The future of work includes innovations that will drive customer-obsessed businesses forward. At the top of the list of innovations? Automation and artificial intelligence (AI). While “automation” and “AI” can each (at their extremes) conjure images of a dystopian future or a robot takeover, this technology is actually designed to complement human activities and facilitate person-to-person interactions.  

Businesses across industries are beginning to realize the benefits of automation and AI for improved productivity, flexibility, and cost reductions. As a result, investment in automation and AI are picking up steam. Automation software specifically was one of the fastest-growing industries this year. By the end of 2019, robotic process automation software spending will total more than $1.3 billion and will grow to $2.9 billion by 2021

So what do these buzz terms really mean? And how will they transform the way real estate closings happen? 

Demystifying Artificial Intelligence and Automation

“Artificial intelligence,” “machine learning,” “automation.” These buzzwords—often mistakenly used interchangeably—are driving massive changes across industries. 

The confusion around these terms often leaves people feeling uneasy, imagining transactions devoid of human interaction. In reality, these technology advancements are freeing up employee capacity to move away from tedious tasks such as data entry, calculations, and rekeying to focus on uniquely-human tasks such as communicating with clients and expanding business development opportunities. 

  • Robotic process automation (RPA): software instructs a machine to automatically execute repetitive, manual tasks. For example, in Qualia’s platform, users can add default fees to recurring contacts to avoid needing to re-enter their fees for every transaction. As another example, Qualia’s software eliminates rekeying by automatically placing recurring information (such as buyer name) across all necessary forms. 
  • Workflow automation: software automates the flow of individual tasks to streamline and connect them into a holistic process. For example, in Qualia’s platform, workflows can be automated based on settlement agency, closing state, source of business, and transaction type. If an order opener begins a purchase order in California, for example, Qualia’s system will select and initiate the corresponding workflow for that transaction type. 
  • Artificial intelligence (AI): this is a broad term used to describe machines carrying out tasks that mimic human decision-making, visual perception, and speech recognition. AI goes beyond basic “if this, then that” instructions of automation to make “intelligent” decisions over time as the human user inputs more information and patterns can be deciphered. A common example of AI is Amazon’s Alexa, a virtual assistant that uses voice recognition to complete tasks such as finding movie show times or setting an alarm. Alexa also learns a user’s preferences overtime to provide better-informed suggestions and responses to voice commands. 
  • Machine learning: a subset of AI by which data is provided to machines and they learn overtime. The machine is dynamic, making changes over time without the need for human input. A popular example of machine learning is Google’s Nest thermostat which learns a user’s climate preferences over time and automatically adjusts based on time-of-day and other factors.

What do these terms mean for the real estate industry? While the application of AI is minimal, advancements in robotic process automation (RPA) and workflow automation are streamlining information exchange between parties right now, making real estate transactions more secure and efficient than ever before. 

Application of RPA and Workflow Automation in Real Estate

A typical real estate transaction involves dozens of repetitive, detail-oriented tasks and multiple handoffs between lenders, agents, underwriters, and other stakeholders. Automation is streamlining these time-intensive tasks, allowing each member of the transaction party to eliminate busy work and focus their energy on delivering the best closing experience to the homebuyer. Here are a few ways automation is aiding the real estate closing process.

  1. Completing small, repetitive tasks. Automation follows if/then decisions and rules to complete repetitive tasks efficiently. Tasks like rekeying, moving files, making calculations, and extracting structured data from documents are prime candidates for RPA. When these tasks are automated, it can save teams hours of time on a single transaction. 
  2. Ensuring compliance. Automation ensures a task or workflow is completed the same way every time without errors. This allows businesses to maintain high levels of process-related compliance. Additionally, automated workflows help enforce secure information exchange and apply limitations on who can access highly-sensitive data. Below are a few examples of compliance measures maintained with automation:
    • Secure storage of documents in a central place 
    • Assignment of roles based on user responsibilities and restricted access when appropriate 
    • Notifications when documents are ready for review
    • Error tracking and auditing
  3. Exchanging information between parties. In a real estate closing, up to 12 different parties can play a hand in getting a transaction across the finish line. Automation helps individuals across businesses collaborate by programming workflows that automate the delivery of files to approved individuals across company lines. 

Embracing Automation Today

The beauty of RPA and workflow automation is that it’s not a far-off reality—it’s available now and highly accessible to enterprise and small & medium-sized businesses (SMBs) alike. The application of this technology is game-changing for title & escrow businesses of all sizes. Enterprise businesses are able to move higher volumes through their systems through more efficient processes. And SMBs are able to free up employee time (by eliminating tedious, time-intensive, repetitive tasks) to focus on the most compelling aspects of title & escrow work: problem-solving, relationship building, and improving client experience.