The Korbicom Story
< WHY WE’RE HERE >
Korbicom established its roots in 1976 and we continue to strive to deliver optimum value to our customers through our products and services; and through the commitment and dedication of our staff.
Even on the global stage there are hardly any technology companies that are able survive for multiple decades (in our case more than four!) and that can claim to have been successful for nearly every step of that journey. In addition, we have carefully planned and crafted the way forward as the digital landscape itself evolves. So, what is it about Korbicom that sets us apart from most other aspiring software development companies? The answer is not completely straightforward, but it is generally true to say that it begins to emerge when one looks at the core driving objective of the company. If a technology business is built primarily to maximize profits for its investors and shareholders, if successful, it would most likely display the classical bell curve of success-versus-time. There is a point around the peak of the curve when investors would wish to cash in and move onto the next opportunity.
However, if a company is built to optimize profits without sacrificing longevity then it will have to reinvent itself repeatedly throughout its evolution. To do this, shareholders play the long game and invest in people on the basis that “staff matter” – people become the drivers and technology is simply a tool that the team uses for continuous success. This is how and why Korbicom was created so many years ago when the founders, Mendel Karpul, Mark Todes and Rolland Bryan, opened the company’s bank account in order to deposit their first bit of revenue. It is further significant that these three individuals remain very active and dedicated to the business today!
What follows is a brief history of the company covering only those areas which are relevant to the outcome that is Korbicom in its current form.
< WHERE WE CAME FROM >
The company, then known as Compustat, started out in 1976 as a software bureau delivering an accounts receivable service to a group of pharmacies and other similar businesses. In order to provide this service, we wrote our first commercial software system in a popular computer language known as FORTRAN (Formula Translation); it was a general-purpose, compiled programming language, very well suited to numerical and scientific computing. With the good grace of the largest engineering consultants in South Africa, van Niekerk, Kleyn and Edwards, we had access to a state of the art mini-computer, General Automation 18/30 (successor of the IBM 1130, a true classic).
From that modest start, we developed a strong relationship with Hewlett Packard to become their largest reseller on the continent. We embraced HP’s foray into desktop computing and affordable desktop laser printers and plotters. Our technology moved to HP BASIC, Assembler and Forth as we explored the emerging wealth of programming tools that provided a foundation for our long-term business strategy. The business was founded on the principle of delivering services and solutions to users across the globe that would make their day-to-day working experience more efficient and consequently more enjoyable.
Throughout its formative years, the company was built on a strong understanding of a number of application solutions that we developed across many different areas, including: business and accounting; document production and generation; property law and ownership rights; property-related financial services; professional legal services; the Internet; mobile and cloud computing; legal-tech and insure-tech services; and secure document (digital artefacts) delivery services.
To illustrate this strength, here is a chronological extract of some of our successes:
< OUR SUCCESSES >
Established in 1978, Survey 2000 was a cadastral land surveying solution adopted by all land surveyors under the auspices of the Surveyor General of the Cape Province in South Africa. Its relevance relates to our deep understanding of one of the most complex property ownership and title systems in the world. Despite its scientific orientation, this knowledge provided a great segue into developing solutions for the legal and financial services professions.
In the 1980’s we developed GhostWriter as a full-function word-processor that competed favourably with some of the world’s entrenched solutions at the time. We were the first desktop word-processor to be able to take full advantage of the new laser-printer era, including novel access to the multitude of proportionally-spaced fonts that became available for the first time.
The beauty of our software system was that it contained two computer programming environments that we developed: GhostWriter Interpreter; and the more formal GhostTech compiler. These software tools opened up a vista of opportunities for rapid application development in the commercial world, described more fully below.
In the 1990’s GhostWriter received due recognition when it won a prestigious national award for the best original software system in the country.
In 1986 we released a comprehensive property/legal conveyancing system, initially using GhostWriter’s rapid application development environment and migrating later onto a Windows-based client-server architecture. By 2016, 92% of all conveyancing property transactions recorded in the South African Deeds Registry in the Department of Land Affairs were created using GhostConvey. Operations such as property transfers, mortgage bond registrations plus many other similar transactions were implemented in GhostConvey.
The system incorporated an extensive collaboration tool which connected all stakeholders in the property-transfer process. This included lawyers, financial service providers (banks and mortgage providers) as well as applicants requiring these services.
Established in 1987, Jutastat was one of the first CD-ROM publications featuring a full-text search engine for a series of legal texts such as: all the South African Law Reports published from 1947; the South African Tax Cases from 1910; the South African Statutes in multiple languages; plus many other similar works. The software was again written in the GhostWriter environment using GhostTech as the language of choice. The search functionality and hypertext linkages were not too different from what is so ubiquitously provided today via Google’s search engine.
Jutastat was a joint venture between Compustat and Juta & Co, the largest legal publisher in the country. At the time of our relationship, Juta had been in business for 138 years; they acquired our share of Jutastat in 1993.
This was a system developed in 1988 to run the back-office and administration of a real estate business and was very successfully installed across 1,500 real estate offices throughout South Africa. The business was sold to ABSA Bank and eventually transitioned into Property24, a business which we acquired some years later (see below).
