Microsoft Teams Plan Comparison: Free vs M365 Business vs Teams Essentials

iphone screen with icons on screen

The shift to remote work over the last two years has caused companies to realign their digital tools. Now, many meetings default to being via video conference rather than in person, and working from home has become commonplace.

Seventy-seven percent of remote workers say they’re more productive working from home (a big reason is fewer distractions). Plus 85% of surveyed managers expect that having teams with remote workers will be the new normal.

But for remote working to work without employees feeling disconnected and customers feeling you’re hard to reach, you need to use cloud communication tools. One of the most popular, which has skyrocketed in popularity, is Microsoft Teams.

Between April 2020 and April 2021, the Microsoft Teams daily active users count rose from 75 million to 145 million

Teams is an all-in-one communication platform, providing more than just video conferencing or chat. It combines several capabilities into an online work hub for collaboration and communication. 

Some of the key features of MS Teams include:

  • Video and audio calls
  • Webinar registration & attendance reporting
  • Channeled team chat
  • File storage and sharing
  • In-app collaboration in Word, Excel, PPT, and more
  • In-app collaboration in 3rd party applications
  • Tabs that allow teams to link apps and websites inside a channel
  • Status notification and alerts
  • Use on all devices

MS Teams Evolution

Originally, Microsoft Teams was available only through a Microsoft 365 Business subscription. Then, to improve the popularity of Teams and compete with video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Microsoft brought out a free version with fewer features in 2018.

This helped the service increase its user base, however, there was a wide gap between the capabilities of the paid version with a Microsoft 365 subscription and the free version. Such as much less support, fewer features, etc.

Microsoft noted that it was missing a vital audience, the small business. Small business owners had a more difficult time fitting into either the free model, with very limited group meeting timing, or the paid model, which required a full M365 subscription.

So, in December of 2021, it brought out the third plan for MS Teams that it is hoping is “just right” for smaller companies that need the same collaboration and communication tools as everyone else. This plan is called Teams Essentials, and you don’t need to sign up for Microsoft 365 to get it.

Comparison of Teams Essentials vs Teams Free vs Teams with an M365 Business Plan

Next, we’ll go through the differences between these three MS Teams plans so you can identify the one that may make the most sense for your company.

Microsoft Teams Free Version

The free version of MS Teams was really brought out to reach the residential and home user crowd. An audience that had been completely missing from the Teams userbase up to that point.

This plan has the following capabilities:

  • Unlimited group meetings for up to 60 minutes
  • Up to 100 participants per meeting
  • 5GB of cloud storage per user
  • Unlimited chat
  • File sharing, tasks, and polling
  • Data encryption for calls, files, meetings, chats
  • Co-authoring capabilities
  • Ability to add tabs inside group channels

The biggest drawback of using the free version for your business is the 60-minute limit on group video meetings. The 5GB cloud storage also can be limiting for business use of Teams.

Microsoft Teams Essentials

Teams Essentials is $4/user/month and was designed specifically for small businesses that may not want to subscribe to M365, but still need a good cloud collaboration tool to keep their team connected and productive.

This plan has the following capabilities:

  • Everything in the free version, plus:
  • Unlimited group meetings for up to 30 hours
  • Up to 300 participants per meeting
  • 10GB of cloud storage per user
  • Anytime phone and web support

The additional group meeting time (up to 30 hours) is more than enough to fill any type of meeting need, even those that go on all day. Additionally, users get double the cloud storage space, and the phone and web support ensure your staff has help using the app when needed.

Teams with Microsoft 365

The version of Teams with Microsoft 365 is available with any business plan. The lowest cost plan is $6.00/user/month ($2 more than Essentials). However, the Basic package does not come with downloadable Office apps (Word, Excel, etc.), only the web versions.

The next step up would be M365 Business Standard at $12.50/user/month, which is quite a bit more than the price for Teams Essentials. This one does include the downloadable Office apps.

