When General Motors Acceptance Corporation Commercial Mortgage (GMACCM) decided to enter the online commercial real estate lending services through the sponsorship of MortgageRamp, the company faced a number of challenges. In addition to a very aggressive time-to-market requirement, the auto maker needed a highly scalable infrastructure to enable wide international deployment. It also needed a platform with maximum interoperability to facilitate business-to-business collaboration, wireless access and a demanding 99.999% uptime deliverable.
At GMAC's strategic planning meeting in January 2000, the company's executive committee presented Niraj Patel, now CIO of GMACCM, with a challenge. "The president asked three of us, myself, CEO Michael Greco and Director of Operations Ned Finkenstaedt, to start MortgageRamp, our Internet-based commercial mortgage service," Patel said. "We started building the company in January, and we launched the MortgageRamp site at the end of March. That's right, just three of us building an entire company - not just the technology, in three months. You can see that we couldn't afford to play around when we selected partners to help develop our technical infrastructure."
MortgageRamp is designed to serve as a complete Web-based workspace for commercial loan origination. Origination is the most challenging part of the loan process, with the greatest data requirements and the greatest number of players. Brokers, borrowers, lenders, vendors, appraisers, inspectors, and engineers all need to interact, exchange information and post reports. The site helps lenders make smarter real estate decisions by bringing together every piece of the commercial real estate value chain into one Web-powered system.
Using MortgageRamp, the loan process begins when prospective borrowers or brokers come to the site and fill out a short application form. The site then returns a list of lenders matched to the criteria. The borrower selects the lender that meets their needs and that information is relayed back to MortgageRamp, where the loan request undergoes initial validation and preparation for further underwriting. Appraisals, title reports and inspections are also ordered at this point. Less than a week later, the loan information, complete with title appraisal, comparables, environmental and engineering reports, is sent electronically to the selected lenders, and pre-packaged in the lender's own submission format. MortgageRamp has revolutionized the linear model of the commercial mortgage lending cycle to help speed the turn-around time of commercial loan processing from an average of 90 to 120 days to ten days or less.
Since the launch of MortgageRamp in March 2000, approximately $2 billion worth of loans have passed through the Web site. The company expects the site to source $6 to $8 billion in loans annually.
Why GMACCM Selected Microsoft and Intel
Time to Market
In order to deliver a fully operational, built-from-the-ground-up system in just three months and with just three people on the project required that the MortgageRamp team find vendors with a market-ready solution.
"There were other companies already in the marketplace offering Web-based commercial loans, so we had to meet the competition's functionality very quickly," Patel said. "But what really fueled the time-to-market was our marketing strategy." A month before MortgageRamp was launched, GMACCM bought a series of full-page ads in the Wall Street Journal, announcing the imminent arrival of a major new Web-based company in the commercial mortgage industry. With a launch date so prominently displayed, Patel and his team had no choice but to have MortgageRamp up and running on time.
Patel talked to a number of major vendors who offered e-commerce Web solutions and server technology, including SUN and other RISC vendors. Although he concluded that a number of vendors had platforms that could be built to support MortgageRamp, only Microsoft provided GMACCM the agility, flexibility and speed to integrate existing infrastructure into a new platform and get to market in time.
"We needed to take on partners that really bought into our concept and really wanted to work with us," said Michael Greco,CEO of MortgageRamp. "However, the collaborative team was willing to step up to the plate and say, yes, we'll deliver for you. And they had the strategy and the platform that was capable of delivering in the timeframe."
Using Microsoft technologies and Intel-based servers, MortgageRamp was able to meet its aggressive timeline without qualitative or quantitative issues. Nearly all the hardware and software was already available off-the-shelf, and quickly and easily integrated. The only real customization required was at the level of the Web site user interface and the custom mortgage application. Also, because Windows-based tools are the market standard, the availability and cost of software developers made the customization cheaper, easier, and faster.
Using Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS), the young company was also able to leverage its internal talent and supplement it with external expertise to reduce cost of construction and deployment, and to provide the architectural services needed to help deliver the solution on time.
Interoperability and Availability
MortgageRamp is different from many e-commerce Web sites in that it serves as a loan clearinghouse and origination service for 14 of the leading lenders worldwide. In fact, MortgageRamp's business as a back office service solution for its commercial lenders is now a significant revenue generator along with its penetration into the private label market. To assure that future business-to-business opportunities weren't limited, all of the site's custom technology uses Extensible Markup Language (XML) as the default data protocol, making it easy to integrate new business relationships.
"Where we needed the flexibility to deal with intellectual property reuse was with our business-to-business partners," Patel said. "We had to incorporate functionality with their technology into our platform. When we send on a loan to our partners, it goes out as a business-ready comprehensive package that includes inspection information, such as comparables, appraisals, title and inspection reports, all loaded into the lender's format."
In order to guarantee maximum interoperability with business-to-business relationships, MortgageRamp depended on the integration capabilities provided by Windows 2000 and XML. "The interoperability was really easy because we standardized everything to XML protocols, anticipating further adoption Microsoft .NET platform technologies," added Patel. In the future, everything that Microsoft and others provide as .NET services will be available to extend MortgageRamp without requiring reengineering. Supporting .NET services lowers cost of integration both in the short and long term, allowing MortgageRamp to maintain its market advantage.
