Real estate agent to house its most valuable asset in the cloud

After initial success with cloud products, Harris Real Estate is in the midst of transitioning its CRM to a new service, and preparation is key.
Written by Drew Turney, Contributor

After more than ten years of operation, Adelaide realtor and property manager Harris Real Estate has gone from a one-man operation to an agency with four offices and 75 staff.

Managing director Phil Harris explains how the company adopted an online service in a limited capacity, but how it will soon host its most important business tool in the cloud.

"We started using the cloud in April," he says. "We turned to Google Business Apps for our email infrastructure and will be migrating to virtualised servers in the coming weeks. Once bedded down, we'll transfer our most valuable asset — our customer relations management and database — to a web-based operation."

Harris Real Estate managing director, Phil Harris

The CRM will be hosted with real estate software provider Agentbox, the company VOIP service through Mitel Tie Networks, with documents, email, and storage provided through Google services.

Harris believes successful real estate sales and property management happen when the best people get on the road, a philosophy IT needed to support.

"We set a direction to build technical infrastructure that focused on ongoing business growth, and wasn't tied to physical locations," he explains.

At this stage it's too early to decide how successful the company's virtualised server acquisition has been.

"It's needed a significant investment in retraining staff," Harris says. "Given our focus on training, that's nothing new, but the success of this investment will ultimately decide whether we transition to cloud-based IT on a wider scale."

Though still in the midst of the process, something that's quickly become evident to Harris, his IT staff, and agents is to have a clear idea of the scope of your transition plan. Without it, he says, you can't assess how successful you've been or identify any problems you need to fix as you migrate.

"Factor in a test period for users in different departments of the business to use and report back on deficiencies before rolling a service out to the whole company, and treat your testers with care and respect," he adds. "Their honest feedback is vital."

Just as importantly, the intention to migrate a service has to be researched and tested thoroughly against systems that are already in place to mitigate against integration problems or system limitations. For example, Harris warns, there's probably a host of technology needs to be factored into any system change like printers, databases, or mobile devices.

Finally, he says, don't be dazzled by the hype.

"Cloud isn't the answer for every business — ask whether your business needs are different first."

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