If independent abstractors are going to take the necessary steps to be seen as valued specialists, as opposed to mindless searchers, it isn't enough to rail against the over-inflated promises of technology. There needs to be a clear understanding of what technology can do. Perfection in the document chain is not a promise that technology will soon deliver, but there are some direct advantages that technology can provide.
Like it or not, the industry is increasingly being driven by technological forces. This happens because our clients understandably want to pay less, get results faster, and ensure greater accuracy. Technology can improve results in all three of these areas, but over-prioritizing the first two values can (and frequently does) undermine the last.
For example, it used to be enough to offer unparalleled accuracy, but speed and price have become paramount to many of our clients. As long as they don't have to sacrifice too much in quality, faster and cheaper will win the day. For clients who value price and speed above quality, off-shore operations can offer labor rates that will undercut any US based search operations.
Technology has facilitated this possibility, but offshore operations pose a significant risk: quality inevitably suffers when there is a lack of sufficient local knowledge. To further complicate the matter, doing business with US based companies does not eliminate this risk. "US based" operations can employ an offshore search team.
It is important to point out that the technology that makes cheaper and faster possible cannot actually improve the reliability of the person performing the search, and in the end, search quality is heavily dependent on the skill of the abstractor. With that said, there are some direct advantages to be gained by using technology to automate or facilitate three main processes:
Theoretically a full implementation of these technologies could leave the customer and the abstractor doing business with one another directly. Ideally it would, but the reality remains that in between the origination of the order and the person actually doing the search there are a variety of businesses, processes, and other factors that all add cost and time to the order. Used effectively, technology can at least minimize the impact of these factors.
- Originating the order - This involves providing an intelligent workflow for those who are initiating the title search. Streamlining workflow is the key objective here, and If the order information can be collected efficiently and passed through the system without having to be entered again, the risk of errors and the cost of redundant labor is greatly reduced.
- Eliminating data entry redundancy - This is either achieved by having searchers in house, using the same software as above, or alternatively, it can be achieved by integrating with the search contractor's internal software. A similar goal is achieved by creating a web-based portal for searchers to fulfill their orders. This solves the company's objectives, but it is a double-edged sword since it increases labor for their independent abstractors, which tends to drive up order costs.
- Facilitating document retrieval and delivery - A variety of market forces have driven more counties to digitize their data and make that data available over the internet. This allows anybody, particularly the customer, to more easily obtain the majority or even all of the required documents for searches performed in those counties. This is dramatically impacting the business.
By understanding the forces of technology that are changing our marketplace and taking advantage of the available technology, independent abstractors can compete in this increasingly technological world. That is why the company I lead exists, but ultimately technology can only be part of the solution. The market needs to see that errors resulting from inexperienced searchers, either in the US or offshore, ultimately hurt the customer (and the consumer in the end).
Independent abstract specialists can and must make the case that their local expertise provides a significantly more reliable result. That is the difference between being an abstract specialist or a mindless searcher. Technology can help you be more efficient, it can help you be faster, and it can even help eliminate some kinds of errors, but only a pair of well trained eyes can provide consistently reliable results.
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