Although it has been around for several years it appears that there is still much uncertainty as to what “the cloud” is, its benefits and how it works. Or, is it that this old guy is just catching up? Probably the latter as one seldom realizes in this technological age how soon we get out of date and are left behind. Yet, as I asked questions about “the cloud” to real estate professionals and others I found that I am not alone.
The term “cloud computing” is a catch-phrase for accessing computer power to run software and store information on a third party’s computer, using their know-how and infrastructure. Its purpose is to take advantage of the latest technological devices, to facilitate and reduce the volume of paperwork through the office, increase accessibility, increase productivity and reduce expenses.
With cloud computing real estate agents can work remotely, reducing the need to come into the office. Business can be conducted from your home, a client’s home, a client’s office or from a mobile device. You can pull up listings, pending offers and comparable sales data at a booth in a restaurant.
Although they may not realize it, most people and businesses use the cloud daily, for banking, sending and receiving emails, credit card purchases, e-commerce and a host of Internet originated applications. Although not identified as cloud computing, it has become an integral part of many real estate offices. Providing multiple storage options, cloud computing is a way for businesses, including real estate brokerages, to store data and related information on world-wide-web platforms – the large, high powered computers that are operated by Amazon, SalesForce, Google and others.
Instead of a program residing on a PC or an agent’s laptop, it exists on another computer, usually that of a large powerful server under the domain of a service provider. When you use the program you are running from that computer, not yours. You view the information received on your computer but its source sits elsewhere, allowing you access from any Internet connected device. In the future the most significant technological changes will centre on computing services “in the cloud”.
Web-originated real estate marketing is now coming into its own. The cloud concept suggests the “paper-free” office. This may work for some businesses. However, with real estate brokerages, due to the multitude of government regulations and forms that require the retention of substantial paper records, many of which must be maintained almost into perpetuity, any thought of developing a completely paper-free real estate office may be wishful thinking.
The cloud’s impact will be to lower the cost of ownership while enjoying greater access to a broader array of computer capabilities. Simply put, advanced technologies should allow agents to be more productive and be better connected with their clients and intervening partners such as appraisers, lenders, lawyers, associates and the like. For most real estate brokerages, in the future cloud computing is the only way to go,
While the risk is very low, there could be some concerns about confidentiality and related matters. All of your data, and that of all other users, is well protected. Still, you will want to know what your exposure is, who is looking at what you have placed on the server’s computer, what benefit, if any the snoop would derive from it, and what you can do about ensuring this does not occur.
One of the biggest cloud security risks is theft or loss of transactional and other private data. If the leaked information is proprietary only to your company, liability isn’t a concern. But if your confidential information goes astray you need to know where responsibility lies. Usually it is the salesperson who placed the information on the cloud in the first place. It’s seldom the provider that’s on the hook.
Technology is just another enabler, another tool if you will. You must provide the vision of where you want to take your brokerage and the direction to get it there. All that cloud computing can do is improve the way you operate. It is not a miracle made in heaven. It is you who must focus on efficiency and improved marketplace acceptance and strive to improve on how you deliver services to your clients while keeping the cost of doing business at the minimum.
In an email discussion with a leading cloud computing broker (yes, there are several of them) I asked, “How does cloud computing benefit the typical non-franchised, independent residential real estate brokerage with five to 10 or so agents.”
The reply: “It may not.”
On the other hand, Aaron McGowan, developer for Appnovation Technologies, a major software development company, says that by using Software as a Service (SaaS), which operates in the cloud, cloud computing would have positive benefits for all businesses, including small ones. For example, Google provides a service known as “Google Apps”. This entitles businesses of all sizes to leverage their applications and services under their own brand name without incurring increased overhead, keeping their data safe and secure. Google offers a document processing application (Google Docs) spreadsheet (an alternative to Microsoft Office Excel) mail (an alternative to Outlook), a calendar and much more. While Microsoft is slowly trailing behind they do offer a service known as Microsoft 360 that enables Office applications that have typically been desktop oriented to be enabled by the web and “in the cloud”.
Before joining the ranks in the cloud, do your own investigation. Shop around. Be meticulous. Don’t rush into it. Talk to your staff, the sales agents in particular, and examine your operation. See where improvements can be made in your paper handling methods. See where you are in this wonderful world of advancing technology, how you can profit from it and then go from there. Do your homework and ensure that cloud computing is the right fit for your brokerage.