To stay competitive today, you must constantly adapt to new technologies. Fax machines, car phones, voicemail and computer-based multiple listing services were all major game-changers. There’s another major game-changer afoot that will forever alter how we do business.

Gone are the days of MLS books, carbon paper and handwritten messages taken by a receptionist. Technology has enabled us to chat by video anywhere in the world for free, to respond instantaneously using text messaging, and to be completely mobile. Compare this to the cost of an 89-cent per minute cell phone call just 10 years ago. Technological innovation has provided us with better solutions at a significantly cheaper cost.

Cloud computing: the real game-changer in 2011?

Although certainly not a new concept, cloud computing will be one of the most important influences on the real estate industry in 2011.

According to Wikipedia, "Cloud computing is Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices on demand." Cloud computing "frequently takes the form of Web-based tools or applications that the user can access and use through Web browser." Major cloud computing companies include Amazon and Google.

Many agents are already using cloud computing solutions. For example, if you’re backing up your computer with an online solution such as Carbonite or Mozy, you’re backing up your computer "in the cloud."

The fundamental change here is that all your documents are stored in off-site (remote) servers rather than on the hard drive of your computer. This means that you can access your files anywhere there is a Wi-Fi connection. It also means that developers can create suites of services that you can access from a single point of entry.

One of the best examples is the Google suite of services. If you are using Gmail or any other Google products, such as Google Docs, Google Calendar or Google Voice, you are also using a cloud computing solution.

Benefits of cloud computing

The biggest benefit of cloud computing for the real estate industry is the ability to go paperless. Filing and tracking paperwork takes time. One broker who made the shift said that his company requires 93 different steps to close a transaction. This is a logistical nightmare. Almost every one of those 93 steps begins with someone writing the names, addresses and phone numbers of the principals. Eliminating 92 of those steps represents a huge savings of both time and money.

PC tablets: early cloud-computing solutions

Back in 2005, I purchased a tablet PC that I still use. The PC tablets are great because they let you do everything you can do with a regular computer. They also translate your handwriting into a Microsoft Word document. Even better, your clients can also sign directly on their purchase or sale documents. Writing on a PC tablet works the same as writing on a piece of paper. They also have a touch-screen keyboard that works with a light pen rather than your finger.

The Red Tablet software that came loaded on my tablet in 2005 allowed me to "lock down" documents so they couldn’t be changed. You could also store documents in an early version of the "cloud." An even more compelling reason to use this tablet was that it allowed you to create a detailed paper trail that included the times when every e-mail in the transaction was opened and when all documents were signed.

The iPad is hastening the shift into the cloud

Even though the early tablet PCs were very effective, not that many Realtors used them. In contrast, the industry seems to have fallen in love with the iPad. Part of the love affair may be due to the fact that so many people refuse to switch carriers to be able to use an iPhone. They can now use their current phone plus get the iPhone functionality with the iPad.

While there has been tremendous hype about the iPad, it doesn’t work very well when it comes to the handwriting features. In fact, it’s very difficult to take notes unless you’re entering them on the touch-screen keyboard. Nevertheless, it has most of the other features that the tablet PCs offer, and it is lighter and more portable. It’s the ease of use and the mobility that will drive our business to go paperless.

Cloud computing requires a major paradigm shift

If you look at the iPad, there are no external USB ports. This means that you will have to think about how you transfer files in an entirely different way. USB ports will probably go the way of floppy drives in the very near future. Instead, you will access everything wirelessly.

Part of the problem in working with video and audio files is their sheer size. When we shot our first 60-second video using a webcam, it comprised more than 100 megabytes. We had to purchase special software to reduce the file size.

With cloud computing, file sizes are no longer an issue. You can use a system like to store large files — you drop your files into a folder and specify who can access that folder. No more bounced e-mails due to large file sizes, no more travel drives, and no USB ports required. It’s all done seamlessly on the Web.

The online transaction-tracking platforms work in much the same way. Everyone involved in the transaction can check in at their convenience rather than playing telephone tag. There is also a detailed digital "paper trail" that shows exactly who completed what tasks and when the tasks were completed.

No paper also means no lost documents, virtually no storage costs, and a clear digital trail showing all required steps in the transaction were completed prior to closing.

Moving into the cloud and going paperless are no longer pipe dreams. The transition is happening at breakneck speed. If these changes are not already taking place in your company, look for them to arrive very soon.

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