Real-estate firm eyes agility, lower cost with Google Apps

Singapore-based HSR International Realtors is migrating from its Linux-based e-mail system to Google's e-mail and productivity platform for cost savings, business agility and ease of use, says company CEO.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Local real-estate agency HSR International Realtors is "going Google" to achieve better cost savings and business agility, and deliver relevant information in a timely fashion to its mobile sales staff.

HSR CEO Patrick Liew said that its existing Linux-based Hmail e-mail system was installed based on client-server arrangements, which makes rapid deployment and maintenance of the platform costly and cumbersome for the company's growth. Hmail, for instance, limits the number of employees who can access the server for their e-mail accounts to ensure the performance of the system is not compromised, he noted.

The company, he added, spent S$300,000 (US$234,000) just to buy servers and other equipment during the initial set-up and would spend the same amount annually for maintaining and upgrading the e-mail platform's existing functionalities. Liew was speaking to ZDNet Asia on the sidelines of a media briefing Wednesday to announce HSR's migration to Google Apps.

Comparatively, the US$50 per seat pricing for Google's e-mail and productivity suite for its 2,700 sales staff would offer cost savings of "some half a million dollars annually", Liew said. The contract for these services would last for a year and will be reviewed and renewed accordingly, he added.

The company also signed up for Google's Postini data storage service to store its agents' correspondences with clients for three years in accordance with recent regulatory changes imposed by the Council of Estate Agencies, the CEO said.

"Cost savings aside, our deployment of Google Apps will allow us to utilize the latest apps in the marketplace and scale out to other regional markets rapidly should we choose to expand our business," said Liew.

According to him, most of the HSR sales team were already familiar with Google's Web-based Gmail client and have personal accounts. This was a key consideration for the management team when it decided to migrate to Google's platform, he revealed.

Asked how much support Google is providing during the initial phase of deployment and beyond, the CEO said that the search giant has been "very supportive". Besides providing training for its internal IT team, it had also stationed Google staff on-premise to aid with the transition, which is projected to be completed by Feb. 21, he noted.

That said, he pointed out that "expectations must be managed". HSR, for one, is not expecting Google, or its authorized reseller PointStar which assisted with HSR's migration, to support future app deployments that are internally developed or purchased off Google's App Marketplace, he stated.

Google-Microsoft rivalry intensifies
For two U.S. companies however, lack of product support from Google had been a bugbear, according to a Valentine's Day-themed blog post by Tom Rizzo, senior director of Microsoft Online Services. He cited insurance company Bradshaw & Weil as one disgruntled Google Apps user that had since reverted to Microsoft's services.

Sharing its experience, Bradshaw & Weil said in the post: "I wanted to switch to cloud-based services, to help me back up my data, recover from any failures, and reduce my need for on-site software, hardware and management. "I also wanted to use push technology and over-the-air synchronization between Microsoft Office Outlook and wireless devices.

"You said you'd be there for me but you let me down."

Recruiting firm BridgeView IT was the other disgruntled customer, according to Rizzo's post. It stated: "I admit I was attracted to Google Docs online document sharing and Google Talk instant messaging. Your price really caught my eye too."

"However, in the short time we've been together, I realized I needed more support," BridgeView continued. "Now that I'm with Microsoft, I can get a live person on the phone in my time of need. It really is true, communication is so important to a good relationship."

In a separate blog post, an existing Google Apps customer, Appirio, came out in defense of the product. Responding to an interview that Microsoft's Rizzo did with technology news site ComputerWorld last November, in which he said Google scans and keeps user data since it is "trying to sell ads", the cloud vendor refuted his observation.

Appirio said in its blog: "Google's advertising-supported e-mail service…is different from their enterprise business. Companies that have 'gone Google' say that Google Apps is more reliable and more secure than the on-premise systems that they're moving from."

Google's rate of innovation with its Apps portfolio, Appirio added, proves it is investing in and serious about the enterprise.

The verbal mudslinging between both companies is intensifying as Google encroaches into Redmond's two main cash cow products--Windows OS and Office--with Google Apps as well as its Android and upcoming Chrome OSes.

Analysts ZDNet Asia spoke to earlier this month observed that Microsoft is doing well to fend off business rivals.

Editorial standards