Waxing philosophical about a property information system might seem unlikely, but Daniel Abraham maintains that the future of the Russian Federation might depend on having one.
Abraham is vice president of Infotec Development Inc., the Santa Ana high-tech computer systems developer that has just won a contract to help the Russian government set up a private land management system, along with the record-keeping required to make it work.
Infotec heads a team of U.S. companies conducting a $610,000 feasibility study for the Russian Federation. If the preliminary results are promising, the federation--which encompasses nine time zones, 150 million people and an eighth of the world's land--would spend almost $2 billion to develop a comprehensive record-keeping system incorporating computers for a region where the terms "private" and "property" haven't been linked for more than seven decades.
For Infotec, which has about 500 employees and $100 million a year in sales, landing the lead role in developing the Russian Land Cadastre Program would nearly double its revenue and create several hundred jobs in the United States and Russia.
"It would redefine what this company is," Abraham said.
It also would help the Russian Federation define what it will become.
The Russian officials heading the project "firmly believe it is essential for overall reform," Abraham said. "If the people can have private home and property ownership, then they have a reason to make the country work" without reverting to communism, he said.
Setting up the system would be a huge undertaking. The program is a complicated linking of the financial, legal and physical aspects of property ownership, and never before has there been an attempt to create a unified system for an area as large as the Russian Federation. (The 89 republics and regions that make up the federation cover nearly 6.6 million square miles--more than 8,000 times the size of Orange County and just under twice the size of the United States.)
The Russians want a system that would enable a citizen in a central registry in Moscow, for example, to pull up records for a single-family home 4,000 miles away on the Kamchatka peninsula.
The impetus for the program, Abraham said, came from the Russian Federation.
"They were looking for ways to apply some of their former military technology to (federation President Boris N.) Yeltsin's land reforms" and asked a U.S. businessman with ties to Eastern and Central Europe for advice, he said.
The businessman was Larry Nelson, a principal of Dallas-based Texas International Trade.
"He started looking in the U.S. for companies that could do this type of thing," Abraham said, "and through contacts in Washington he heard of us."
Infotec, founded in Santa Ana in 1979 by computer systems specialists Fernando Niebla and Joseph Soulia, specializes in design and installation of sophisticated information management networks. The company also does data collection and management work for private and government agencies, including the FBI, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Air Force and the White House.
Texas International and Infotec joined forces in 1992 to market their services to the Russians and earlier this year won the feasibility study contract, Abraham said.
Infotec heads the team, which also includes Keith Cos., a Costa Mesa engineering and land mapping firm; Geonex, a Florida mapping company, and Jenkins & Gilchrist, a Dallas law firm that is advising the Russians on real estate-related laws that would have to be enacted to create a basis for the land record system.
Texas International, Abraham said, is responsible for securing financing for the program. The first phase is being funded by the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, which sees the feasibility study as a foot in the door for other U.S. businesses.
The World Bank, Abraham said, has committed $80 million for an initial phase of the program if the federation decides to move ahead.
As part of the feasibility study, the Infotec team is staging a monthlong exhibit in Moscow next month. More than 40 U.S. companies involved in computer hardware and software development, computer-assisted drafting and mapping, surveying and other related fields will be able to display their products and services, Abraham said.
Several European companies also have said they will attend in the hope of landing part of the project.
The Russian Federation has also issued an open invitation for companies to build prototypes for individual "counties" within the 89 republics and regions.
"The Canadians are spending about $3 million to do one," Abraham said. "And there are others being done by companies backed by Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Australia. But there are no U.S. pilot projects, and that makes it difficult for us as the American leaders of the feasibility study to push for American technology. The other governments are outspending the U.S. government" to promote their own corporations.
To help counter that, Infotec is hosting a delegation of Russian land program officials on an eight-day trip to Southern California in mid-November. In addition to visiting Infotec, the delegates will review land record systems in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
"They also want to see how all stages of the program work, so they will see how we sell land and do escrows and make mortgages and issue title insurance and development plans--all things that are new to them," said Boris Gurevich, Infotec's marketing director for the Russian program.
"We believe that seeing U.S. equipment and systems in action will help show them the advantages of using U.S. companies," Gurevich said.