Findwell, a real estate brokerage, relies on technology to keep agents available to clients. Without a dedicated IT administrator, keeping lines of communication open was not always easy. The company now uses Microsoft Office 365 for cloud-based email and document sharing, making it easy for agents to maintain access to information and be more responsive to their clients from anywhere without the need to support an IT infrastructure.
Findwell aims to be more than your average real estate agency. Founded in 2008, the company delivers real estate brokerage services to home buyers and sellers, offering them dramatically lower fees through the use of technology and an innovative business model, while still providing exceptional service. Findwell is trying to grow in a difficult real estate market—and succeeding.
One of the company’s primary objectives is to make its real estate agents accessible at all times. “If clients see a home and want to put in an offer, they want to be able to reach their agent immediately so that they don’t miss the opportunity,” says Kevin Lisota, Chief Executive Officer of findwell. “As agents, we are most often in the field, not the office, but we need constant access to information for our clients. We also need to quickly respond to email from prospective clients because, if we don’t, they could go elsewhere and the missed opportunity would cost us thousands.”
Keeping lines of communication open requires attention from an IT perspective, but findwell does not have a dedicated IT administrator. “We are a small business, so I take care of IT provisioning, training, management, and maintenance,” says Lisota. “I am fairly technical, so I don’t mind the work, but the time that I spend managing our IT infrastructure to keep everyone connected with their clients and each other is time that I am not spending on building our business.”
||In addition to being affordable, using Office 365 takes away infrastructure worries and provides a professional presence for us as we set ourselves apart from our competitors.
Chief Executive Officer, findwell
Also, findwell had no set procedure or timeline for backup, recovery, and hardware replacement, which created worries about dealing with catastrophic events or failures. “Plus, I was concerned that our system could not scale to support us as we grew,” says Lisota.Solution
Until recently, findwell relied on an on-premises server to run its business, but it is taking part in a beta program to test Microsoft Office 365, which brings productivity applications together with email and calendars, collaboration sites, and audio/video calling in an always up-to-date cloud service. “Our IT environment fit us pretty well, but I was interested in removing the management of critical systems from my workload,” says Lisota. “I saw Office 365 as the best choice for findwell because we could continue to use familiar Microsoft productivity tools while gaining all the advantages of cloud computing. If I can put the management and maintenance of our key IT systems in the hands of the company that creates them, I can free up my time to focus on growing our business.”
The transition to Office 365 went so smoothly that findwell employees had no idea when it happened. “We use Microsoft Exchange Online and Microsoft SharePoint Online just as we used to use the on-premises Exchange Server and SharePoint Server,” says Lisota.
The company makes comprehensive use of Exchange Online, including its shared calendars, support for multiple email boxes, and mobile messaging. “Our agents need to be able to send and receive email on all sorts of devices from anywhere they happen to be,” says Lisota. “The sync capabilities of Exchange Online mean that I can easily enable my employees to get email on all of their phones and computers from any web browser.”
Findwell uses SharePoint Online to manage documents such as home-listing checklists, flyer templates, and its employee manual. Employees also submit their expense reports through SharePoint Online and use the service’s dashboard functionality to monitor the company’s sales progress.
The company has started using Microsoft Lync Online for web conferencing, which is a new capability for agents. “We currently handle business in person, through email, or over the phone,” says Lisota. “By using Lync Online, we have a more time-effective way to share complex information such as contracts, market valuations, and home details with our clients. Now we can replace a lengthy email exchange or a long drive with a quick online meeting."Benefits
Findwell plans to adopt Office 365 upon its commercial release because it gives the company enterprise-class technology tools at an affordable small-business price. “In addition to being affordable, using Office 365 takes away infrastructure worries and provides a professional presence for us as we set ourselves apart from our competitors,” says Lisota. “I think it’s great that I can take advantage of the same technology infrastructure that large companies use, at a price that is friendly to small businesses.”
The company expects the following benefits from using Office 365:
- Simpler IT management at a reduced cost. Findwell no longer worries about IT infrastructure because Microsoft handles system maintenance. “Even more beneficial is the straightforward cost structure,” says Lisota. “I like the simple subscription service for Office 365. If I add an employee, I add another $6 each month—and that’s it. Previously, we would have to budget for large, periodic expenses to buy a new server and software, but now we have an easy-to-predict IT budget.”
Improved responsiveness to clients. Using Office 365 fosters the company’s goal of constant availability to clients. “Clients expect us to be reachable and have the answers that they need at all times. Office 365 supports that effort, whether our agents are in the office, at a home, or in a coffee shop,” says Lisota. “Thanks to Office 365, our agents can access the information that they need with the tools that they are already familiar with. That is a great advantage.”
Greater business agility. The company can scale its technology to fully support business growth without adding IT headaches or infrastructure hardware. “As I add more real estate agents, I don’t have to figure out if our server can handle the growth or worry about hardware upgrade cycles. Office 365 can easily grow along with us.”
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