PERSON OF THE WEEK: Amitha Rao is assistant vice president of client systems and data analytics for field services company Safeguard Properties. Specifically, Rao leads data architecture and governance for all systems, with the goal of creating a consistent and reliable information management platform. MortgageOrb recently interviewed Rao to learn more about how technology is helping Safeguard improve its operations and boost client satisfaction.
Q: What is an example of big data being leveraged at Safeguard?
Rao: At our company, we have been using big data and the latest technologies to inform mortgage servicing clients on the status of their properties across the country. For some time now, we have been leveraging that data to be more proactive at properties. Utilizing big data analysis, we can identify patterns, predict behavior, and mitigate potential risks.
Investing in mobile technologies has also helped us gather salient data points. For example, the location of a contractor can now be extracted as a part of the geographic information systems (GIS) built into his or her device. Safeguard's mobile application team continues to upgrade to newer technologies, enabling us to collect salient data without burdening our contractors with extra steps.
Mobile devices in conjunction with our in-house developed mobile applications have also increased the quality of the data collected by our contractors. For instance, Safeguard's mobile apps will not allow duplicate or out-of-date photos to be uploaded into our systems. The apps will also flag any data being uploaded from an incorrect property location based on longitude and latitude or through prior geo-location markers.
Q: How do you use data to drive performance to meet client service level agreements (SLAs)?
Rao: Every mortgage servicing client and investor has its own unique set of regulations and guidelines on how to service properties. Our company's established processes and data collection experience makes it easier to adapt to this multitude of variances in work orders. We collect data, no doubt, but our data collection is very detail oriented and tailored to a very specific need. An example our CEO often uses is, ‘If it is Tuesday and raining and if the door of the property is blue, the contractor needs to do X, Y and Z.’ We have the flexibility to extract those specific client parameters and relay those details to the contractor. Safeguard is able to customize and perform next actions based on various client parameters.
We also track our SLAs closely and take pride in making sure we are on target and above client and investor expectations. The SLA around various processes is tracked and communicated to the folks running the business. If a client's expectations are not met, then, the issues in question are thoroughly analyzed to understand the deficiencies or roadblocks in both data and processes, and mitigating controls are put in place to minimize them. This would not be possible if we were not capturing data at the lowest granularity.
Q: What new initiatives have been implemented to provide timeliness and quality of property preservation?
Rao: In the mortgage field services industry, timeliness and quality go hand in hand. Our contractors are not only ranked on how soon they send us the results from the field, but also by their quality of work. Contractors are evaluated using scorecards that are calculated either bimonthly or weekly. The scorecards are trended to identify issues and patterns and correct any discrepancies.
The contractors are made part of this process through their vendor account managers (VAMs), who review the scorecards with the contractors so that they understand the issues and, if a pattern is identified, modify their practices, as well. For example, a particular contractor might be great at submitting and completing work, but if its work is not up to the standards required by Safeguard and our client, then adjustments are necessary and critical. Utilizing the readily available data from our systems and identifying the issues and solutions, the VAMs can coach and help the contractors to deliver both timely and quality results.
Q: How has information foraging been applied in the industry?
Rao: Information foraging is how people (i.e., data consumers) search for information. A better understanding of search behavior can improve the usability of desktop and mobile applications or other interfaces. This has been a big initiative for us. Because contractors and inspectors are the eyes and ears of the clients and investors, close to 10,000 attributes are collected on a work order. It would be impossible to manually review all of this data and identify risks and patterns. However, we are able accomplish this by utilizing home grown, custom developed, intricate business algorithms.
Having access to a million data points means property risks can be identified and communicated to the client with little or no delay. For instance, we can identify if a property with a sump pump has had its electricity turned off. If so, this is a potential ‘actionable condition,’ and as a result, we can immediately have the electricity reinstated to ensure that the property is no longer at risk.
Q: How has geospatial analysis impacted property preservation industry?
Rao: We have expanded our GIS analysis in the last several years. What began as a solution for clients in managing weather and disaster-impacted properties has led to quality assurance and better service offerings.
Map Alert was our first experience with geo-location technology. Clients log onto the system, and by using interactive U.S. maps, they can view their current properties being serviced by Safeguard, properties that need repairs, bids on properties, grass cuts in progress, properties that are affected by severe weather or properties that could potentially be impacted by severe weather and natural disasters.
Very early, our IT team identified the huge potential for geo-location services in the mortgage field services industry. We expanded its use beyond work orders and disasters into ensuring that the inspectors were at the correct property address and assigning rush or urgent work orders to contractors based on real-time location data, to name a few. These initiatives save both time and costs and also mitigate risks.
Additionally, we began utilizing data visualization. By visualizing order volume, on-time and late percentages geospatially on a U.S. map rather than in an Excel file, we can make more informative decisions on order reallocation, contractor portfolios, timeliness of orders, and cost and volume distribution.
Q: What optimization techniques have been applied to collect data from fields?
Rao: Newer mobile technologies have made it easier for Safeguard and its contractors and inspectors to collect property data in the field. With more than 90% of the network utilizing these technologies, unique metadata is captured after each visit to a property. Coupled with geo-location technology and data analytics, we have continued to deliver the highest-quality results in a timely manner.
Additionally, all of the data collected by our contractors is stored on a faster and reliable network in multi-data centers with flash recovery and backups through a more reliable data storage infrastructure.
For the future, Safeguard is testing the use of video in the field to paint a better picture of property status, the extent of damages and overall property conditions.