is because programs for visualizing cemetery databases do not focus on cemetery administration staff but on civil engineers. Specifically, it is about the user-friendliness of the application.

The Plan Formats

In cemetery administrations, the quality of the existing and occupancy data varies greatly. The following are three methods that will be compared and contrasted:

  • The paper plan
  • The CAD plan
  • The digital plan

The paper plan includes all analog inventory data, such as notebooks, burial books, or other paper documents. The CAD plan serves as a general term for all digital inventory documents that depict a site plan but are not connected to the cemetery database. The digital cemetery plan is a digital plan document in which each grave in the plan is linked to the cemetery database. The aforementioned methods will be compared based on the following criteria:

  • Searching for graves and deceased persons
  • Graphic evaluations
  • Timeliness and versioning
  • Publication options

Different Search Functions

There is great potential to significantly improve cemetery management processes. A simple task, such as finding a single grave or a deceased person, can take a lot of time if the inventory data is not properly organized. Paper plans are often outdated, and the labeling of graves is not uniformly regulated. Thus, search processes with a “finger on the cemetery plan” can take a long time. In some cases, it may even be necessary for an employee to locate the grave in the cemetery. The CAD plan could improve the situation. However, this requires that all relevant search criteria be manually entered on each grave. This allows individual graves to be found by searching the object labels. In terms of user-friendliness, CAD programs are less suitable for cemetery administrations. The main use of CAD is in demanding construction tasks. Therefore, the applications are more commonly found in municipal civil engineering departments or engineering and architectural offices.

In digital cemetery plans, the data set is searched in the cemetery database. The user can then jump directly to the corresponding grave through the assigned grave card index. Search processes are thereby shortened to a few seconds. Particularly when training new staff, the digital cemetery plan is a great support. Furthermore, the cemetery plan can be used to navigate the cemetery database. Grave and deceased data can be easily retrieved with a mouse click on the grave.

Graphic Evaluations

Graphic evaluations based on a paper plan are simple but time-consuming. Simple because theoretically, all that is needed is a colored pencil and a plan copy. Time-consuming because it can take days to color a cemetery plan according to certain criteria. The CAD plan also does not provide meaningful support, as each individual grave must be manually analyzed and colored here as well.

This is different with the digital cemetery plan. It is directly connected to the cemetery database and can thus access all graphically evaluable data. Any analysis, for example, by grave term, status, and condition, can be called up at any time. Graphic evaluations can also be linked multiple times. This allows the simultaneous viewing of several evaluation criteria. For example: Show all row graves in the main cemetery whose usage rights expire in 2025. These analyses are very helpful in the daily work of cemetery management. A strategic orientation of cemetery planning is only possible to a limited extent without these analysis tools.

Timeliness and Versioning

Paper is not only patient but can also be duplicated at will. Thus, it is quite possible that the same plan is available at different locations in different versions. Without specifications, this inevitably leads to contradictory and inconsistent cemetery data. The situation is much better with the CAD plan. Without organizational specifications, it can also be copied, plotted, and sent at will. Since the CAD plan is not linked to the cemetery database, all changes must be made in both the database and the plan. This is avoidable double work. The digital plan exists only once, namely linked to the cemetery database. This ensures that all processes triggered in the database are also directly reflected in the digital cemetery plan. For example, if a grave is newly occupied, this is immediately shown in the digital cemetery plan. Furthermore, the effort to keep the cemetery plan up to date is reduced, as updates only need to be made in one place.

Publication Options

Due to plan corrections, the paper plan is probably not suitable for publication and is primarily an internal working tool. The CAD plan is better suited for publication, as a paper plan with a current plan stamp can be issued at any time, meeting the requirements of published documents. The plan can also be digitally delivered, for example in CAD and PDF formats. The digital cemetery plan offers more publication options. It can be plotted and digitally delivered in PDF, CAD, and GIS formats. Mobile devices, if desired and supported by IT, can directly access the cemetery database. Thus, the current cemetery plan can be “carried in the pocket.” Furthermore, the digital cemetery plan can be published on the internet via a so-called web GIS information system, for example on the administration’s own website. The information to be published should, of course, be reduced compared to internal publications. For example, it could be communicated externally which free graves are still available in the cemeteries.


Digitalization has already found its way into most cemetery administrations. The digital cemetery plan is the next step to significantly improve workflows. Simply by quickly and easily finding grave and deceased data, administrative processes can be significantly accelerated. Graphic evaluations create new perspectives on cemetery data and provide a good basis for the strategic alignment of cemetery planning.

Example of an analysis by grave status and grave name.

Source: Friedhofskultur, March 2018