When you only have a couple of people in an office the communication is normally very good. As an office grows it does not take long for the information and resources to be disseminated to a point that effective communication is often lost. To put it simply, everybody spends far too much time trying to find information and resources that somebody else in the office has when it should be right at your fingertips.
In a typical office you have salespeople and admin staff chasing each other for marketing deadlines, copies of flyers and other marketing material, polices and procedures, phone numbers, recent office memorandums, marketing deadlines and countless other files, documents and information.
About 8 years ago we introduced a rudimentary office intranet that served as hub and resource centre for our office. With a peer to peer network it ran on one of the workstations however after adding a server and active directory security we moved it to the office server. Over the years the Intranet expanded and it really became the central repository and sharing hub of all information in our office.
It is the homepage for every computer in our office and provides a wealth of information in our office including :
- Online forms – Very few paper forms in our office, everything is filled out on our Intranet which keeps an audit trail in case something goes wrong.
- Copy of every photo, window card, listing card and other documents for every property since 2000. It is very impressive to a prospective seller that you can call up a pdf copy of the window card for their home for the last 3 times you sold it.
- Office policies, memos, HR manuals, best practice records and procedures.Hundreds of marketing materials in print and email resolutions
- Staff, Tradesman and approved suppliers phone lists.
- Training videos, resources and links
- Copies of all related industry acts and other industry resources
- Links to dozens of commonly used websites such as TICA, RPData, REA and even the local weather radar.
Ask yourself how much time is wasted in your office with salespeople and admin staff alike chasing this sort of information?
One problem with being an early adopter of anything to do with technology is that later, as other solutions become available you have tough choices to make whether to upgrade or continue with what you have already got. Our Intranet is basically an internal internet site and lacks that collaboration aspects becoming more available recently.
For the past couple of years I have looked longingly at Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server which has the capability to be an Intranet on steroids for a small business. The learning curve for Sharepoint sites is quite steep and is the reason most small business that actually use it only have a very basic implementation installed. This is a program running the Intranet for huge corporations. Because our Intranet is now quite extensive the move would be very costly in both monetary terms and time. Sharepoint is not cheap and to get the most out of it we needed to either hire a professional or I had to do plenty of research.
Then along came Google!
In late 2006 Google released Google Apps which is a service using custom domain names with several Google products. Included in the suite was Gmail, Google Calendar, Talk, Docs and Page Creator which had extra functionality installed for collaboration within the enterprise. Over 1000 small businesses in Australia have signed up for Google Apps to date but I believe that will increase dramatically.
Google has just expanded Google Apps to include Google Sites which is a structured wiki using technology that Google purchased and re branded and then integrated into the Google Apps Suite to provide team sites to Google Apps accounts. In short Google Sites allows you to build an Intranet for your office with some amazing features with integrated security and collaboration tools.
It is just perfect for most agency sizes and can be as basic or as feature packed as you want. You can actually build many sites, each with their own different security levels, and link them all together to provide a combined Intranet and extranet.
Google Sites is very easy to use and most importantly the security model allows you to have all of your staff get involved in updating and editing their respective areas on the site with virtually no training whatsoever. I am currently in the process of swapping over our Intranet to a Google Sites version. It not perfect and it has its limitations, but it is free, easy to use and very very powerful. Of course, as its a Google product you know that the inbuilt search capability is brilliant and finding anything on your site is a breeze
All of the components of the Google Apps suite are very powerful and have a huge potential for use in our industry but that will be the subject of another post. Whether you use Microsoft Sharepoint, Google Sites or any one of dozens of other solutions available, the communication within your agency will improve out of site with an effective Intranet at its heart.