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Head in the clouds - is cloud computing the right solution for property firms? By: Jon Milward, Director of Managed & Support Services, Northdoor

Jon Milward, Northdoor

As UK property firms look for new ways to tackle the challenges associated with property management, they’re likely to place even greater demands on their existing IT systems and tools. The latest developments in technology will clearly have a vital role to play in supporting these efforts, and so perhaps it’s not surprising that many firms operating in this sector have embraced cloud computing as a logical step forward.

Although there are many different definitions for cloud computing, it essentially means that your applications and data are stored on the internet – otherwise known as ‘the cloud’ – rather than in your own office. The decision to move these resources into the cloud can provide three key advantages for property firms: greater flexibility, easier collaboration across different sites, and more effective cost control.

The flexibility that cloud computing provides is based on the fact that customers are paying for a service, rather than for new hardware and other equipment. With a traditional IT model, many property firms have found themselves locked into a multi-year investment, even though they had no way of knowing when (and whether) they would need extra resources to meet the changing demands of the business.

Cloud computing

Then, when additional resources are required, there is all the hassle of ordering the equipment, along with all the headaches of delivery, installation and implementation. Once this kind of infrastructure is purchased and set up, there is no way to scale down the services even if a company's requirements have decreased, which essentially means a business is tied to the capital investments that it has made up front.

By comparison, cloud computing can offer much greater flexibility and agility, since it allows IT to be consumed as a service, just like electricity or any other utility. A reputable cloud vendor will typically have all the equipment and functionality that is needed, ready and available, which means that a firm will never need to be hampered by a lack of resources, and can therefore expand its business much more quickly and easily, and with less risk.

Cloud also makes collaborative working much easier, with products like Microsoft Lync now able to offer a number of innovative and flexible tools that will help employees to communicate with each other more effectively. In fact, with just one click, it’s now possible to see where individual employees are working, whether they are available, to send them an instant message, to initiate a voice or video call, or to share a document. Benefits like these have enabled employees at property firms to collaborate much more easily, even if they are located in different premises, in different regions, or even different countries.

The third key benefit of cloud computing is the control that it gives over expenditure. With a traditional IT infrastructure, property firms have normally been tasked with buying, maintaining, managing and upgrading their own hardware and software. By comparison, cloud computing may end up being a less expensive option, as it essentially removes the capital costs needed to establish a strong IT infrastructure, and instead lets businesses consume IT as a service, simply paying for the resources that they use.

This ability to control IT costs is very important for property firms, since the staff and resources that are needed to manage various projects effectively will almost certainly change over time. For example, a firm's IT requirements may be project-based (e.g. a five-year project to build or manage a property) or property-based (such as the ongoing management of a shopping centre). Cloud computing can be used to cater for both of these scenarios, and also tends to be a cost effective tool for launching new property management services, as the time-to-value is very fast with the cloud model.

Even with all these benefits, however, cloud computing is definitely not a one-size-fits-all solution. Although some aspects of cloud solutions are undeniably innovative and beneficial, that doesn’t mean they are suitable for every property firm. As with any IT system, a cloud-based solution needs to be chosen through careful analysis and tailored to meet a company’s specific needs in order to achieve the greatest return on its investment.

Each year, Jon sleeps out for one night to raise money for homeless children and young people as he is a board member of the IT industry charity Byte Night

Features May 2012

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