John D. Mayfield, ABR, CRB, e-PRO, GRI, is a sales coach, author, and broker/owner of Mayfield Real Estate in Farmington, Mo. You can contact Mayfield through his Web site, www.BusinessTechGuy.com.
The Paperless Office: Learning to Work in the Cloud
Would you be interested in a system that allows you to access important business files practically anywhere, for free? Then take a trip up to the cloud.
January 1, 2011
“The PC is dead,” declared a recent article on technology trends, and one of the nails in its coffin could be the rise of “cloud computing.” But what, exactly, is this cloud, and why do so many companies have their heads in it these days?
Free Resources for Cloud Computing
There are many free resources if you’re considering cloud computing. To begin, check out the following Web sites that offer online storage:
The cloud is a way for businesses and individuals to store and share information on the Web via platforms operated by Google, Microsoft, and others. With cloud computing, individuals can more easily collaborate with colleagues inside and outside their office. Systems like Google Apps can reduce or even eliminate certain IT costs and streamline many of the functions for an office.
Because of the cloud’s convenience and accessibility, businesses are getting accustomed to working with it. But what are some of the ways in which you, the real estate pro, can use cloud computing? Here’s a look at some of the key advantages, available resources, mistakes to avoid, and security measures you should consider.
Why Cloud Computing?
Here are the main advantages of cloud computing for real estate:
- It’s easy: If you’ve uploaded a photo to your Facebook account or attached a document to an e-mail, you’ve worked in the cloud. Cloud computing is nothing more than moving documents from your base computer to the Internet, where you can get them no matter where you are, provided you have access.
- In many cases, it’s free: One of the best features of cloud computing is that in many instances, it costs little or no money. Google Docs, Microsoft Live (SkyDrive), Dropbox, and other sites allow consumers to create accounts and store files up to a certain size for free.
- You can share documents: Today, many people are involved in transactions. Appraisers, lenders, escrow agents, and others may need an important document in order to expedite the closing process. Having the ability to access the file from the Internet and then share it can help keep everything running smoothly.
- You can customize it for your needs: Just as you set up your standard office file cabinet to work the way you work, your “file cabinet on the Internet” can also be customized to fit your needs. Create folders for clients, active listings, sold transactions, or any other category you need. It’s your system, so you can make it fit your business requirements.
- It’s the future: As the Internet gets faster and the smartphone continues to be more commonplace, the information stored in the cloud will grow. In fact, some prognosticators expect cloud computing to double in popularity over the next few years. Just consider some of the applications that consumers can use their smartphones for today: They can check in for airlines, record TV programs, watch videos, read books — the list goes on and on. As consumers continue to get used to all of the conveniences mobile computing offers, they’ll come to expect the same from you.
5 Mistakes to Avoid When Building a Paperless Office
Here are five common mistakes to avoid as you begin to experiment with and employ cloud computing.
1. Not having a back-up plan: If you’re going to make your office paperless, your first step should be to implement a good back-up plan. Make sure you have data backed up to at least three locations, one of those being off-site. You never know when a catastrophe could strike, and having all of your data in one location is a risk you don’t want to take. Consider using a service — such as Carbonite or Mozy — that will monitor your computer systems and back up the data in real time at offsite locations. Second, use a local hard drive to back up files regularly. Finally, your personal computer will have your data stored.
2. Thinking you have to scan everything: Don’t feel like you have to scan every single document. Instead, choose the files that you feel you’ll need to retrieve from the cloud.
3. Lacking consistency: Many people will begin a paperless office but not have a consistent system for where the data is filed, what method and format documents are stored in, and how other agents can access the information. Build consistency into the process to eliminate a lot of headaches and encourage your team to get on board.
4. Lacking training: Having a paperless office is great, but if no one knows how to access or use it, it won’t work. Make sure that you have adequate and ongoing training for your team members. There are many good screen-capture tools where you can record short how-to videos for your team to watch.
5. Having poor security measures: Storing data in the cloud is wonderful, but just like with your file cabinets at work, security measures need to be in place to keep the records confidential. Have secure passwords and require those passwords to be changed at regular intervals. One good tip for a secure password is to require all passwords to be a minimum of 12 characters, including uppercase and lowercase letters, symbols, and numbers. Also, limit access to files to only those who need it.
Cloud computing can be a rewarding and profitable experience for the real estate pro. It’s important to remember to have a good game plan when you’re ready to go paperless, enact the proper security measures, and have a back-up solution for your data. By following a few simple rules, you can begin using and enjoying the benefits of cloud computing today! And remember, you don’t have to scan everything. Begin by scanning a few of the documents you feel are most critical to have access to, and build from there.