These plans have the following capabilities:

  • Everything in the Essentials version, plus:
  • Office applications (either web or web & downloadable)
  • All the many M365 cloud apps (OneDrive, Forms, SharePoint, OneNote, and many others)
  • 1TB of cloud storage per user
  • Webinar hosting
  • Customer appointment management
  • Premium security features

If you are planning to use Microsoft Office software and other applications, then it makes sense to get Teams along with an M365 subscription. However, if your business already owns the offline version of the Office suite or does not need it, then Teams Essentials offers a lot of capabilities with a lower price tag.

Need Help Getting MS Teams or Other Cloud Tools Set Up?

Today’s hybrid offices and remote teams need robust collaboration tools to compete. Contact us if you need help getting started with MS Teams or another cloud tool. We’ll be happy to facilitate a custom setup to ensure your staff can hit the ground running.


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This Article has been Republished with Permission from The Technology Press.

What You Need to Know About the Rise in Supply Chain Cyberattacks

Cyber, Attack, Encryption, Smartphone, Mobile, Finger

Any cyberattack is dangerous, but the particularly devastating ones are those on supply chain companies. These can be any supplier – digital or non-digital – of goods and services.

We’ve seen several attacks on the supply chain occur in 2021 that had wide-reaching consequences. These are “one-to-many” attacks where victims can go far beyond the company that was initially breached.

Some recent high-profile examples of supply chain attacks include:

  • Colonial Pipeline: A ransomware attack caused this major gas pipeline to be shut down for nearly a week.
  • JBS: The world’s largest supplier of beef and pork products was hit with ransomware that caused plants in at least three countries to shut down for several days.
  • Kaseya: This software company had its code infected with ransomware, which quickly spread to IT businesses that used its products and to roughly 1,500 of their small business customers. 

Why do you need to be worried about supply chain attacks even more so than in the past? Because they’ve been growing and are expected to continue this trajectory.

Supply chain attacks rose by 42% during the first quarter of 2021. A surprising 97% of companies have been impacted by a breach in their supply chain, and 93% suffered a direct breach as a result of a supply chain security vulnerability.

If you’re not properly prepared, then you can be impacted by a breach of software you use or have a vital service or goods supplier go down for several days due to a cyberattack. 

As part of any good business continuity and disaster recovery strategy, you should look at supply chain risks in light of the current increase in attacks and formulate a plan.

How Can You Mitigate Your Risk of Losses Due to an Attack on Your Supply Chain?

Identify Your Supplier Risk

You can’t fix what you don’t know is wrong. So, you need to begin by shedding some light on your risk should one of your vendors get hit with ransomware (the current attack of choice on the supply chain) or another type of breach.

Make a list of all your vendors and suppliers, both for goods and services. This includes everything from the cloud services you use to the company that supplies your office products or any raw materials you may use in a product you sell.

Review these vendors to identify their cybersecurity risks. This is something you may need some help with from your IT partner. We can work with you to review vendor security or send them a survey to find out where they stand as to their cybersecurity, and then determine how much that may leave you at risk as one of their customers.

Create Minimum Security Requirements for Digital Vendors

Come up with some minimum security requirements that you can use as a benchmark with your vendors. One way to make this easier is to use an existing data privacy standard as your requirement. 

For example, if a vendor is GDPR compliant, then you know they’ve adopted several important cybersecurity standards that protect their business, and yours, from an attack.

Do an IT Security Assessment to Learn Where You’re Vulnerable

If the software you use had a vulnerability that was exploited by hackers to take over a system, how much does that leave your systems at risk? Do you have a regular patch application strategy in place to ensure any software updates are applied right away?

You should have an IT security assessment done if you haven’t done one in over a year. This will help you identify how strong your systems would be at preventing a breach or ransomware infection that was coming from a digital supply chain vendor.

Put Backup Vendors in Place Where Possible

If you sell widgets and have a single supplier for one specific part needed for that widget, you’re at a much higher risk of downtime than if you had two suppliers of that part.

If a key vendor of yours is attacked and can’t fill orders or provide services for a week or more, how will that impact your business? This is what you want to consider when setting up backup vendors.

