By Selina Heathcote, Staff Columnist
Published 29th May 2007, (a Tuesday) at 09:00AM
You've probably heard the term Web 2.0 a lot recently. It's cropping up all over the media as an umbrella term for the second generation of web-based communities and services (think MySpace, Wikipedia et al) that allow collaboration and sharing between users. And if the future for online consumers is Web 2.0, in business it has to be SaaS.
Sounds great. But what exactly is it? And what can it offer real-estate businesses like yours?
SaaS stands for software as a service. Simply put, it's software that you access online instead of installing onto your own systems. It allows you to get the benefits of commercially licensed, internally operated software, but without the high initial outlay and complex set-up.
All the big players - IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP - are rapidly developing their offerings, and a recent report conducted by the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) predicts that SaaS will be the norm by 2020.
You won't have to wait that long to take advantage of its benefits though. One specialist company already offering SaaS to the property industry is Gnomen, with its comprehensive Estate Suite solution.
Positioned as the most complete package of its kind, Estate Suite offers three products in one - user-friendly property management software, a state-of-the-art website, and a content management system that allows you to easily access and update it all.
The Gnomen team has been around since 2001, after a group of web designers and online software developers recognised the need for a product like Estate Suite in the property sector. Working closely with property professionals, they began to develop a set of SaaS and web solutions tailored specifically to their needs.
Estate Suite's property management software, Gnomen PMS, is what SaaS is all about. Up and running in next to no time it allows you to streamline your day-to-day operations by bringing everything together in one place. And because that place is online, you can access it from anywhere in the world, at any time you like.
All of your databases, schedules, call reminders, calendars, tasks and shared documents can be centralised, and it's fully customisable to fit in with your existing business processes. A suite of advanced sales tools helps you track the entire process from viewing enquiries to completion, whilst every aspect of the lettings process including contacts, landlords, maintenance requests, payment schedules, arrears, history and account balances can be managed.
One company that's been working with the Gnomen PMS software for some time now is Abatoria Residential, a niche agency offering properties in the smarter corners of London's east.
"The Gnomen property management system has revolutionised the way we work," says Abatoria's managing director Tijen Ali. "We're a much more efficient operation these days, and we're passing that benefit on to our clients through a faster, smarter service. Plus, I love the fact that I can access the whole business when I'm on the move."
Abatoria's state-of-the-art website is also courtesy Estate Suite, providing a distinct competitive advantage over some of its competitors. The property industry has been notoriously slow to make the most of the web, but if your business doesn't have a strong online presence you could be in trouble.
Getting up and running online doesn't have to be daunting though. With a product like Estate Suite you can have a smartly designed website with advanced functionality more or less instantly.
Features include 360º virtual property tours, location maps, floor plans, photo galleries, instant mortgage calculation, valuation and contact request forms. You can even build up a list of registered subscribers, able to view their own saved portfolio of properties and receive daily, weekly or monthly property alerts by text or email. It's the kind of ongoing dialogue that Web 2.0-savvy consumers expect.
Unlike a lot of products on the market, Gnomen Estate Suite includes a content management system, enabling you to update your own content. In other words, once your site is up and running, you won't need to call in a third party every time you want to make changes.
Again, it's all accessed online, with a simple control panel that lets you create new pages or sections, upload images, add links or even set up discussion forums without needing any technical expertise. You can even assign different levels of access to your team - which means they can help keep your content updated without having free reign over the whole site.
Uniquely, Estate Suite also includes a set of integrated marketing tools. It's a brilliantly useful facility, allowing you to make detailed reports on the effectiveness of your online campaigns, calculating conversion rates and revenue per click. You can even see how your site's visitors behave online, so you can understand what they're looking for and make sure you're delivering it in the best way.
Whether you're a single-office operation or working on a much larger scale, SaaS solutions are increasingly looking like a better option than building from scratch or purchasing expensive licensed software packages. And when they also include tools to market your business more effectively online, it seems you could be on to a winner.
You'd be forgiven for hoping your competitors don't hear about it for a little while longer.