Feeling at home in the cloud


Today’s Office 365 post was written by Tom Flanagan, vice president of technology at Alain Pinel Realtors

Alain Pinel CEOFinding the ideal home doesn’t just happen on its own. Real estate agents work hard to hit upon the perfect cross-section of style, location and price for their clients. The same goes for selling a home—getting the word out through all the best channels, hosting open houses, and working with prospective buyers to negotiate prices takes skill and effort on the part of an agent.

At Alain Pinel Realtors, we strive to enhance the lives and work environments of our 200 corporate employees and more than 1,300 agents. And for us, the “work environment” extends far beyond our 30+ offices. From my vantage point as vice president of technology, that means providing a platform for communication and collaboration that makes it faster and easier for our workforce to connect with both colleagues and clients. The challenge is that our agents are independent contractors who make their own decisions about which devices and operating systems to use, so any technologies we provide need to be platform agnostic.

When I joined the agency earlier this year, my first initiative was a move to the cloud to give our agents better access to the data and contacts that they need—whether they’re visiting a client’s house, sitting in the car outside a new property on the market, or working from home. Plus, it’s an easy way to accommodate all the different devices used throughout the agency while easing management responsibilities for our technology department.

We decided to go with Microsoft Office 365 because the usability of the platform is backed by the power of the enterprise. It’s got built-in security to help protect all the sensitive client data we handle, and it’s scalable for the future. With Office 365, we also get the best of both worlds: if agents like to work in the browser, they can access all the components from there, and if they prefer a more traditional desktop experience, they can have that, too. I’d worked with Google Apps elsewhere, but it offers less flexibility for employees. Buyers, agents and lenders need to work with complex analytics during the purchase of a home, and we feel that Microsoft Excel Online is the only platform that lets them do that easily from anywhere.

In our market, minutes matter. With Office 365, we’re giving our agents a competitive advantage when it comes to productivity. In a competitive landscape like the Bay Area, jumping in first with an offer can mean the difference between getting a client the right home and missing out. We plan to use digital workspaces to give our clients access to all the documents related to their transaction so that agents and clients can collaborate in real time to make responsible decisions.

I know that Office 365 is going to have a tremendous impact on not only our level of service to clients but also quality of life for our agents. They’ll have far less need to travel to and from the office, but the more important aspect is that they can get a lot more done in a day on whatever device from wherever they are. Take listing presentations, for example, which agents create and present to try to win a seller’s business. An agent might start putting a presentation together in the office on a PC, head home to work on it using a MacBook Pro, and display the finished product to clients the next day on a tablet. In an environment where we’re constantly looking to recruit, hire and retain talented professionals, being able to offer flexible technology like Office 365 is a strategic advantage.

We’re confident that our choice of Office 365 will serve us well, giving the agency a platform for attracting talent, providing agents with a greater ability to be successful, and, ultimately, delivering a superior experience to our clients.

—Tom Flanagan