For example, most companies would consider themselves down and not able to operate without their internet. Having a backup internet service provider can help you avoid lengthy downtime should your main ISP go down.

Look at putting this type of safety net in place for all vendors that you can.

Ensure All Data Kept in Cloud Services is Backed Up in a 3rd Party Tool

Microsoft recommends in its Services Agreement that customers back up their cloud data that is kept in its services (such as Microsoft 365). The policy states, “We recommend that you regularly backup Your Content and Data that you store on the Services or store using Third-Party Apps and Services.”

You should have a backup (in a separate platform) of all data that you store in cloud services, so you’ll be protected in case of a ransomware infection or other data loss or service loss incident.

Schedule A Supply Chain Security Assessment

Don’t be in the dark about your risk. Schedule a supply chain security assessment to learn where you could be impacted in the case of a cyberattack on a supplier.


Featured Image Credit

This Article has been Republished with Permission from The Technology Press.

Lead Your Business More Effectively by Implementing Unified Communications

Unified Communications Technology Consulting Dallas Texas

Unified communications are a go-to solution for business owners looking to streamline their businesses and increase employee productivity in the long term. See how it benefits your business.

Providing high-quality communication channels is crucial for any company. After all, it promotes cross-department collaboration and faster exchange of ideas. 

Since phones often don’t suffice for this, many business owners turn to unified communications. 

But what exactly is unified communication?

This article explains just that. Read on to discover the main concepts of this approach and how you can use it to help your business achieve success. 

What Is Unified Communications?

Unified communications is an all-in-one platform that unifies phone, video, screen sharing, chat, and file management into a single space. It’s a ready-to-use system that allows for seamless communication in numerous ways. 

The system operates as a cloud, making it easily accessible to all team members with access to the internet. 

But why should anyone consider switching to unified communications?

There are several reasons, but this is the most crucial: 

Business leaders who adopt it would be able to impact their business every day and make it seamless for employees to interact with each other. 

That said, we’ll list 5 of the key features of this concept to help you better understand how it can help you scale your business. 

The 5 Features

Feature #1. Mobility

When connected to unified communications, all employees can stay connected at all times and from all locations. It doesn’t matter whether they’re working from home, vacationing on a remote island, or sitting in the office. They’ll still be able to chat, receive calls, and more.

Feature #2. Unified Messaging

This allows employees to handle different message types using a single tool. They can easily switch communication modes, depending on their needs. 

Feature #3. Conferencing 

Whenever you need conferencing tools, you’ll have them in the palm of your hand. You can allow a group of teammates or customers from outside your organization to connect and speak via video or audio from different locations. 

Feature #4. Fax Support

Faxes received through unified communications appear as email attachments. This way, users can also receive faxes on their desktops and smartphones. 

Feature #5. Presence

This feature lets other users know each other’s status. That means you’ll be able to see when someone is online (Active), busy (Do Not Disturb), or away (Out of the Office). 

How Unified Communications Help Business Leaders

So, what are the benefits of using unified communications in your business? 

Let’s explore 6 of them below. 

Benefit #1. Higher Team Productivity

It’s important for a business owner to boost their team’s workflow and eliminate bottlenecks. Because once they get to do so, productivity will drastically improve. 

This can be done thanks to unified communications. 

This type of communication makes it easier for team members to save time on various tasks, including:

  • Faster file sharing that gets rid of email threads for teamwork
  • Ability to receive calls from any location
  • Ability to receive voicemails and faxes directly in the email
  • Single-click video meetings for emergencies

Teams with access to such technologies can be more effective and get more tasks done in a single day. It also helps get rid of communication challenges. 

Benefit #2. Lower Communication Costs

Legacy phones and on-site communication tools often cost more than your IT budget should allow.

On the other hand, unified communication relies on the internet for all its activities. This means your phone system turns to Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and integrates with the rest of the tools. This approach eliminates the need for server and hardware infrastructure creation. 