The Compact Collection
The Compact Collection was an extensive ERP system that, until 2002, competed very fruitfully with SAP, Baan and JD Edwards. It was used by some of the larger corporate and listed enterprises in South Africa. The business was eventually sold to Deloittes.
In 1993 we became the first commercial Internet Service Provider in Africa in the form of Internet Africa with the URL www.iafrica.com. This was a hugely successful enterprise which grew rapidly. When it was eventually sold to Datatec Ltd in 1996, Internet Africa boasted 70,000 dial subscribers and 70 large corporate clients.
The sale of Internet Africa and some other parts of Compustat to Datatec necessitated a change of our company name from Compustat to Korbitec.
With the demise of the older DOS platform in the early 1990’s, it became necessary for us to reinvent the features of GhostWriter in the newly emerging Microsoft Windows environment. We did this in the form of a plug-in to MS Word that we called GhostFill.
GhostFill enabled us to migrate many of our existing GhostWriter-based software solutions into MS Word and to continue developing new solutions of a similar nature. We also marketed GhostFill as a stand-alone document automation tool in 1995, which was adopted by thousands of customers around the world.
Data relating to property registration and ownership is available in the public domain, but it remains quite difficult to gain access to the various institutions that are the custodians of this information. In 2000, as Korbitec, we acquired a small business to give a rapid entrée to the South African Deeds Registry (the Deeds Office). We developed a software system known as “WinDeed” which would allow the public at large as well as professionals to easily access property related and other public domain data.
This system was also integrated into our GhostConvey offering to law firms throughout the country. In June 2006 we served 1,250,000 data queries from the Deeds Office alone.
GhostPractice is a legal accounting and practice management system which we started to develop from scratch in 2004. With more than 500 law firms currently using the system in both South Africa and Canada, there is today a strong demand for our enhanced GhostPractice solutions via Internet, Cloud and mobile platforms.
We have one goal: to help law firms achieve better business results. We accept responsibility for implementing our software in a way that will ensure that a legal firm gets maximum value from its investment.
In 2002 we beat 62 other bidding software vendors to win the contract for development of a document automation solution for the American Institute of Architects (AIA). We created this solution initially on our GhostFill platform and migrated it in a subsequent release into GhostDraft (see below).
The solution incorporated a suite of over 150 standard construction industry forms and legal contracts and was sold by the AIA – in partnership with Korbicom – to over 36,000 members of the AIA across the whole of the USA.
In the early 2000’s it became apparent that our GhostFill platform was also approaching end-of-life and we needed once again to reinvent our document automation solutions on a more modern technology foundation.
Leveraging all of the knowledge and experience gained from our GhostWriter and GhostFill solutions, we launched our third document automation engine called GhostDraft in 2010. Built from the ground up on a loosely-coupled service-oriented architecture that enables a diverse range of applications and implementation scenarios, GhostDraft has grown over the past few years into one of Korbicom’s flagship technology solutions. It has been sold to and implemented in over 60 of the largest banks, insurance companies and law firms in South Africa and North America.
Launched in 2006, ACL (Automated Civil Litigation), for Canadian law firms was one of Korbitec’s flagship products. Using the ACL technology, our customers were able to simplify the complex world of managing Canadian court forms and the associated litigation workflow. Aside from these court forms, ACL manages and provides a caretaker role for some 35,000 customer-specific complex documents.
In 2020, ACL completed the full integration of xchangedocs (see below) into its offering so that lawyers and other stakeholders can exchange important and critical documents and other electronic artefacts between all parties involved in a legal matter; and they can do this safely, securely, with full accountability and with the endorsement of the Canadian law court authorities.
The business of ACL was sold to Dye & Durham as part of a strategic alignment into an integrated and broader legal software framework for law practices in Canada.
One of the world’s largest technology companies, Naspers Ltd, acquired a half stake in the property-related divisions of the Korbitec business in 2009. This transaction had two direct implications for the company: (a) it was split into Korbitec (property/legal solutions) and Korbicom (non-property elements); and (b) Korbitec acquired the dormant business of Property24 from Naspers. Property24 was built into the largest property portal in Africa and we expanded its footprint into the Philippines and Russia.
In 2016, Naspers acquired the remainder of the shares of Korbitec and sold the legal solutions element of the business to LexisNexis. Korbicom was external to this transaction and remained in the hands of the original independent shareholders.
xchangedocs provides a secure Cloud-based platform through which any party participating in a specific legal matter can exchange documents quickly, securely, and economically. Development started in 2018 with a soft product launch in July 2020. This product was included as part of the sale of ACL (above).
< OUR FUTURE >
It has never been our objective to build a massive business with thousands of staff, but rather to build a manageable group of loyal members of staff who can consider themselves to be part of a caring family. To achieve this, we shall continue to grow businesses to the point where our involvement becomes a limiting factor. This becomes a clear indicator that we should begin the exercise to find an appropriate partner or new owner, as the case may demand, while endeavouring to ensure that we retain our core competencies in respect of staff and technology. Our track record aptly indicates that this approach to business has yielded the optimum outcome for shareholders, management and staff alike.
The business is growing at a rapid rate across all fronts. Our staff complement grew by more than 50% per annum from 2017 to 2020, and continues to grow. We have been making substantial investments into new technologies to enhance our solutions and products to be best-of-breed as world-class offerings.
We are very proud of what we have achieved and even more excited about the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.