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Leveraging Cloud Computing in Real Estate

Just what is cloud computing, why is there such buzz around it, and how can it be used by construction and real estate professionals?

Cloud computing is a conceptual term used to describe the act of providing information technology (IT) solutions to organizations through the Internet. Cloud computing allows organizations to implement IT solutions without having to purchase hardware and software and then hiring IT staff to maintain it.

The term “cloud” is used as a metaphor for the Internet, and it is represented by the cloud drawing in computer network diagrams as an abstraction of the underlying technology infrastructure. Another way to think about it might be an externally sourced (and theoretically limitless) seamless extension of an internal IT systems infrastructure that delivers capabilities and solutions on a “pay as go” fee-for-use basis.

Search.com provides this definition: “Cloud computing is a general term for anything that involves delivering hosted services over the Internet. These services are broadly divided into three categories:

  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service
  • Platform-as-a-Service
  • Software-as-a-Service.”

Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), like Amazon Web Services, provides virtual server instances with unique IP addresses and blocks of storage on demand. Customers use the provider’s application program interface to start, stop, access, and configure their virtual servers and storage.

Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) is defined as a set of software and product development tools hosted on the provider’s infrastructure. Developers create applications on the provider’s platform over the Internet. PaaS providers may use APIs, website portals or gateway software installed on the customer’s computer. Force.com (an outgrowth of salesforce.com) and Microsoft Azure are two examples of PaaS as are open source PaaS projects, such as Cloud Foundry and OpenStack.

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is the software application that interacts with the user through their Web browser in a portal or website-type format. SaaS is a very broad market. Services can be anything from Web-based e-mail to financial, operational, marketing communications, customer relationship management, document management/ collaboration and reporting/analytics business applications. Because the service provider hosts both the application and the data, the end user is empowered to use the service from anywhere through a Web browser.

How Can Cloud Computing Be Used in the Real Estate Industry?

Real estate is a very relationship-driven industry and therefore places a lot of emphasis on marketing, sales and service as well information collection, sharing and collaboration. Several SaaS cloud application spaces align well with these needs, including customer relationship management (CRM) and lead/marketing management solutions.

CRM cloud applications are focused on providing a means to access and capture information about prospective and current customers as well as the interactions between the business and the customer. These applications support a mobile sales force that needs to be able to access and record prospect and client information quickly and easily without having to contact the main office. Coupled with the need for the main office to have insight around the actions and progress of its distributed workforce, an ideal environment for a cloud computing solution is created.

Lead/marketing management cloud applications are focused on capturing, segmenting and distributing leads to sales people as well as tracking the effectiveness of marketing campaigns and automating certain customer communications through channels, such as e-mail. These applications support both marketing and help sales and facilitate the integration of these two aspects of business. They also provide management with insight around the overall effectiveness of marketing efforts and help ensure timely follow up and communication consistency.

What Is Available Now?

A wide range of cloud applications that are relevant to real estate are available, and they tend to fall within two categories:

  1. General applications that can be customized to fit real estate.
  2. Industry-specific solutions that typically combine a full range of “end-to-end” capabilities across marketing, sales and service into one solution.

Examples of general applications in the CRM space include salesforce.comMicrosoft Dynamics CRM Online, and Zoho CRM. There are also lead-oriented applications, such as Exact TargetLeads360 and Lead Master.

Examples of applications specific to the real estate industry include Real Estate Cloud and Rethink, both of which are cloud-based and provide a full suite of functionality within one overall cloud solution.

The trend in real estate has traditionally been industry-specific solutions, which is likely because having one solution that provides end-to-end abilities can be more compelling than adopting general applications and investing additional dollars to have them customized. For real estate professionals, cloud computing is not just a buzz phrase. There are viable solutions that may benefit your organization today, and there will be new solutions that can provide more collaboration tomorrow.