10 cloud computing strategies
If you’re not running your commercial real estate business in the cloud then chances are you’re spending more time and money on technology and hardware than your competitors. These days there are simpler, more cost effective cloud-based alternatives for most of the tools you use routinely. Everything from your phone system to accounting software is available online – and it really works too. There’s a whole new world out there for businesses in case you haven’t taken a look lately. And it’s probably a lot easier than you think to reduce costs and improve efficiency by embracing the cloud.
Not long ago using Internet-based software was a real compromise reserved for bleeding-edge early adopters. Sure the web offered some compelling benefits, but it was slow and didn’t feature the familiar desktop experience you knew and loved. Subsequently everyone invested in servers, hard drives, and personal computers and paid for in-house or outsourced IT staff to maintain it all. For many companies that mode of operation is outdated, and the Internet is now the place to be. Applications are simple, always available and relatively free of the inefficiencies that have ironically now become a part of the desktop software and hardware world.
It’s my belief that your business should come to you, and not the other way around. Today’s high-tech virtual business professionals are productive anywhere. They work as effectively from home and while traveling as they do sitting at their office desk. In fact offices are becoming less necessary as is the need for huge infrastructure investments. Inexpensive pay-as-you-go online systems are leveling the field and allow anyone to appear like a major player.
There’s real value to breaking the binds to your old desktop software and hardware ways. You may not be able to make the total plunge yet but using the list below you should find something to get you started.
1. Telephone system
Still using a PBX, or a receptionist? Consider a virtual PBX system, which is as appropriate these days for the big company as it is for the sole operator. There are great services that answer incoming calls, route callers and take messages. Check out services Grasshopper, RingCentral or VirtualPBX as viable replacements. Don’t forget to explore Google Voice or even Skype for even greater efficiency on outbound calling and advanced features.
2. Virtual Meetings
Web conference centers like GoToMeeting, Webex, and Adobe Connect allow you provide sales presentation and virtual meetings without geographic constraints. They’re great for presenting to parties at multiple locations, conducting instant meetings or even webinars. Of course you’ll save on travel, and some services are even free.
Some people still want to send you a fax. That’s OK since you can get rid of your fax machine and extra phone line by implementing services like eFax, MyFax, or RingCentral. They’ll give you a personal fax number that’s always available to receive faxes and then email you the pages no matter where you are. You can even send faxes too by uploading electronic files.
There is an alternative to Microsoft Exchange Server or other in-house email systems by using Google Apps. For an annual fee of $50 per user you’ll get 25GB of storage for web-based email that’s accessible anywhere online, through Outlook or your mobile device. It’s even branded with your company’s domain so nobody will know the difference. It’s up 99.9% of the time too, or so they claim, which is usually better than most corporate systems.
Web-based customer relationship management services are the mainstay of the business world these days. Forget about installing and maintaining desktop software, configuring a server or remembering to backup your database. Consider products like Salesforce.com, Highrise or even ClientLook’s all-in-one CRM system to share contacts, calendar and more with your team online. Look for file sharing, project management and mobile phone sync for the complete solution.
6. File servers
Don’t buy another file server until you consider web-based alternatives. For personal document storage check out Google Docs, DropBox, or Box.net. For companies and larger groups looking for enterprise solutions look at Microsoft SharePoint or dig up details on CCIM’s soon to be announced Online Resource Center for a great example of how to leverage the cloud for file sharing.
Joining sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook really can help your business by increasing your marketing exposure. Private corporate networking services like Yammer or Blogtronix are becoming increasingly popular for organizations to setup their own internal networks too. It sure beats email. Don’t forget about blogs and your website to make sure you’re covering all your bases.
8. Business accounting
Most companies still use accountants to prepare their taxes. However, there are very capable online business accounting systems like Quickbooks, Peachtree or AccountEdge that will write checks, download your banking and credit card information, run payroll and create invoices and receipts. You’ll enjoy real-time access to your business accounting at a low price that you can monitor anywhere.
9. Mobile phone apps
The cloud has come to your mobile phone. Take advantage of the number of business apps available for free or at a nominal cost. Most of the services described above offer some type of mobile phone integration. If you’re in the field a lot then this will be your lifeline to your business.
For most of us there are inexpensive commercial printers right around the corner. There are also a number of online sources like VistaPrint, FedEx Office and even Costco that allow you to upload files, photos and graphics for printing. It’s tough to justify the need for an heavy duty office color copier or printer these days when you can print just about anything you need online. For an even more cost effective paperless solution look at Adobe Acrobat or CutePDF to generate electronic documents you can email.
If you have any other compelling systems to suggest, please let us know so we can add it to the list.