Herron Todd White's bet on building from scratch

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Herron Todd White's bet on building from scratch

Going outside the box.

Herron Todd White has embraced the digital disruption of the property sector by embarking on the biggest IT project in its 45-year history.

Faced with an ageing Lotus Notes workflow management system that was failing to meet expectations, HTW decided to take the plunge and ditch an off-the-shelf approach for something more homegrown.

The company's IT team used a mix of Linux, Ember, Ruby on Rails, and Google technologies to build a web-based workflow management application that its 900 staff interact with daily.

Brisbane-based managed services provider NewBase was engaged to deliver an OpenStack-based private cloud environment, while VPN Solutions delivered the firm's Australia-wide private network.

"When it came to the crunch, the decision effectively came down to a choice between buy or build, with the overarching principle that we believe that technology is a differentiator for our industry, and to ensure that we have the best system available, we needed to have full control over it," IT boss Darren Oliver told iTnews.

"There is significant bespoke development required, but by using Ruby on Rails we are able to capitalise on a lot of existing components already built in the form of “Gems” that allow us to speed up our development for common design patterns."

Hawk, as the new web-based workflow management system is known internally, has meant staff can now work from anywhere at anytime, and the firm's clients can receive more accurate data faster.

The IT team, led by Oliver, set down three guiding principles: ensure a single source of truth; understand the business requirements before implementing features; and reuse code and integrate with existing applications as much as possible.

This approach included integrating with Xero for accounting functions as well as Google for single sign on and calendars.

"[The new platform] has meant that our administration staff can focus on those things that add value to our clients rather than waste time double-handling data that is prone to error," Oliver said.

The firm claims that the processing of the hundreds of thousands of jobs it completes each year has been made around 66 percent more efficient.

Some benefits are less tangible, like the ability for staff to work anywhere at anytime, and the flow-on effects of being seen as a technological leader in the sector.

"The property valuation industry, being a very niche industry in Australia, needs to be able to attract the next generation from among other property-related professions, and as such the technology and systems used is a significant aspect of that attraction," Oliver told iTnews.

The next stage of the project, currently underway, is to link the platform up with things like its IP telephony network, Google Maps, and to provide real-time tracking of valuer locations.

Oliver and Herron Todd White are finalists in the Finance category of the iTnews Benchmark Awards. The winners will be announced at a gala dinner at Melbourne's Grand Hyatt on February 17.

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