Unified communications also make it super easy to add new users. You can simply do so via an easy-to-use dashboard without having to make service calls. 

Finally, the cost of unified communications is the same every month. There won’t be any surprises to your budget. 

Benefit #3. Enhanced Customer Service

Whether or not a company is successful greatly depends on the quality of its customer service. 

With unified communications, your employees can provide great customer service easier. After all, they can respond to client queries regardless of their location. It’s because all chats, incoming calls, and emails are visible from any device. 

You can also integrate all your CRM software on the platform for added benefits. 

For example, when a person contacts your business, the person in charge can see all the necessary information and notes related to that client. In the end, they can help them solve issues faster.

Benefit #4. Empowering a Remote Workforce

Thousands of companies have switched to remote work over the past few years. There are plenty of benefits to this approach after all. 

However, a constant concern here is ensuring that remote workers have all the tools they need for work. 

Thanks to unified communications, all communication aspects are included in a single platform. This means that all your remote worker needs is a stable internet connection to get access to your network and all the features, just like the rest of the team. 

Benefit #5. Increasing Organizational Agility

When you increase your team’s productivity, the same follows for the entire organization. The organizational agility reflects the strategic value of unified communications. And the results you achieve impact your business as a whole. 

So, to see how this approach benefits your work, you must view unified communications from the management side as well. 

Sure, communication has a utilitarian role for management. But when that communication drives productivity, streamlines workflow, and leads to enhanced business outcomes, it’s where you really get to see its value.

Benefit #6. Enhanced Security

The security aspect is crucial for every business. And unified communications enhance the security of a business by integrating all applications into a single platform. 

As a result, it becomes straightforward for the IT team to apply specific security policies across all apps. It’s also easier for them to manage security patches and compliance updates since all applications share the same protocols. 

Realizing the Power of Unified Communications 

Streamlining the processes inside an organization is extremely important in improving the overall performance of its employees. And unified communications allow you to do just that. 

With it, you can boost your customer experience and make your team more efficient by integrating your whole communications system into a single platform. 

Unified communications will let you and your team make calls, host conferences, send emails, receive faxes, and chat from a single, unified space to make your job (and life) easier. 

If you’d like to learn more about implementing unified communications in your business, we’d be happy to help. Reach out to us and we can have a 10-15-minute chat to discuss this topic further. 


Featured Image Credit

This Article has been Republished with Permission from The Technology Press.

Web Design Trends at the Start of the Decade

Design trends are reactions to technological and cultural changes. Product creators follow design trends for a reason — incorporating newer design trends into a product’s design can make the product look fresh and desirable to the target audience, and this creates a substantial competitive advantage.

But the problem with design trends is that they come and go, and it can be hard to know which trend to follow. An incorrect decision can cause a lot of problems. Just imagine that you’ve put a lot of time and effort into incorporating a particular style into your brand guidelines, only to discover that this style is now obsolete. 

Now, when it’s almost the end of the year, it’s time to make an educated guess on what we will see in 2020. In this article, I’ve summarized the top 12 most powerful design trends that will dominate in 2020 and beyond.

1. Gradients 2.0

Ultra minimalism dominated product design for a long time. Designers strived to reduce all visual properties and leave only essential objects such as key content and functional elements. As a result, they created products that used exaggerated amounts of white space and practically no color. Ultra minimalism made all interfaces look similar.

Users got bored with dull designs, and designers started to experiment with various visual styles. One particular style that found itself in the spotlight — gradients. In 2018 and 2019, gradients started to replace the flat colors. Gradients add some depth in flat layouts and make them more visually interesting. Both product teams and stakeholders love gradients because branding colors could be used to create them.

| Grammarly Gradient 1024x571 1 1
Grammarly uses gradients created using their brand colors.

