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Offshore Data Entry & Title Plant Automation:
A New Direction

by Virendra Nath with Caroline Wright
From Title Technology, a national magazine for the land title industry.
This five-part series began publication in April 1998. Reprinted with permission.

Part I of V: An Introduction

The title plant manager works harder than ever these days. His plant must be accurate, up-to-date and easily searchable. In an increasingly tight labor market, he is charged with keeping his data entry and examination units trained and staffed. He's responsible for keeping abreast of the latest technology, and he might also be thinking about the move from microfilm to imaging.

As competitive pressures lower the company's fees, his operating budget may shrink or stay flat, and he has to figure out how to do more with less, while continuing to meet the company's strategic goal of expanding operations into neighboring counties. If the plant is using an outsourced service, he is no doubt painfully aware of the obsolescence of his legacy programs --- perhaps written in the 70s or 80s --- and he may be preparing, nervously, to upgrade.

There are no panaceas for the plant manager, but new technologies and innovative processes can help him with his challenges. This is the first in a series of articles that will show how a plant manager can improve his company's base information technology, work around labor shortages, convert from microfilm to imaging, and implement systems that will allow his company to expand its geographic reach.

From Anachronism To State-Of-The-Art

More than just an assortment of documents, maps, old policies and index information, a title plant is the engine that drives the efficiency and reliability of the insuring process. It's a corporate asset with a tangible value of its own, and one that can provide title companies with a profit center.

In 1996, the Attorneys' Title Insurance Fund, Inc., an Orlando, Florida-based underwriter, realized nearly $3 million in income when it made many property, tax, and other records available, online, to a client base comprised of select outside commercial businesses and government agencies. The Fund's Data Marketing Services Department serves clients like Notice-To-Owner companies, the Florida Department of Transportation, property management companies, investors, and private investigators.

The company's focus on automation has helped it attract and retain 26% of the Florida title insurance market. Michael Hammond, senior vice-president of The Fund, says, "Our guiding principle, since punch-card operations in the 1970s, has been to automate as much as possible. We are providing our clients with unique advantages in a highly competitive industry." Quaking towers of documents and millions of yards of fragile microfilm must disappear before the title industry can shed its anachronistic image, and start capitalizing on its most important asset - the information contained in the title plant.

In the 60s and 70s, computerizing a title plant meant the purchase or lease of a mainframe or mini-computer, and the development of semi-customized software. A modest implementation might cost several hundreds of thousands of dollars, an impossible sum for many title companies.

Today, the price of an automated plant can be less than $100,000, including costs for software, hardware, training and customization. Many excellent off-the-shelf software packages are available to companies planning to automate their plants. These packages are considerably cheaper than the customized software which dominated the past. Processing power has grown exponentially, with a simultaneous decrease in cost. Today's Pentium PC is every bit as powerful s yesterday's mainframe, and can be purchased for less than $2,000. Training is easier because standard tools are used to create and customize systems; hence, more people have trained on Windows-based PCs and know how to generate reports and other material that a title company may need. Improvements in networking and communications technology have also favorably impacted the cost and efficiency of automation.

Now that the cost of title plant automation is dramatically lower, it is a viable goal for even the smallest companies. Three critical enabling technologies and services will allow a company to take its title plant into the future:

  • The conversion of microfilm to digital images
  • Offshore data entry
  • A computer system and associated procedures that make the new methods work
Using Offshore & Imaging to Create Completely Automated Plants

Much has been written about digital imaging and how it can help a title company evolve beyond traditional search methods. Digitizing microfilm makes title searchers more productive and streamlines the company's workflow, because . . .

  • searchers can view documents onscreen, and easily select and print those needed for the examination.
  • multiple searchers can view the same database at the same time, making more efficient use of searcher time.
  • properly indexed image plants should have no misfiled documents, and this, in turn, hastens searches.

Though costs continue to drop, imaging is still quite expensive. By itself, imaging does very little to address the title company's labor issues. To make full use of scanned microfilm images, those images must be properly and completely indexed, and the resulting data and image file must be tested for integrity.

Indexing microfilm or scanned images to build a title plant, or to maintain it on a day-forward basis, is a labor-intensive data entry task. In the past, offshore data entry wasn't a viable service alternative for title companies, for these reasons:

  • Title documents are complex, and data entry operators must have unique skills and training to extract information correctly and reliably from these documents.
  • Policy dictates that a title plant's date generally should be current to within 24 hours of document recording. The process of sending film, via courier, to an offshore firm adds another three or four working days to the plant date.
  • The plant data is a huge asset of the title company. Allowing it to be keyed by staff in another country is a leap of faith which, historically, has been difficult for title companies to make.

Conversion from an existing computer system to a new system which incorporates data and images is a formidable undertaking. It requires re-engineering the company's procedures, re-training the staff, and a fairly long process of implementation. However, the combination of offshore data entry, imaging, and new systems can actually save money, provide better title reports and set the stage for future growth.

Pioneering New Methods and Procedures

This article is the first in a series of five that will explore, in the coming months, the world of offshore data entry, electronic imaging and other title plant automation techniques and opportunities in several different contexts:

  • An examination of the history and evolution of offshore data entry will help illustrate its viability as an important new alternative in automation and maintenance of title plants today.
  • Going out of the country for backplant automation is becoming an increasingly attractive option for U.S. title companies.
  • Transferring day-forward maintenance to an offshore firm can cut down a title company's data entry costs by approximately 50%. These massive savings may pay for the conversion to an image-based title plant.
  • Case studies will demonstrate the successful use of offshore data entry by several title companies.

The weary title plant manager may find that offshore data entry represents an efficient, cost-effective solution to many of his more challenging dilemmas.

Please look for the next article in this series, "The Evolution Of Offshore Data Entry", in next month's issue of Title Technology.

Mr. Virendra Nath, President of HDEP International, is a member of the Title Team, a collaboration of three companies pioneering new methods and procedures for title businesses to make the shift to offshore data entry and imaging for day-forward plant automation. Caroline Wright is a freelance writer; her company, WRIGHT FOR YOU Copy Development and Word Services, is based in Conway, South Carolina.