SharePoint used to Manage Real Estate Closing, 5 tips to Consider


So I am currently going thru the home buying process. Yahoo right, well it is a painful process in general all the paperwork, emails, phone calls.  There has to be a better way.  Well I did some research and found a few forums discussing options, and a few companies that are doing some loan document management via Online Portals.  So the question had to be asked:

“Can you do Real Estate Closing Documentation and Process thru SharePoint”

Let’s talk about this in 5 steps.

Licensing for SharePoint

So the first hurdle for using SharePoint for such an ambitious process is the licensing question.  First is what version or flavor of SharePoint are you leveraging for this project.  This is really a two part point, question of functionality you will have at your disposal for the solution, and what costs will be attributed to doing business this way.

Version = Functionality = Cost

Take in context the use of SharePoint 2010 Foundation, this is the free version of SharePoint.  You will be able to do this without licensing costs, but the functionality is very limited in regards to Reporting, Publishing, Workflows, etc.  Now if you are using SharePoint 2010 Enterprise with Extranet licensing you will have the everything (the full power of the this operational battle station), but the cost can be high.  Consider your requirements, consult your Microsoft Sales Rep, and your Architect and make a educated decision.

Collaborative Experience

So what kind of SharePoint portal are you building?  Great question it really does depend on what you are committing to via Licensing.  Many go with the option of the following to cut costs.  You land on the company public website (not in SharePoint), login into a Customer Portal (still not in SharePoint), you are passed to a Customer Extranet Portal (in SharePoint).  This allows the company to extend the brand all the way thru the login process, but once the customer arrives at the Closing Management Portal, then now experience a different message and brand.

You will also need to ensure the IA (Information Architecture) supports your business process.  This should not be considered lightly.  You need to make sure your UX here is solid, it is not confusing, and the method of collaboration and communication your organization wants with your customer is PERFECT for YOUR Business.

Many have also leveraged a SSL VPN for access, this gives them a Secure gateway experience, and brings them to a Intranet Portal that can built around this process.  This does cross the Access and Credential point below.

Access and Credentials

So now we need to discuss access.  One of the worst things you can do is create a great portal no one has access too, right.  Well this can be a big discussion on how you do it, or what is best.  There really is no Best Practice or Golden Rule everyone should follow. Why, because the process needs to fit your business.  I have seen a lot of folks using the SharePoint 2010 Claims based technology here, and ADFS to support a seamless experience, secure method of account management.

As discussed in the above point, you can also manage these accounts via AD and SharePoint Profile Services.  Setting up a profile for each user, allowing them to maintain some information, and access via that SSL VPN.

So as you can see options aplenty.

Document Retention and Audit

Document taxonomy, and records retention.  So all the documents, communication, and SharePoint Artifacts can be RECORDS therefore are legal documents.  You need to make sure you are using Content Types, based on your Records Schedule for Paper and Digital Assets.  Based on the version of SharePoint you can use the Records Center, and Content Type Hub.  Other options do include custom solutions, workflows, and services.  You do need to keep this as a key MUST if you are going to do this.  You MUST be audit compliant.  This follows the same process as paper files, file cabinets, banker boxes of files, and your email communications.  So do not skip on this part.

Workflows and Notifications

Last bit is workflows and notifications, if you are going to build this system to handle the document process consider tying in part of your notifications.  A person can come to there dashboard, and see where they are in the process.  They get metrics, status updates, notices that they have an outstanding document they need to sign.  Things like this make people feel good about this long and scary process.

Second is workflows, if you have folks scanning, and uploading files, make sure you are having workflows that follow approval and signature processes.  This is a great way to create customer Visual Studio workflows that can streamline and document your processes.  This is a great way for your business to cut time and costs so take advantage of it.

Conclusion

SharePoint might not be your first thought when considering this option or way to do business, however it makes a solid platform to not only handle the Document process, but sales integration, vendor management, project management, records management.  Consider the all around benefits to the platform before you stop at the Licensing discussion.

Remember that many of the top AmLaw 50 firms are using SharePoint at their main system, so they have already kicked the tires.  Also last but not least, consider the OOB options versus customizations, because once you start down the custom process you cannot stop.

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