How has Altis been developing since its initial launch last year? The Society-backed online conveyancing platform is alive and well and looking for new users, as its developers tell the Journal
A year ago the Journal heralded the expected arrival of Altis, a secure digital property platform capable of connecting and supporting solicitors through all stages of a transaction, including registration (“E-conveyancing: the real deal”, Journal, February 2016, 18). The project had won the approval of the Law Society of Scotland as one to support on behalf of the whole profession, but you may be wondering what has happened since then.
After launching last summer, Altis now has a small but growing number of firms using it in live transactions. But to date the developers, ESPC and BDP Estate Agency Software, have been cautious over any major marketing push, as early users test it and suggest refinements. Now, however, they are hoping others will come on board.
In brief, the system enables the keeping of digital transaction files; the creation and secure sharing of documents and correspondence; the completion, and checking, of Registers of Scotland application forms; and, if desired, the tracking by a client of progress with their own transaction. The developers are working with leading case management system providers, so that practitioners can choose to work within their existing processes while making use of the additional Altis functions; and with Registers of Scotland and the Council of Mortgage Lenders, so that information can be automatically transferred to relevant forms.
Interest into adoption
Jaime Hill, head of business development at Altis, has the job of trying to turn solicitors’ interest in the concept into active adoption. There are a number of challenges when it comes to takeup. One is the misconception that it needs those on both sides of a transaction to be on the system before it can be used, as with Registers’ ARTL. In fact, she says, “If the other side is not using Altis, you can still use it to save time and create documents and so on; the system just emails the other side the information rather than them logging in and seeing it.”
Some firms have started off using Altis with a transaction where they are dealing with both the sale and the purchase. This allows staff to familiarise themselves with the platform before starting to use it to transact with others. And trials can be arranged.
Nor is it necessary for everyone in the firm to convert at once; indeed, Hill finds it more common for a firm to have an “Altis champion” – someone willing to get to grips with its workings while others watch from the sidelines. Then there is the simple psychological hurdle of tackling something new for the first time – interestingly, more people came on board during January, one of the quieter months in the property market. The busier people are, the more likely they are to stick with what they know, and put off the challenge of the new.
How much of a change in working practice is it, if a firm already has case management software? Probably not that much: as noted, it may be possible to integrate Altis with an existing system, “so you get the benefits of using Altis without changing the whole case management system for the firm”, as Hill puts it. She notes too that it focuses on the stages of a property transaction rather than providing additional functionality such as cashroom, dealing with wills or any other matters.
Letting the client in
If a client has had regular dealings with a property team up to the point of sale, when their transaction is passed to the legal team they may feel forgotten about as there is less communication. Client login tackles this, but has been a source of caution for some firms. However, Hill stresses that firms can choose which clients to allow access to, if they think it may generate more questions than it answers for the client. What it certainly does not involve, despite some people’s fears, is a client gaining access to an entire database – only to their own transaction file.
“What we say to firms is, you can simply use the login to show the client a breakdown of what’s been happening: it could be something as simple as a checklist to show what has been done, what you’re working on, and it just gives a little bit of comfort to the client, but you’re not giving away too much information that would lead to lots of phone calls that you don’t want. It’s just a different way of working.”
Registers on board
Registers of Scotland is pursuing a major digitisation programme of its own, and Hill assures me that there has been close co-operation between the two projects.
“Do we need Registers? Of course. A lot of the information is stored in Altis way before it would ever get to Registers, but having Registers there able to take that information in the final step is fantastic from the solicitor’s point of view because they don’t have to retype it all into the Registers’ system. Because Altis feeds Registers, it just makes that process seamless. The fact that you can pre-populate simple things like the client address, details, your firm’s details, disposition details, is just such a big timesaver and a massive change in the way that Registers accept the information. It just seems such an obvious thing to do.
“Another big benefit is that the form is self-checking, so it can look through the information and flag anything that might be a problem, any missing information, and I believe should make you less likely to be penalised for a rejected application, which I think is a win-win all round.”
Altis can also be used to request searches. “Altis is all about sharing information, not just with the other side but with anyone who is involved in the transaction,” Hill adds.
And the big question – what does it cost? There is a simple flat rate per transaction – £30 for a sale and £20 for a purchase. That includes the initial connection and training, along with 10 years’ storage of the files – longer is available at an extra charge – and the client login.
That is to avoid there being a cost barrier to small firms.
Jaime Hill is head of business development at Altis