To find out, ask yourself these questions: Is your current system still based upon archaic aspects of MS DOSTM, WindowsTM, or mainframe-based technologies? Are your closers and administrative staff experiencing daily frustrations with the current software closing system? Has your competition migrated to a more modern system, putting your organization at a competitive disadvantage, especially when it comes to customer service? If you answered yes to any of these questions, read on.
Implementing a modern software system to automate and enhance production workflow (order entry, production documents, escrow accounting, event scheduling, title polices, reconciliation, DOC imaging, & more) does not have to be a backbreaking undertaking, if you do your homework and are prepared. Here are a few tips that will help you manage the required reviews and ultimately make the well-educated decision to implement a modern Enterprise closing software system.
• Review Your Current System.
Understand your technology history, including current needs and issues. Meet with your key system users and supervisors to review problems they are having with the current closing and accounting systems. Ask them about workflow restraints and key areas that may require redundant data entry. Review whether the current system locks up often, resulting in lost data and daily rebooting of workstations. Review how much time is required to complete key tasks and specifically which tasks use the most time/resources. Review whether certain tasks are being managed by hand. Are typewriters or word processors utilized for discontinuous/manual processing?
Lastly, review those areas of the back-office (accounting) that are typically prone to errors, including disbursements, trust accounting, or reconciliation, especially when real-time changes are required at the closing table.
• Keep a log.
Keep track of the various issues and concerns with your current closing/accounting system(s) over a two/three-week period by compiling a short list. Solicit feedback from your system/network administrator. Have the system administrator also review any third-party technology requirements that are problematic, and require updates when closing software applications are updated. In many cases, third-party layers of technology add considerable costs and overhead to facilitate closing processing, beyond the obvious performance and reliability degradations that are commonplace with these often complex layers.
Today’s modern title and escrow systems, in the authors view, should not require layers of expensive third-party technologies including database managers, wide bandwidth require-ments for office-to-office central management of data/files, or Web hosting software such as CitrixTM.
• Assign a company project coordinator.
This person would compile the findings from the two/three-week review period into a simple matrix. Ensure the most problematic areas of the current system are clearly outlined at the top of matrix. Below this should be other important processing areas that clearly need improvement. Lastly, areas not present in the current production system (the wish list) should also be included. A one two hour group meeting should ideally be scheduled allowing everyone to compare notes on the current system and to facilitate the building of the technology/processing matrix.
• Weight System Functionality/Workflow.
Top weighting should be given to identify a comprehensive, fully integrated software solution, one that provides all the required functionality and processes seamlessly and in a centrally managed fashion. Do you currently utilize several independent or discontinuous applications to perform a series of required production tasks? If so, there may be processing areas that are most prone to errors or simply eat up considerable resources, limiting overall operational productivity. Are your currently utilizing two separate software applications to prepare the HUD-1 form and, thereafter, to perform escrow accounting? What about reconciliation including daily sweep accounts; how is this currently managed? Additionally, is one application utilized to prepare documents and another to manage event tracking and scheduling? Are executed production documents electronically stored and indexed within the closing system environment, or does this require a separate stand alone application at best for paperless document archiving? These and other key processing areas should be weighed heavily in the matrix, ensuring organization benefits from a new production system.
• Start Review Process.
It is important to review process efficiency, system reliability, high-end functionality, processing accuracy, and overall system cost, including third-party technology requirements, when determining the basic return on the technology investment (ROI). Avoid temptations to get caught up with bells and whistles or features you will not benefit from. Rather, listen to everyone’s concerns but be sure to focus on the items that will positively affect your bottom line and reduce transaction costs. Always recognize that certain individuals, who are a bit anxious for an array of reasons, must dedicate time to learn the new system. The benefits to the company far outweigh aversion to change, and after implementing the new software, these same users are often pleased to be the first to recognize the benefits of the new system!
• Selecting a Software Vendor.
Ask for product demonstrations and detailed software technology reviews from the vendors. Select vendors who are interested in understanding your business model and core needs, technology history, and current production levels, versus those who wow you with the latest buzzwords, such as “ASP.” Investigate software vendor references from your insurance underwriter(s). And contact other settlement/title industry peers who recently modernized their systems and would be willing to share information. It is definitely wise and important to ensure all technology reviews are performed fairly and equally with each vendor to ensure that the best-in-class production system is ultimately selected.
After preliminary discussions and reviews with vendors, it may be a good idea to intelligently narrow down the playing field to the vendors you feel most comfortable with—possibly two or three—for in-depth reviews. Schedule a software demonstration with each short-listed vendor over a one/two-week period on separate days. In many cases, very informative remote product demonstrations are possible via the Internet, facilitating timely reviews. Do not allow too much time to elapse between demonstrations so that the first demo has the same weight as the third, or human nature may work against clean comparisons.
After each software presentation is completed, compare notes as a team and summarize the pros and cons of the respective software vendor as compared to your technology/needs matrix previously compiled. Be sure to include the basic hardware, platform, bandwidth, and third-party technology requirements for each vendor’s software solution, as costs may vary greatly depending on the resource friendliness each vendor provides. Also ensure that any last minute answers to questions are tracked down in a timely fashion during final reviews. Repeat this process for the short list of vendors.
Now that you have narrowed down your shortlist to several vendors based upon initial discussions, reviews, and detailed product demonstrations, it may also be a good idea to request a few customer references. It should be noted that when a vendor makes a general claim about having completed a large number of installations, it does not guarantee the customers are productive and truly satisfied. Further, a newer technology vendor may not have done many installations due to the newness of the technology; however its customers may have benefited greatly from the modern solution the vendor provides. This area may be a trap of sorts, so do your homework.
Lastly, be certain the vendor has a quality software-training program in place, including a well-defined plan to ensure your focus during the software switchover /implementation process. Depending on your needs, this may consist of customer-site training for larger companies or training in the city where the vendor is located and an implementation outline provided to ensure a clean transition.
• Time for a Decision.
Assuming you followed these guidelines, your organization should be very comfortable making a decision on the one vendor who will meet your particular needs. Time to move your technology transition plan into high gear. A well-coordinated, live switchover should be manageable in approximately three to four weeks, consisting of software installation, onetime system/user setup, and user training.
• Something to ponder….
Always keep in mind that future business levels ideally will be greater than current levels, and you should be comfortable in making a well-educated and informed decision to purchase new technology. In the words of Teddy Roosevelt, “In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
Scott Jones is national sales director and Andrew Brooks is CEO for TitleSoftTM, based in Orlando, FL., an Enterprise software-solutions provider to the Real Estate Settlement Industry. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; Andrew at email@example.com or 1-800-529-0585.