After posting my article on the benefits of Outlook Exchange hosting for the real estate professional, I got a great comment asking, “Why not use Google Apps?” This question really made me think. We here at MyTechOpinion.com are huge Google fans. I have become addicted to my personalized Google homepage and love my Gmail account. While these tools have improved my personal computing life, let’s take a look at Google’s offerings from the perspective of a real estate agent’s business needs.
Google is in the first stages of a new push towards becoming a leading business applications provider. In fact, they have recently announced a partnership with IBM to develop enterprise applications starting with an intranet search tool.
Google Apps is a compilation of several existing Google applications with the addition of some new offerings. These applications include Gmail (email), Google Talk (text and voice calling), Google Calendar, Docs & Spreadsheets (a Microsoft Word and Excel alternative), and Google Page Creator (web page publishing). Google has also added domain name hosting, allowing you to use the Gmail application without an @gmail.com email address.
Google Apps is a very impressive package. Yet, I am not convinced that this is a great option for a real estate agent. While Gmail and Google Calendar have some great functionality, they fall short on contact management and smart phone synchronization is limited. I have played around with Google Docs & Spreadsheets and am amazed at what Google has accomplished with this application, but it isn’t robust enough to replace my beloved Microsoft Office (think of functionality like mail merge). Google Page Creator does make web page creation easy, but are you a real estate agent or a webmaster? Focus on selling homes and pay a professional to build your website.
Feature comparisons aside, the most important issues are that of reliability and support. InfoWorld.com ran an article here this past week discussing problems with service outages. According to their article, Prudential Preferred Properties, a Chicago based real estate firm with about 500 agents, experienced a several hour period recently where email service was unavailable. That type of service disruption can prove to be quite costly to a real estate agent or in this case, the entire brokerage.
With regards to support, phone support and uptime guarantees are only available to Premier Edition users. Premier Edition accounts cost $50 per user, per year. Standard Edition (free) users are limited to online support that includes user discussion groups, email and knowledge base access.
Relying solely on online applications adds another potential problem. If your Internet connection goes down, you are in the dark. With no access to your calendar, you could miss an important appointment.
When it comes to my business, downtime means lost opportunity. I would much rather spend a little bit more to have tools and services that I can rely on. Until Google Apps or another alternative can prove themselves over time, I am going to continue to use Outlook Exchange hosting, Microsoft Office applications, and a dedicated web host and recommend this for real estate professional, as well.