by Curt Szymanski
Understanding the terms associated with data standards does not need to be complicated. If you can picture a plate of spaghetti, you’re half way there.
The list of title standards acronyms continues to grow. TADS, XML, DTD ….SMART documents. What do all these acronyms mean? More importantly, what do title standards mean for your bottom line? What benefits are to be gained by implementing data standards in your organization? What do they mean for our industry?
Standards groups are cooperating and realizing synergies amongst themselves. Our title data language— our dictionary—of title data terms is taking shape.
Now it’s time for you to understand what title standards mean to your business and to the title industry. Now is the time to understand how you can use standards for title requests and responses, title insurance, title searches, title abstracts, electronic recording, and secure documents to benefit your organization.
Finally, you will be introduced to the cooperative approach to standards that is occurring in our industry and understand how technologies like XML and SMART documents really work—in plain speak. You will begin to realize all the benefits to be gained by implementing industry-accepted title data standards in your organization.
Spaghetti and Meatballs
I have always liked John Lennon’s song “Imagine.” So, let’s use a ridiculous analogy and our imagination to make things clear and memorable. I can guarantee you that this one will stick in your mind and help you understand why our industry needs to start using title standards. No pun intended. Imagine a plate of spaghetti. That’s right, an entire plate of cooked, tangled noodles. Now imagine that each noodle carries data from one of the many senders or receivers of data in the title industry. All of the senders and receivers of data are lined up around the edge of your plate of spaghetti.
Each sender and receiver must be connected by a point-to-point noodle because everyone has not yet decided on a single title data language. If you are a sender or receiver, you are holding on to a lot of noodle ends. Every sender and receiver has invested lots of time and money to make sure they can communicate to each other through their point-to-point communication noodle. Senders and receivers alike have to tell each other that they just don’t have time to spend to “integrate” with one another. All that money and time spent between Sender A and Receiver B only matters for communication across that single noodle between A and B. Every sender and receiver speaks a different “data” language.
Senders and receivers (along the edge of your plate of our spaghetti) include the following: abstracters, searchers, title plant and data providers, title insurance agents, title insurance underwriters, lenders, notaries, buyers, sellers, county recorders, industry software vendors, and even the real estate agent.
The data that flows through these noodles is title data currently trapped inside documents, faxes, Web sites, and e-mails—little bits and pieces of information that we use, reuse, type, retype, examine and reexamine over and over. Remember, the data flowing is all of a different “data” language. There may be a few common words here and there, but mostly heterogeneous ones. There are no electronic “tags” on the pieces of data that we all send. It is chaos. It’s analogous to all of us speaking a different dialect and then trying to converse. You get the picture. This is where we are today in most cases.
There is a solution. Enter title standards and XML.
Imagine now an empty plate. You’ve just poured the spaghetti on the floor. Now let’s put a big meatball at the center of your empty plate. One by one, pick up the noodles and connect each sender and receiver to the meatball with a “standards” noodle. It looks like the spokes of a bicycle tire all pointing inward. The meatball is the center and the noodles are the spokes. Let’s imagine now that we have all decided to speak the same “data” language, and title data standards are accepted. Every time we send an electronic document, e-mail, or data stream through our noodle to the meatball at the center of our plate, we electronically “tag” the important pieces of data—so we can find them later on without having to read the document or sift through the data and our computers can do that for us. Think of it as a UPC code for each piece of title data. We decide to all use the same UPC codes so that we can emerge from the chaos. We send our “tagged” XML title data through our noodle to the center meatball on the plate, and it can branch to any of the other receivers plugged into it. The best part is that when the receiver gets our data message, we can decode with the XML “tags” on the data. We can reuse it without retyping or reexamining. We don’t have to have “hardwired” connections and costly custom integration and translation with each sender and receiver.
Now if every “spoke” of our noodles leading to the meatball does this and we all speak the same “data” language, then, finally, we are all speaking the same language of title data standards.
Information Issues in the Title Industry
Let’s continue by solidifying our understanding of the information issues in our industry. I promise…no more spaghetti and meatball analogies.
First, it should be clear to you now that the title industry has not (previously) agreed upon a common core electronic title data language. We have enormous amounts of infor-mation contained in electronically inaccessible formats and forms, including even standard ALTA® forms that we deliver to each other via fax, e-mail, and the Web. To find data, we still have to manually read through word-processed documents, faxes, e-mails, and data streams. Up until now, we have had no common names for data elements; we have no heterogeneous systems and no electronic “tags,” so vendors, senders, and receivers alike all speak different languages.
To complicate matters further, we have no standardization of electronic formats (.PDF, .doc, .TIFF, or .JPG, for example). The visual presentation or document structure of our documents varies widely. Specifically, there is no separation of content or data from the visual representation of documents that we send to each other every day.
Lastly, paper-based products, which we currently rely upon heavily for transmitting our commitments, policies, and title search reports, for instance, are not easily securable, manageable, archivable, retrievable, and transferable.
What are the Technology Needs of the Industry?
Now that you have an understanding of the information issues of our industry, let’s dive in and answer this important question.
Simply stated, first, our industry needs regular and standardized electronic title data and documents. Based on the spaghetti and meatball analogy, would you not agree?
Second, we need to have the ability to ask pointed questions of title information, which is currently “trapped” inside e-mails and word processing documents. What is the policy amount? What is the vesting deed? What is the effective date? What is the legal description? Who is title vested in? We need to be able to harness and use all the important data elements that come out of a title search for later parts of the process in performing an examination, generating a commitment, and generating a policy, for instance. You get the picture.
Next, we need the ability to find information quickly, preferably with computer power and not human power. This information needs to flow seamlessly between disparate systems.
Lastly, we need the ability to quickly and cost-effectively (without typing, retyping, and proofreading) format the information for different title outputs. From the title data, we want to be able to generate paper documents in Microsoft® Word®, .RTF, WordML®, and .PDF format; to generate Web pages, Web portals, and .HTML pages; to populate databases; and to send e-mails, faxes, and other messages with such electronic data embedded in them.
Title standards, XML, and SMART documents are the solution.
Navigating the Standards Organizations Landscape
Now that you have an understanding of the importance of title data standards, information issues of our industry, and the technology needs of our industry, a primer on the industry-wide associations and standards organizations makes sense. It is within these organizations and initiatives that the dictionary of title data terms and elements is taking shape to help us all speak the same title data language.
Whether it is the Property Records Industry Association (PRIA), Title Abstract Standards Initiative (TASI), or Mortgage Industry Standards Maintenance Organization (MISMO), there has been increased momentum in the last year, especially towards the solidification of title data standards. See the sidebar for more detailed information and an update on the individual standards within each organization.
You Don’t Have to Be a Techie to Love XML
Title data standards are based on XML, but don’t worry; XML is just an acronym for eXtensible Markup Language. It is a markup (programming) language that adds additional information to electronic documents. It is a solution to the electronic data “tagging” problem we discussed earlier. The fact that XML separates the visual presentation of information from the content of the document is what makes XML unique. With other technologies for electronic documents this is not true; format and content are intermixed (as within a .PDF file, for instance).
Translation for non-techies…. XML is our friend. XML makes our lives and businesses run a lot smoother and more efficiently if we use it. XML is a technology for describing information as electronic documents that meets the technology needs of the title industry.
First, XML communicates in a way title industry professionals can understand easily. Further, it communicates information to a computer so that a variety of applications including those of the future can use the information. XML is just as much about today as it is about the future. Importantly, with XML one has the ability to utilize the same information data source to produce different types of forms, including word-processing documents, Web pages, Web portals, databases, e-mails, and other autogenerated messages.
XML documents can carry and preserve (title) knowledge, can give order to (title) information, include visual clues about (title) information, are easily read and understood by title professionals, and are easily processed by computer programs. So don’t worry. XML documents have the same characteristics of paper title documents and more!
Here’s an example of XML being used to “tag” the components of part of Schedule A of a title policy. XML can represent classifications, structures, and hierarchies of data in the title documents we use every day. The markup, showing the syntax before and after each relevant piece of data, helps the computer locate, identify, and use this data.-PolicySection- Schedule A -/PolicySection-
As you can see, techies and non-techies can read and understand XML.
What are SMART Documents?
SMART documents provide a technical framework for representing paper documents in an electronic format. This framework binds together data, visual presentation, signatures, and other necessary information into a single, immutable file. SMART is an acronym and describes a type of document that is:
And Smart documents are the paper document counterpart in the electronic world of title data.
What is in a SMART Document?
A SMART document contains the essential information of the title document. First, it contains the XML data (TADS data, for instance). Second, it contains the view of the information, as might be seen on the computer screen (e.g. ALTA® Short Form Loan Policy). Third, it contains crucial linking information to tell other computer systems how the data portion and the view portion are related so that technical business rules can be implemented to allow downstream computer systems to access and manage the data without human intervention. Lastly, a single, signed, and secure file with both the data and view allows us to trust the electronic document as the original.
A document type definition (DTD) defines the five sections of a SMART document, including header, footer, view, audit trail, and signatures. Think of it as five “chapters” in one SMART document.
SMART Documents will revolutionize the Title Industry
We could have a SMART document for any title product, any ALTA® form, any TLTA form, and the like. We could have industry-standard SMART documents or you can create customer versions.
We can have a SMART document for the Title Abstract, Title Commitment, ALTA® Loan Policy, ALTA® Owner’s Policy, ALTA® Short Form Residential Loan Policy. The list could go on and on. That’s the exciting part.
Where we have a paper product now, we will soon have a SMART Document. SMART documents are to paper documents as high-definition (HD) plasma TVs are to regular televisions.
Benefits of These Technologies
Cost Reduction: These technologies are the key to future cost savings in file handling, shipping, and storage. Keying, rekeying, and quality control costs will plummet with their use.
Accuracy/Precision: You can expect significantly less typographical errors as data can be reused if it appears in multiple places. Your documents will be more consistently correct as data can be carried (electronically) forward for future use in other parts of your process.
Efficiency: You will be able to process documents faster and more efficiently. Data can be easily transformed into multiple formats including word-processed documents, e-mails, automated faxes, and Web pages without having to retype it over and over.
Automation: These technologies are at the heart of automating paper-based transactions in the title industry. Standard data tags mean we can take advantage of automated business rules and artificial intelligence. Human operators are spared monotonous tasks and more time can be spent making critical decisions that the computer cannot handle.
No More Paper: SMART documents are easily accessible, retrievable, and archivable. They cannot burn in an office fire.
Security: The secure audit trail in SMART documents reduces fraud.
Speaking the Same Electronic Title Data Language: And most importantly, we can finally all speak the same title data language.
How Can You Help?
For this to work, we all have to cooperate and work toward together speaking the same title data language. Nothing worth doing is ever easy. Cooperation and perseverance are key to the success of this endeavor.
Here’s what you can do to bring this into reality in a short time frame:
Educate yourself and your employees: Reread this article. Pass it on to a friend or colleague. Visit the PRIA, TASI, and/or MISMO Web sites and get better acquainted with title standards. Understand the gains of implementing title standards in your organization.
Overcome your fears: Congratulations! Your understanding of the basics of XML, SMART documents, and title standards is important, non-techies and techies alike. Learn to speak XML or find someone who can. Help others overcome their fear of XML since it is the wave of the future.
Share your knowledge: Participate in the standards process by getting involved in PRIA, TASI, and MISMO by reviewing the standards and providing feedback. Each standards organization in our industry needs your expertise and involvement!
Reengineer your business workflow to integrate technology: Work with experts in this area who understand how to implement/integrate standards to your workflow/business process and achieve a significant return on investment (ROI). Implementing standards within your organization is key for reducing your expenses and running an efficient business and technology operation.
Demand that your title search providers (including title plants) begin supplying abstract data in the standards format: Remember, the title search is where it all starts. This data is used over and over again. Start with XML and make your life easier.
Demand vendor software compliance with standards: Ask your vendors/software providers if they are MISMO/TASI compliant. Vendor integration of standards is essential as different vendor systems need to be able to “talk” to one another, just as our proprietary, custom-built systems need to. -XMLSignOffText- Life is an adventure. Good Luck! Over and Out. -/XMLSignOffText-
Dan Miller is the CEO of RightNow Business Development Systems in Walnut Creek, CA, a company that helps its clients measurably create new revenue through improving sales skills and sales accountability. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.