Coldwell Banker Howard Perry & Walston Finds New Home in the Cloud

Coldwell Banker Howard Perry & Walston Finds New Home in the Cloud
Industry Real Estate Service Google Apps Region North America Company Size 100-999

Company Background

Founded in 1972 by Howard Perry and Don Walston, Coldwell Banker Howard Perry & Walston is currently the Raleigh-Durham Triangle’s leading full-service residential real estate company and one of the leading realty firms in the nation. With more than 650 real estate professionals and 12 sales offices, Coldwell Banker Howard Perry & Walston is committed to serving the real estate and home ownership needs of the North Carolina community.

Coldwell Banker Howard Perry and Walston was named the #1 Coldwell Banker company in North Carolina in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. The division is also a member of the Coldwell Banker Chairman’s Circle, a 2006 and 2007 Triangle Business Journal Fast 50 Award recipient and the 2007 #1 and 2008 #1 Best Place to Work in the Triangle (TBJ).

Business Challenges

Coldwell Banker Howard Perry and Walston had been using Microsoft Exchange 2003 for several years. In 2009, the company migrated from Exchange 2003 to a virtualized Exchange 2007 environment.

“Since that migration, we’ve had nothing but problems with Exchange. We were constantly trying to fix issues,” said Network/Systems Administrator Andrew Bromfield.

Unreliable system uptime, inadequate spam filtering and limited inbox quotas were slowing down the company’s real estate agents. And in real estate, time kills deals. The virtualized Microsoft Exchange environment was costing the firm real money.

“On average per month, we maintained about 85 percent uptime,” Bromfield said. “Standard users were limited to 750 mb and our Barracuda filter was just okay.”

The Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) did not support those on Android and iPhones, and users had difficulty checking email, opening documents and updating their calendars when out of the office. This was a significant problem for Coldwell Banker HPW, as the majority of their workforce is constantly on-the-go and needs to be able to quickly pull up information for potential buyers.

The old system could not accommodate the consumerization of IT and new BYOD, or Bring Your Own Device, policies. Blackberrys were slowing agents down, and the BES made it difficult for agents to use the devices they knew best.

“Since we’re a real estate company, our agents are assigned to offices, but nine times out of 10, they’re going to be in the field,” said Bromfield. “Our employees are extremely mobile and we wanted them to be able to use the devices that made them the most comfortable.”

After a few months of constant problems with Exchange 2007, Bromfield said he knew he needed to look for a new system, as the cost of Exchange far outweighed the value.

“Between the cost of licensing, the hardware for our ESX servers and the labor involved maintaining the server, we were probably looking at $150,000 a year for that alone,” Bromfield said.

On top of licensing and server costs, Exchange was costing their agents deals.

“Our business requires 99.9 percent uptime. Our real estate agents must be able to reply to clients in real-time, without wading through spam or worrying about inbox quota,” said Bromfield. “That’s why we went Google.”

Solution

Bromfield had been personally using Google Apps since the platform was in Beta. He trusted Google for his personal email and calendar, and researched Google Apps for Business when the decision was made to move away from Exchange.

“We first talked about Google Apps in 2010 when I approached my manager about it and he thought it was a good solution,” Bromfield said. “Three months after that initial conversation, we set up calls with our Google Regional Sales Rep. and knew we had to Go Google.”

Bromfield said it was important for Coldwell Banker HPW to move information to the cloud so that documents, calendars and email could be more easily accessed in remote locations. Easy anywhere-access was crucial for Coldwell agents, and closing deals often depended upon it.

“Our agents needed a way to access all of their data quickly. Their clients need information fast, and our agents need to be the quickest to respond,” Bromfield said. “Otherwise, the deal could be dead on the vine.”

Though Coldwell Banker HPW briefly considered Microsoft Office 365, Bromfield said the company immediately knew this was not the cloud solution for them.

“We took a brief look at it and said ‘no, it’s not going to work out.’ We knew that Office 365 relied on Outlook, which meant Microsoft licensing, so we stopped looking at that as a potential solution,” he said. “Office 365 also did not integrate as well with our agents’ personal devices like Androids, iPhones and tablets.”

In a cost-savings analysis between Google and Microsoft, Coldwell Banker HPW found enormous cost savings over Exchange.

