Technology amazes me. To think that something so very complex can be made accessible and useful to so many is really astounding. To me, this is the real age of enlightenment. Giving people access to computing power without forcing them to understand how it works is bigger than the printing press. History will support me in this, I think.
I mean, how much do you really know about the transistor that’s buried inside your PC (or Mac or smart phone or eBook reader or whatever else)? This amazing little device (I won’t even tell you how many could dance on the head of a pin) is the source of computing power that we all use, every day, without usually giving the mechanics any thought.
So let's take a moment to think about it from the technology's perspective.
Think of the transistor like a little fork in the electronic road. Electronic traffic only flows in one road and out one other. The third road is occupied by a little traffic cop. He determines whether the current flows through the transistor or is stopped dead (on or off) by sensing a charge on his road. It’s like a little electronic switch that we can turn on or off, creating one of two states. If the off state is assigned the number zero and the on is assigned the number 1, we can make any number we want as long as we stack up enough transistors and express our number in base 2, or binary code.
If we assign numbers to letters, we can use these new machines to write and store all sorts of written information. We use a code for this called ASCII, (which is pronounced ASS-kee)—an acronym for American Standard Code for Information Interchange.
So, from the beginning, computers were so complicated that they couldn’t be used by anyone who didn’t understand the binary number system and the ASCII code. In the beginning, only a handful of people in the world could even program them. Big companies sprang up to build, write software for and manage these giant machines, which were invariably hidden in a special room with a controlled environment.
And that’s how it would have probably stayed if it hadn’t been for a bunch of geeky boys messing around in the garage.
Because of kids with names like Gates (itself a computer logic term), Jobs (what every beginning programming student submitted in the form of a stack of punched cards) and Wozniak (I got nothin’ there), just about all of us use computers in our work and for our recreation.
So, it’s interesting now to see that reverse itself a bit, at least in the mortgage technology world. I’ve watched mortgage lending tech tools go from extremely complex, very specialized client/server-based software applications to open architectures with industry-wide data standards to web-services-based, on-demand applications that are fully cloud-based and plugged into other websites or applications seamlessly. Now, I’m being introduced to an idea that takes it back in the other direction.
Cloud computing is huge right now. Companies like the idea of having cheap, on-demand software that they rent instead of own and pay for on a per-transaction basis. Many firms in our space already have some technologies in the cloud but most have resisted having mission critical software provided with this model. There are some questions about who might gain access to the data and what personnel are actually keeping tabs on the software and where they are.
Now, some bigger firms, like RackSpace, have done very well for themselves by keeping their data centers local and making it simple for companies to rent server space. But, there are still risks.
I was talking with Jorge Sauri, founder and former CEO of MortgageDashboard, the other day. I’ve written some things for him in the past, back when he was the chief executive there. He’s CIO now, in charge of R&D. We were talking about on-demand software and the concerns lenders have. He says that lenders like the idea of having software in the cloud, they just don’t like someone else to own that cloud.
He’s working on a new offering that would basically provide a cloud in a box (my words, not his) that could be hosted with RackSpace or some other big secure server farm provider, but would be owned completely by the lender. If something started to feel hinky about the host, the lender could just pick up its cloud and take it somewhere else. In this way, the technology is accessible to everyone, but only a certain caste, if you will, can really get access to it.
Interesting. In my mind, it’s a move away from democratizing technology and back toward sticking it firmly in the domain of experts that the company either owns or hires to maintain it. It’s less of the personal computer model and more of the technology high priest sort of model. With increased regulatory pressure pretty much a certainty, this is the kind of solution that could put lenders back in control in a manner that appeals to regulators.
I have to explore it more, and I plan to, but it looks like it may be one of those solutions specific to the mortgage space that could actually solve some problems going forward. That would be a welcome change.