No one ever said dealing with taxes is easy. Anyone who comes up with a better way to handle anything related to taxes is bound to have a winning product.
XSoft, based in Noblesville, Indiana, markets software products for governmental agencies, including applications related to property taxes. The company has tapped into the software development expertise of Rose-Hulman Ventures to bring products to market. “In the last four years we’ve completed two projects and are now on our third,” says Scott Stephens, vice president of business development.
The first product was XSoft Engage, an online citizen engagement application that offers access to local government assessment and property tax information. “If you own a home and want to find out information about your home, you would go into the application and search for your property,” Stephens says. “It will tell you all of the assessment and tax information about your property, even the value and how it was arrived at.”
The application, he says, was developed by Rose-Hulman Ventures “and we took over maintaining the application. We maintain it going forward—every year the state legislature goes through the process where they may change tax laws, change criteria, add new forms.”
It’s one thing to have to maintain and update this kind of application, another thing entirely to develop it. Development requires expertise that the company doesn’t need on a daily basis, which meant the development arrangement with Rose-Hulman Ventures was ideal for XSoft.
“The building is the tough part,” Stephens says. By engaging Rose-Hulman Ventures, “we don’t have to have a huge staff of developers. We don’t have to hire a bunch of programmers to develop the product, then get rid of programmers.” The product is now widely used across Indiana, in about three-quarters of the state’s counties, and the company is now marketing the product in Ohio.
“That was first, and the second one was a very large, state-driven project. The state of Indiana had this vision for a product, and we used Rose-Hulman Ventures to build this app,” Stephens says. The application is focused on personal property tax forms that businesses must file annually. “The filing of business personal property forms in Indiana is very complicated and becoming more complicated each year.”
Businesses aren’t required to use the Personal Property Online Portal (PPOP-IN) site that the company developed with Rose-Hulman Ventures’ assistance, but doing makes the process simpler and more convenient. Once they do, he says, “all those forms are available for you next year so you don’t have to start from scratch. All of that information is stored electronically for all 92 counties in the state, and all of that is managed through PPOP-IN.”
Tapping into Rose-Hulman Ventures to develop this kind of application means the company has access to multiple experts with varying kinds of expertise, from database optimization to mobile application development. “They really do have these niche areas that they focus on,” he says. By working on a project basis, the company can benefit from many more minds than would be possible through permanent hires (though XSoft did ultimately hire one of the interns who worked on its project).
Engaging a team of several interns also means benefiting from many more ways of thinking and solving problems. “We tend to get in this rut of doing things because that’s always the way we’ve done them,” he says. A team of Rose-Hulman Ventures interns has fresh eyes and fresh insights. “They ask a lot of great questions and challenge us about why—it’s got to be more than just ‘that’s how we’ve always done that.’”
For example, interns can intuitively recognize that something like the citizen engagement application can’t just run on a desktop computer—they know it must work on a mobile device, and they’ve got lots of experience with mobile devices. “Every one of them is using their phone every day,” Stephens says. “They can bring that kind of question to the table when they’re doing this development work.”