Avoiding Orphans in your valuation practice

I’ve spent a long time in IT (some may suggest too long) and during that time some industry jargon and acronyms have come and gone.

We don’t hear about DOS much anymore and Internet Explorer and Windows XP, once mainstays of our IT vocab have now done their dash. Some terms continue to and probably will stick around. I still want a powerful CPU and an ergonomic User Interface, and my bytes now come in Gigas and Tera’s rather than Kilos and Megas!

The term ‘orphaned’, seems to be more common than it once was. Here’s the Wikipedia description:

”Orphaned technology is a descriptive term for computer products, programs, and platforms that have been abandoned by their original developers. Orphaned”

‘Just a bit of Code’ is a phrase I use to hear all the time as well. Often an existing Excel spreadsheet solution has become too big and cumbersome to be useful and a bit of in-house coding knowledge can lead some to have a go at building their own software solution replacement. This can be very rewarding for both the employee creating the code and the firm wanting a cheap solution to a problem. It is inevitably built with keenness and will often deliver at least part of their desired objective.

With this initial success and having an in-house champion in place will often encourage more resources to be directed at adding new functionality. Now if only your software could also do X as well! Now your in-house code expert is doing less and less of their professional fee earning job and more and more time fiddling with code.

The system is doing the job and although you are reluctant to ask for any new features due to the costs you now know will be involved, for the system to perform it really needs automatic data feeds. You call a company that can provide the data you need and if you are lucky, they have an API (Application Programming interface) as part of their product offerings and for a fee you can obtain data via that. However to do that you have to further modify your product to cope with the new data traffic and figure out how to monitor and manage exceptions. What originally seemed like a cheap option is now costing you way more than you ever budgeted for.

Then the in-house champion gets another job! The software continues to work for a while but then doesn’t. It has become part of your business process and contains key information you need, so you contact a software services company to see it they can get it going again. Their charge out rate and the length of time they take to figure out how to make your software work makes your eyes water, but at least it’s working again… for now anyhow.

Then, inevitably, you are mandated to upgrade your operating system, or your firewall, or your Anti-Virus, or you network provider, or one of any number of other constantly evolving technologies that make up your IT environment and guess what? Your in-house software stops working and this time the crew that sorted you out last time explain that your code needs to be rewritten for it to work in the new environment. This is going to cost a fortune. You decide to throw in the towel on this in-house software and get your data out.
Here at Headway Systems we regularly encounter ‘orphaned software’ stories from the NZ valuation profession. Sometimes we are asked to build data extractions and importers from these orphans into our Valbiz. That’s not a bad option as Valbiz has been around a while now and provides a protective silo for your own data and Intellectual property. We like to think that we are not only making your data easier to find and utilise by matching it to an automatically updating property database, but also that we are future proofing your data.

Headway Systems, which is 50% owned by the NZ Institute of Valuers, was in part created to help that profession avoid these ‘Orphans’. An inclusive development approach has been adopted plus as well as having their own IT staff, Headway and its Valbiz product have an additional tier of support from their software house coding company SSi, and yet another tier of support above that from the Jade Software Corporation, all based in Christchurch.

In summary we’d like to see less orphaned technology in our industry and believe it’s makes business sense to choose a pathway where your costs are known, and your business-critical data is future proofed and for your eyes only. Let’s all hope that within this profession at least, that orphans are a thing of the past.

Glenn Hughes