might be a string of characters that always follow the seller's name. "That's why historical information and having enough volume to be able to pick up patterns becomes important," Walker said.

Learning the Formats

Before a customer starts using Automated Indexing, Hart InterCivic typically runs a collection of archived documents through the system to get the software familiar with the formats that particular county employs. "We try to process at least 50,000 documents, going back in time, before we ever go live with the system," Walker said.

Alameda County chose about 15 of its most common property documents, including the deed (title transfer), deed of trust (mortgage documents) and deed of conveyance (indicating that a mortgage has been satisfied), Jones-Williams said. Hart InterCivic ran about 30 days' worth through the software. "When it was installed, it was already familiar with many of our documents," she said. "It knew what to extract and where to go look for it."

Today, for each newly scanned property document, the software automatically populates the indexing fields with the required data. It then presents that document and the indexing screen to the operator for verification. The software highlights the indexed data on the document image, so he or she can find it quickly. The clerk then verifies that the entries are correct, in which case, the clerk moves on to the next document. If the software makes a mistake -- placing data in the wrong field, for instance -- the clerk corrects the entry by retyping or dragging data from the document image to the database screen.

Automated Indexing archives those corrections and uses them as learning opportunities. Every 90 days it updates its knowledge base, so its ability to extract the necessary information continues to improve. Because of this, performance has improved since Alameda County started using the new module in November 2003, Jones-Williams said.

A Clear Difference

Productivity has improved as well. Once the staff became comfortable with the new process, and Hart InterCivic helped the county make some system adjustments, the pace of work picked up. By February 2004, there was a clear difference, Jones-Williams said. Part of that difference occurred because the rush to refinance tapered off, but the Clerk-Recorder's Office still processes a healthy 2,000 to 2,500 documents per day, she said. Even so, it has reassigned its three temps to other activities.

Title insurance companies also use Automated Indexing, Walker said. The software helps them assemble 30-year histories of real estate parcels, using documents provided by counties to determine whether a parcel has a clear title. Automated Indexing helps speed up their data entry, he said.

Although Hart InterCivic markets Anthem and Automated Indexing primarily to counties, there's no reason the same technology couldn't be used to manage state-level documents, Walker said. "The amount of volume is not the issue. It's just finding the right application for it."

Implementing Automated Indexing "hasn't been just a cakewalk," Jones-Williams said. "There are a few glitches here and there, and we work with Hart to take care of those." But overall, she said the new module has been a godsend, adding the Clerk-Recorder's Office might eventually start using it for other kinds of documents, such as birth, death and marriage certificates.

Merrill Douglas  |  Contributing Writer