Avoiding Technology Debt

February 28, 2024

By Hoyt Mann

It’s long past newsworthy to suggest that the title industry has undergone a dramatic digital upgrade. In fact, most agree that the first wave of automation has come and gone. While many will ask the question “what’s next?” when it comes to the next phase of digitalization, there is also another significant group of title agents and business owners who are looking back on their technology decisions and investments with regret.

That’s not to suggest that there are still (many) decision makers who wish they hadn’t automated some or all their processes. You won’t find too many executives longing for more manual key mashing or data extraction in their workflows. But you will find an unfortunate number of businesses that, rather than seamlessly transitioning into their new, automated workflows, are learning that their tech strategy was off-target, or that the systems promised them weren’t what they were advertised to be. These are the title businesses attempting to move forward from technology debt.

A business will likely experience technology debt when a business takes on a new technology without allocating sufficient human resources to implement, maintain and/or update the new solution, including adequate and continuous training.

This results in unplanned or unexpectedpossibly expensivemaintenance and a constant shuffle of staff to meet these needs—none of which likely merited a PowerPoint slide during the introductory demo of the product. All of this leads to unbudgeted expense and a dismal ROI for the technology.

Whether a business has selected the wrong product or didn’t understand fully the time, expense and labor the solution would demand after the point of implementation, most technology debt can be avoided. Here’s how.

Don’t start the planning process after you’ve started tech-shopping. Know your business needs first.

Let’s face it. We’ve all been tempted at some point or another during our lives to make an impulse buy based upon great advertising or a cool feature at the source of temptation. We can also agree, however, that procuring and installing a complex technology for a business should be anything but an impulse buy. And yet, otherwise sophisticated owners and agents have occasionally been known to start their workflow overhauls after being convincingly pitched by a vendor at a trade show, or hearing about an intriguing feature of a solution from a friend or colleague.

It holds true in business just as it does in daily living: know thyself (and thy business)!

Yes, few owners would believe (or admit) they don’t really know their operations inside and out. But they often learn—often after spending a handsome sum on a new technology—that they may have underestimated some of their weaknesses or overestimated some of their strong points. Start with an objective, top-to-bottom evaluation of the business. If needed, bring in a qualified, experienced third party to help with the process. The strategic assessment should provide a good, hard look at existing software, any and all hardware, infrastructure and an honest, critical assessment of what the team members can and can’t (as well as will and won’t) do—their capabilities.

The audit should identify any outdated or obsolete systems in place, such as chokepoints in the workflow and areas where manual processes dominate. Anywhere an employee is transferring data from one system to another or extracting and/or inputting data by hand is suspect. When it comes to workflow management, keystroking is always a red flag.

Prioritize Needs and Select Best Route to Optimization

From here, the decision-making team or individual should be able to make a strategic triage of sorts. Which elements of the workflow and operation as a whole need entirely new systems, upgrades or other solutions in order to realize the optimal improvement in the operation. Now is also the time to make the decision to modernize, replace or integrate systems, possibly even outsource. Again, there are any number of qualified consultants and third-party experts willing and able to help and the expense of a great consultant at this stage of the process will be miniscule in comparison to the technology debt that could arise from poor planning.

Once a business has decided on the best solutions for its most pressing business needs, it’s time to shop. This is where “doing one’s homework” is imperative. For example, does one of the pieces in your existing tech stack already have the capability to do the same things the new solution you’re researching does? Many agents and owners don’t realize that their current title production platforms, for example, have other capabilities that could be better utilized or unlocked for a fraction of the cost of buying a new piece. At the same time, double and triple check before making a final decision that any elements of your operation that will stay on after the transformation are and will likely remain compatible with any new elements being brought in.

Traps, Pitfalls and Things to Look For

Beware of hidden costs! How disruptive is the implementation? Can you continue performing the day-to-day tasks of your operation while it’s ongoing? How long does training the team take; how often does it need to happen and, most importantly, does the provider invoice for that? Is the new system relatively “future-proof?” If and when the rapidly escalating pace of digital evolution catches up with your system, is it a simple matter of accessing the cloud or tapping into an open Application Programming Interface (API) to make that upgrade? Is there a cost? Is your provider always on the lookout for improvements and upgrades, and do they keep you informed?

Finally, how easy is it for your team to access the new solution, if needed. The cloud is always a great option, where available, but there are other solutions that allow ease of access and use (including WFH scenarios). Of course, this should be balanced with any potential security issues, depending on what the system does and what access it has to your sensitive data.

Similarly, the User Interface (UI) is one of the main determinants for how well your employees will not only buy into a new system, but utilize it at maximum efficiency. It’s often a great idea to have a few of your key employees—not just executives, but managers, frontline specialists and the like—kick the tires thoroughly before the purchase has been completed.

It has been breathtaking to experience the pace at which the title industry has entered the digital age. There’s still more digitalizationand developmentto be done, however. Avoiding technology debt will be just as critical as agents and owners fill in the remaining gaps in their operations. For those willing to invest the time (and even money) to methodically build their tech strategy, the odds of experiencing technology debt are significantly less. It’s a decision no less important than determining a business model or choosing a growth strategy. There’s simply no place in the process for impulse shopping or hoping it all works out.

Hoyt Mann is president and co-founder of alanna.ai, which provides a conversational ai virtual assistant serving as a communications hub between title agents and their clients nationwide. He can be reached at [email protected] or go to alanna.ai.





Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or [email protected].