“It’s not just the hardware,” Bromfield said. “It’s also the licensing and Outlook for the client machines, which means more licensing. It’s also the cost of additional storage on Exchange.”

Limited inboxes on Exchange 2007 had been a major driver in the exploration of Google Apps.

“We were running out of storage, which was a huge concern,” Bromfield said. “We could have never offered our users the amount of storage they have now. It would have been overwhelmingly cost prohibitive.”

Bromfield said that the cost of Exchange was more than triple the cost per user of Google Apps, but cost savings isn’t the only perk of Google Apps.

“The true benefit is availability. We wanted our agents to be able to access their email from anywhere. With Exchange, they would access email with Outlook Web Access, but they had no where near the features that Google provides.”

Coldwell Banker HPW began a phased migration to Google Apps in June 2010.

“We knew from the get-go it wasn’t going to be a quick migration coming from an old, established mail system,” Bromfield said, “so we migrated office by office.”

Coldwell Banker HPW first migrated the IT team and administrative assistants from each of the nine offices to Google Apps.

“It was kind of hectic because once we mentioned the move to Google Apps, everyone wanted to move and we had to tell everyone to slow down,” Bromfield said.

After migrating the IT team, a group of twenty tech-savvy users from across the company and administrative assistants from all offices, Coldwell Banker migrated each of its nine locations one-by-one.

A training session was held in each remote location and administrative assistants acted as “Google Guides” to their respective offices.

“We relied on our administrative assistants to help our agents in regards to training,” Bromfield said. “Most of the agents already had personal Gmail accounts, so the system was pretty intuitive.”

Results

Since moving to Google Apps, Coldwell Banker HPW has noticed increased productivity, efficiency and ease-of-scheduling.

“We haven’t yet done an official survey,” Bromfield said, “but 99% of users are happy with Google Apps and glad we made the switch. I’ve had people that we’ve moved that said they couldn’t get used to it, and two months later they love it. Mail is our agents’ lifeline, so I understand why they get nervous about it, but they’re so happy we made the switch.”

Bromfield said that Coldwell Banker HPW is allowing agents to organically get used to the various tools Google Apps has to offer, such as Docs, Sites, Calendar and Chat.

Calendar is one of the most used features and Sites is a feature in which Bromfield sees high potential.

“Employees are still in the transition phase where they’re getting used to the system, but I see Sites being used as client portals through which agents and clients can keep in touch during the development of a sale,” he said.

Calendar overlay has made scheduling meetings, phone duty and open houses easy, and the mobility of Google Apps has allowed agents to be productive from virtually anywhere.

“Agents can access their email, calendar and documents from anywhere on pretty much any device, whether it be at home, on the road or on their iPad or mobile device, it’s all right there for them,” Bromfield said.

Instead of providing all employees with Blackberrys, Bromfield said Coldwell Banker HPW is adopting the “BYOD,” or Bring Your Own Device, policy in which employees set up professional email on their personal devices.

“Employees love being able to use their iPhones and Androids for work,” Bromfield said. “These are the devices that they use every day, and the devices they feel comfortable using.”

The major benefit for the IT team is more time. Before the move to Google Apps, Bromfield said that about 70 percent of his time was spent monitoring Exchange, placing tickets with Microsoft and troubleshooting issues.

“Now I can actually look at stuff I should have been looking at before,” Bromfield said. “Google Apps frees up a lot of time for me, not only during the work week, but also during my off time because I don’t have to worry about Exchange constantly.”

Bromfield said that Google Apps has enabled Coldwell Banker HPW agents to more quickly make the sale and has allowed the IT team to take on projects that propel the business forward.

“Google Apps unlocked hidden productivity within Coldwell Banker Howard Perry & Walston,” Bromfield said. “Our agents can now access their information from virtually anywhere, our IT team no longer spends hours on server maintenance and on top of all the perks, we’re saving thousands of dollars year after year.”

During the next several months, Coldwell Banker HPW is looking to implement Google Archiving & Discovery to more easily meet legal regulations to store email for at least two years.

“We’re looking forward to going even more Google,” Bromfield said. “Google Apps has changed the way our agents do business for the better and we’re excited about what’s next.”