Gradients are a versatile tool. They can be used in various contexts such as a background for content, as color filters over the images or illustrations, or as an accent for functional elements such as the call to action buttons.

| Walmart Gradient 1
Bright gradients are used as background colors, bringing depth and dimension to the UI. Voice shopping interface. Artwork by Gleb Kuznetsov

Gradients look equally good on the large screen of TV or desktop and a small display of mobile devices.

| Commerce Dashboard App 1024x768 2 1

But compared to the gradients used by designers in previous years, the new generation of gradients has different styling. Gradients 2.0 can be subtle (created using muted colors) or loud (created using vibrant colors), but in both cases, they are relatively simple, using a single clear light source and created using one or two colors. 

2. Abstract illustrations

It’s a well-known fact that using a custom illustration style is an excellent way to make a brand stand out. Genuine illustrations are part of a product or brand DNA. Competitors can copy your color scheme or typography, but not your illustration style.

Digital illustrations have taken center stage over the past few years. In 2019 we saw a boom of illustrations. All large companies introduced illustrations in their visual language. Here just a few honorable mentions:

  • Shopify
| Shopify Illustration
Illustrations in Shopify
  • Mailchimp
| Mailchimp Illustration 1
Illustrations in Mailchimp
  • Google
| Google Illustration 1
Doodles by Google

But recently, it has become apparent that illustrations don’t have the same eye-catching power that they did before. With so many illustration styles around, it becomes hard for the users to match a particular style to a specific company. 

In an attempt to make illustrations more effective, designers started to embrace more abstract illustrations styles, and this style will dominate in 2020.

| Dropbox Illustration 1
Dropbox’s about page illustrations. Artwork by Justin Tran

However, there is an important thing that designers should remember when working on abstract graphics. It’s vital to make sure that your audience can interpret what you are trying to say. Illustrations that are too abstract won’t have much business value, and they will be more like a work of art rather than a functional element that serves a specific business purpose. 

3. Bold fonts

If you visit the websites of industry leaders, you might notice that the headline, not imagery, is the first thing that grabs your attention. Hero headlines aren’t a new trend at all. But the interesting thing is the way those headlines are designed. Have you noticed that many of those headlines are designed with large bold fonts? Heavy fonts put more visual weight to the message and direct the reader to where they should look first. From an aesthetic point of view, bold fonts also give designs a modern and contemporary feel.

| Samsung Galaxy Note 10 1024x438 1 1
Samsung Galaxy Note 10

With the release of Apple iOS 13, bold headlines become an integral part of iOS apps. If we evaluate this design decision in terms of usability, it will be clear that heavy fonts are great for creating contrast (which improves text readability) and visual hierarchy of elements (which improves content comprehension). That’s why bold fonts are so popular among mobile designers.

Travel app home screen UI design by Gleb Kuznetsov
Travel app home screen UI design by Gleb Kuznetsov

At the same time, when using any heavy or bold font, it’s vital not overuse it. Here are a few things that you need to take into account:

Bold typography can be a little overwhelming when there’s a lot of it to read. If everything is bold, then nothing is bold. That’s why you should try to use these bold fonts only for short pieces of text or headers/subheaders.

Don’t forget about the contrast — a heavy font will have more impact when contrasted against a neutral background.

Use simple fonts. When it comes to text elements, the first thought should always be readability. It’s recommended to use Sans Serif fonts because they scale well. Also, when picking a bold sans-serif font, look for letters with round shape.

4. Geometric Shapes

Geometric shapes are a simple yet powerful asset that allows designers to create more appealing visual compositions. Commonly, geometric shapes are used to create visual dividers between sections.

| Shape divider 1024x536 1 1

But in 2019, designers started to find more interesting ways to use geometric objects. Many product teams use geometric shapes to convey a specific feel. For example, soft geometric shapes can help create a futuristic look:

| Identity data visual by Gleb Kuznetsov 1024x775 1 1
Identity data visual by Gleb Kuznetsov

While sharp lines and edges can convey a brutalist feel:

| Future London Academy 1024x583 1 1
Future London Academy

This trend works well with other visual design trends, such as gradients and bold fonts.