High availability was another system requirement. MortgageRamp serves as the customer interface for number of major blue-chip lenders (such as Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan, Allied Capital and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter). Not only must the system be highly available to provide real-time access to data at all times, MortgageRamp as a Web-based tool had to be highly dependable. MortgageRamp needed, and received a comprehensive e-business solution that has delivered a 99.999% system uptime in its ongoing operation.
"We represent some of the very finest lending organizations in the world. We wanted borrowers to have the same high quality of experience with MortgageRamp as they would if they physically went to a top-flight bank," Greco added. "We wanted to be sure that that when you came to our Web site, it felt rock solid. Tried-and-tested servers from Compaq based on Intel architecture and the Microsoft platform gave us a system with the high availability and reliability we demanded."
Integration of Mobile Devices
One of the greatest business values that MortgageRamp delivers to both borrowers and to lenders is speed. "With a traditional commercial loan, all the information-gathering done in the field - by inspectors, appraisers, engineers - took a lot of time because the inspections were all triggered items," Patel says. "All these jobs were done sequentially. The fastest that most appraisers would commit to a commercial appraisal was 20 days, because there was so much research involved. Now all the information activities operate in parallel." Because the system is Web-based and .NET enabled, it allows the people involved in the initial loan origination process to work simultaneously.
Hand-held mobile devices are especially effective and timesaving when used in conjunction with the MortgageRamp Web site. GMACCM plans to implement up to 3,000 Pocket PC units by the end of 2000 to streamline field services like inspections, reports and appraisals. In addition, the company is studying the possibility of equipping investors and commercial property residents with Pocket PCs, which could result in the implementation of up to 50,000 Pocket PCs overall. "We will ask hand-held mobile devices to handle some very sophisticated forms-based applications," Patel said. "An inspector may leave the office with a thousand different inspections forms loaded on his Pocket PC. So when I'm talking about getting the right information and analysis down to that device, I'm talking about a lot of information."
As an example, before appraisers or inspectors leave the office, they will synchronize their Pocket PCs with the MortgageRamp Web site. There, inspectors will get all the necessary forms and information in the correct electronic format, plus property addresses and driving instructions, and information about comparable properties in the area. These properties can also be mapped onto the mobile device along with appraisal values and any known inspection issues. After inspecting the property, inspectors can electronically upload their completed reports to the central loan database while in the field, greatly hastening the loan origination process.
MortgageRamp's .NET-based architecture is device-ready and device agnostic, which assures MortgageRamp future compatibility with a broad variety of mobile and wireless devices. "The really compelling aspect of bringing the .NET technology into play with hand-held devices is that it's not just technology, and it's not just process," Patel said. "It's process, it's technology and it's people working together to get the job done."
A Scalable and Reliable Solution
At MortgageRamp issues of scalability don't center on numbers of transactions - after all, processing $100 million loans isn't a high volume business, says Patel. However, the amount of data and information necessary to transact loans of this size requires a system with that's highly reliable and that can scale wide to process and store vast amounts of data. MortgageRamp operates on six Compaq ProLiant 6400R, 4-way Pentium III processor-based Web servers, with two fully clustered Compaq ProLiant 8500R 8-way Pentium III Xeon-based processors as database servers in the backend.
"Scalability and reliability are the reasons we like the combination of Windows 2000 and Intel-based servers," Patel said. "We are able to cluster everything into a very solid and reliable solution." MortgageRamp will soon deploy internationally to Japan, Canada and Europe. With internationalization will come new interfaces in many languages, more data and more lender partners with customized databases. Because of the scalability of the platform, Patel says he is able to host the new international sites from his U.S.-located servers. When the system needs more performance, Patel will simply add more servers to the cluster. "Because of the system's scalability, we don't need to mirror our environments in all different locations. We may build co-location facilities for redundancy or fail-over reasons, but not because of scalability."
Best of all, Patel was able to get a lot more performance without having to spend a lot more money. "I was able to achieve a highly scalable base architecture with the Intel-based servers and Microsoft's Web platform at a much lower cost than other solutions."
GMACCM, Microsoft and Intel: Working Together for Results
The Microsoft .NET Enterprise Servers (including BizTalk Server 2000, Exchange Server 2000, SQL Server 2000) running on Intel-based servers gives GMAC a supremely scalable and reliable platform and an ideal solution for e-commerce. The system's .NET integration also extends GMACCM's reach in important ways. With support for the Pocket PC, loan agents can take online business beyond the office, getting business done faster and more cost effectively.
"I can't imagine that we could have built MortgageRamp within our timeframe on any other platform. And to get the flexibility we need, the .NET-based architecture is the ideal solution," Patel said. "The system architecture is unbelievable. We've done a complete analysis on it a couple times and I can tell you we love the Intel and Microsoft platform. All of MortgageRamp currently runs on Intel architecture and Windows 2000-based software."