Five Questions With: Tom Flanagan

Technology director at Residential Properties talks about the introduction of cloud computing and mobile technology in real estate world. More

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Five Questions With: Tom Flanagan

COURTESY RESIDENTIAL PROPERTIES
"THERE ARE multiple solutions for communications and document storage and there is a lively debate in the tech community between a private cloud versus a public cloud solution," said Tom Flanagan, technology director at Residential Properties.
Posted 1/27/12

Tom Flanagan, technology director at Residential Properties real estate brokerage in Providence, moderated panel discussions this month at the Real Estate Connect conference in New York on “Updating Your Digital Presence for the Post-PC World” and “Transitioning Your Brokerage to the Cloud.” He recently took a few minute to discuss with PBN how brokerages are adapting to cloud computing and taking advantage of mobile technology.

PBN: We’ve heard a lot about the advantages of cloud computing in the last few years, but for brokerages, what, if any, are the risks?

FLANAGAN: Cloud computing has certainly been a big buzzword in the real estate industry the last few years. The cloud is a good fit for the industry - offering many advantages. It allows Realtors to work remotely on the device of their choice, while having access to critical data at their fingertips. However, there are always advantages and disadvantages with any technology platform. There are different risks for different solutions. With a public cloud service you surrender a certain amount of control over a system and the service provider is responsible for upgrades, security and privacy. With a private cloud service, the broker is susceptible to risks with hardware, software, security, backup and more.

PBN: Before the recent Broker Summit, you predicted a lively debate about the merits of public cloud versus private cloud computing solutions for real estate. Was that what you got and which came out looking better in the end?

FLANAGAN: For many brokerages, cloud computing remains a nebulous technology. There are multiple solutions for communications and document storage and there is a lively debate in the tech community between a private cloud versus a public cloud solution. I was extremely pleased with the workshop at the Broker Summit and we had a passionate debate. We had a fantastic panel with strong opinions. Half the panel represented large brokerages and the other half small. The size of an organization and the number of users played a major role in the discussion. Ultimately, cloud computing is supposed to alleviate IT hassles and expensive infrastructure cost. A private cloud solution defeats this premise. We implemented Google Apps (a public solution) at Residential Properties and have never been happier.

PBN: When it comes to adapting your online mobile presence, is the most important thing right now to make sure your site looks good and is functional on phones and tablets, or are potential buyers using their mobile devices to do entirely different things on real estate sites then they do at their desks?

FLANAGAN: Mobile Internet usage is projected to surpass desktop Internet usage by 2014. There is no question that the mobile web is wildly popular and growing every day. According to the Adobe "Mobile Experience Survey," 81 percent of users prefer mobile sites to apps for researching prices. It’s crucial for real estate professionals to focus on optimizing their mobile presence. I hosted another talk at Real Estate Connect entitled “Updating Your Digital Presence for the Post-PC World” where I interviewed Mark Lesswing, the senior vice president and chief technology officer of the National Association of Realtors. We discussed the benefits of responsive web design, which is a single, clean design that works on all screen sizes. A responsive web design may not be the right fit for every project, however, I believe it’s going to have a big impact on the real estate industry in 2012.

PBN: Everyone wants to feel they are taking advantage of social media, but is there any evidence that Twitter and Facebook are actually driving choices about purchases or Realtor choice?

FLANAGAN: Many Realtors that I know who use social media successfully discuss not only ROI (return on investment) but also ROE (return on engagement). They utilize social media to connect with their sphere and cultivate relationships. Is Facebook or Twitter influencing purchasing or Realtor choice? I don’t have hard data to answer that accurately but I can say that the Facebook page for this year’s conference generated many formal registrations.

PBN: You were a panelist at Real Estate Connect 2011. What would you say was the biggest difference between discussions this year compared with a year ago?

FLANAGAN: We were still debating Flash versus HTML5 a year ago. The need for cross-platform applications and post-PC era content has been a catalyst for open standards. There was also a lot of emphasis this year on the country transitioning to a cottage economy or an artisanal economy. Small is beautiful again and there is a wonderful opportunity to be innovative and creative.

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