If you’re considering adding geometric shapes in your design and looking for inspiration, you can find perfect shapes in nature.

| BBC 1 1024x576 1
| BBC 2 1024x576 1

5. Emotional design

Design is communication. When we think about communication, we naturally think about delivering and receiving information. But there is one aspect of communication that can easily be missed — emotions. For a long time, product teams were focussed on creating great usability. But today, the focus has shifted towards great usability and the right emotional impact. Companies are quickly moving from neutral design towards a design that has an emotional impact.

Designers have a lot of tools in their toolbox that allows them to create more emotional interactions. For example, you can bake some humor in a design:

| Cuberto — Rate a ride experience 1
Cuberto — Rate a ride experience

Or you could utilize simple animated effects to create delightful micro-interactions. 

Reaction on user input by Darin Senneff

6. Data visualization

Humans are visual creatures. For many people, it’s easier to comprehend the information when it’s provided visually, rather than in text. Data visualization is quickly becoming an essential tool for creating visually engaging stories. The stories, like the one you see below, can captivate your audience and make them want to learn more about your brand.

A strong part of data visualization is visual storytelling and data art and illustration. Image: https://eng.uber.com/data-viz-intel/

7. Hero Video Headers

“Show, don’t tell” is a foundational principle of good product design. Imagery plays a crucial role in visual design because it helps the designers to deliver the main idea quickly.

For a long time, web designers have had to use static imagery to convey their main idea. But the situation has changed. High-speed connections make it much easier for web designers to turn their home pages into immersive movie-style experiences. That’s why in 2019, we’ve seen more and more websites that use short video clips on their home pages.

Video makes the experience more live and dynamic. It engages users, and they are more willing to spend time watching clips. Video clips used in a hero section can vary from a few seconds of looped video to full-length preview clips with audio. 

Elium.studio

8. 3D and Faux-3D Design

For a long time, 3D objects were only used in games and entertainment. With the rise of device processing power, we have 3D objects emerging on regular websites both on desktop and mobile versions. By introducing 3D objects and pseudo-3D objects in web experience, you add realism to interactions.

| Bruno Simons portfolio 1024x484 1
Bruno Simon’s portfolio is an excellent example of how to pair gradients with 3D objects

9. Scroll-Generated Websites

The power of modern technologies can help us create a lot more than just web experience — they allow us to create immersive visual journeys for our visitors. Scroll-generated websites track the user’s progress as they scroll the page and show contextually-relevant information. Scroll-generated websites use the power of motion and animation effects to capture user attention and introduce dynamism in user interactions. Those effects add an extra layer of meaning into existing content and make it more memorable for users.

| AirPods Pro by Apple 1024x522 1 1
AirPods Pro by Apple

10. Dark UI

You may have noticed that some of the largest companies are adding light and dark modes to their products. A dark mode is a low-light user interface that displays mostly dark surfaces. Embracing the dual-colored design trend has two significant benefits to user experience: dark themes help to reduce eye strain by adjusting the brightness of the screen to current lighting conditions, and they conserve the battery power of mobile devices by reducing the use of light pixels.

| Dual colored design by Niclas Ernst 1024x772 1 1
Dual-colored design by Niclas Ernst

If you’re working on dark theme design, be sure to check Material Design guidelines that contain practical recommendations on how to design a dark theme for your product.

11. Better Personalization

The ideology of “one-size-fits-all” does not work for 2019 users. Brands are seeking for ways to fine-tune the user experience as meticulously as possible, and a personalized experience has quickly moved from a “nice-to-have” to a “must-have.” 

SoundCloud is a music service that considers the preferences of its users and suggests the music that they like. The services do it based on the music you play and tracks you like.

| SoundCloudNew 768x440 1 1
Dual-colored design by Niclas Ernst

With the rise of machine learning and artificial intelligence, it’s becoming much easier to make the user experience more personal.

| Popular personalization tactics 1024x902 1 1
Popular personalization tactics. Image Colin Eagan.

12. Design Systems

Modern product design is all about speed and quality. Product teams should move fast without losing the quality along the way. