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Title Company Workflow Model Must Change

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May/June 1999 - Volume 78, Number 3

by Ron I. Nelson

Most title executives know that the business model which will take this industry well into the 21st century won't look much like the one we have all known for years - decades, really. A year or two ago, few had any clear concept of what this new model might even look like. It was not even clear who the players were going to be. So, what's changed? It's still not clear, is it? But we do know that in the near future, seamless electronic receipt and delivery of information to all participants is a certainty for the settlement of a real estate transaction. It is just a matter of how and when this will happen, not if.

Every time we pick up a business publication, we see another behemoth who has decided to participate at some point in the process of a real estate transaction. Names like Microsoft, Intuit, major banks, mortgage lenders, and many others. We have all gone out to the web site of HomeAdvisor, which Microsoft recently launched, and clicked around. It is an interesting beginning. But rest assured, it is just a beginning. Others we have not even thought about will find this market attractive and once they have developed a presence on the Internet that is viable in our market, it is less and less difficult to add the additional pieces necessary for the one-stop shopping everyone is talking about.

Now, we can all easily say that the reality of this happening is well down the road because most people do not have or use a PC. Every year that goes by is another year closer to when it truly is viable. Meanwhile, there are two key inhibitors to pervasive use of seamless electronic delivery of information in this industry, or any other industry for that matter. The first is a PC in every home/business or at least access to the Internet; and the second is cheap, wide bandwidth available everywhere. Historically, whenever a new, significant technology is developed, it grows slowly to where it has penetrated 50 percent of the households, but makes the rest of the penetration in a very short period of time. If this is graphed, it is the classic "hockey stick" graph. We are, right now, approaching the 50 percent penetration mark for PCs and will reach it in the not too distant future with their price approaching that of an appliance. And consider all of the players in the market, such as WorldCom, who are rapidly stringing fiber all over this world and about to blanket the skies with satellites to give us cheap and wide bandwidth.

What does that mean to you, and how does it relate to workflow modeling? After working with title companies all across the country, I can categorically report that we as an industry are not ready to plug into this digital network of opportunity today. If we do not begin to accelerate our transition to a business model that highly values information, speeds up the velocity of the transaction, lowers cost, and becomes seamless, others will. For the most part, we are still operating in our old paradigm. We continue to produce an incredible amount of paper in a very people-intensive, costly process, devoid of information flow for our employees, far removed from seamlessly serving it up to our customers.

From what we have seen from the work we have done across the country, this means that most title companies must dramatically change their workflow model to support the new business model that is coming. For you, the owner/manager, we believe that this begins with analyzing your present workflow model and tying it back to your financials so you have a benchmark to work from. This is a critical process and one that most of us like to move ahead without doing. The parallel I would draw would be to software development. Too many times, there is an incredible urgency to get started coding, and then the up-front planning does not happen. That is why such a high percentage of software development projects fail. The same is true for changing your workflow model. You must first lay a good, solid foundation for change that will continue to serve you well into the future.

There are many other benefits that emerge from first addressing your present workflow model, if done properly. If you involve people from all levels of the organization, many critical dynamics occur that set up the prescription for success. First, everyone gets on the same page. While you may think you are all in agreement about how things happen today, the reality is that you each have a different model in your heads. You emerge from this process forced onto the same page. That creates tremendous opportunities down the road. You have somewhere concrete to begin, as a united team, and from there you can build a vision for what your model will look like in the future.

Next, you build a team within your company that has gone through the process together. These ideas have not come down from management or been spawned from some remote corner of the company. This team has worked through the process together and arrived at what the workflow model is - together. We find the development of this team to be the most valuable catalyst that can come out of this process.

As a result, the next benefit is that employees begin to see ways to improve the model in that same team environment. We find that when we come back in the wrap-up meeting for an engagement, there are no surprises when we review the list of suggested changes. There is tremendous power in that. What almost always stands out as the area for the most improvement is reducing hand-offs. Every time an order is handed off in its lifecycle, you have slowed it down, added cost, reduced quality, reduced customer service, taken yourselves further from seamless electronic delivery, and increased your chances of losing the order.

Now that you have your workflow model, it is critical to tie it back to your financials to validate the work you have done and to set benchmarks and goals. You want to be able to come back in six to twelve months after you have begun to make changes and take another look at the revised workflow model, assessing the impact of those changes against your financial picture.

Now comes the dicey part - implementation. This is where the rubber really meets the road. Your team has been able to understand the model today and determine where they want to begin to change it. Generally, they are attacking hand-offs because this is where you will make the biggest impact, move your people closer to the customer, create ownership, and increase customer satisfaction. Now you have a road map, a team, and a view of what changes to make. What's left is to begin the process of making those changes, and this can be very difficult. It requires the will of everyone involved to stay the course until you have been able to significantly change your workflow model. Too often, we want to make all of these changes at once. That is a prescription for failure. Select a number of breakthrough projects that all lead you toward the model you have developed, then take a very disciplined, consistent approach to successfully completing these projects.

When you have accomplished these changes in your organization, you will have changed your workflow model and your culture, and you will be ready to move aggressively toward the information flow model that we discussed earlier in this article. Don't make the mistake of just trying to throw technology at your present workflow model. You would probably fail, or at least be very unsatisfied with the results. Our clients are in agreement that while technology is a key enabler and is driving alot of change, it is also not a silver bullet. Quite the contrary; improperly implemented, that silver bullet might go right through your foot. Begin with your workflow model - it will pay huge dividends.

Ron Nelson is Vice President of Consulting for InfoStream, the largest, independent title company software development and consulting firm located in Tacoma, WA. He can be reached at ronn@infostr.com  or at (800) 877-7667 ext: 106



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