Cloud Computing is a trendy name for when you use your internet connection to connect to applications running on the web that would traditionally be installed and run on each of your computers. One of the best and most popular cloud computing solutions is Google Apps although technically web based real estate solutions also fit into the definition as well.
Google Apps provides email, instant messaging, spreadsheets, word processing, presentation and collaborative team websites in an online cloud solution. Since its release it has been fairly US centric however I can remember reading somewhere a little while back that over 5000 small business in Australia have signed up for Google Apps. That might be set to increase now.
Google Apps finally has an Aussie flavour with Devnet and NetRegistry teaming up to be the first resellers in Australia. Till recently attaching Google Apps to a .com.au domain was a manual and technical task but this latest advance means you can now purchase a .com.au domain to be used with Google Apps right from their website as a normal part of the signup process.
The cost to setup word processing, spreadsheet, instant messaging, Intranet, presentation software and email virus scanning is very expensive and online applications make all this available for a 5 person office less than the cost of just a single a copy of Microsoft Office.
In fact, if your willing to put up with a a few ads here and there, along with no telephone support you can even have it for free. Google Apps also allows users to act collaboratively, something that is only available with additional server versions of installed software such as Microsoft Small Business Server.
Existing agencies can take advantage of a host of official and non official migration tools which converts your existing email and documents over to Google Apps.
Google Apps is now integrated with Salesforce which provides web based CRM facilities into the mix. Check out their Product Tour at www.salesforce.com/products/google/apps/tour/. Having your office software integrated into your CRM is really a slick combination that is well suited to smaller agencies.
Unfortunately as an office gets larger so does the administration load and having a solution that can integrate trust, listings management, ages and commission into the CRM mix is where solutions like Hubonline, Multiarray and Portplus. There is no perfect solution blending it all into one and its a matter of which one do you want your CRM to integrate best with, your normal office software or your real estate administration.
Both Salesforce and Google Apps are fairly open to developers to integrate other solutions so if someone could develop the holy grail, a solution to integrate a real estate administration solution with the already existing salesforce/google apps combination it would win a lot of larger agencies very easily. Can I smell a startup?
Until then if you are starting up a new agency or running an agency with under 10 staff it may be well worth your time to consider a Google Apps or a Google Apps/Salesforce Combination.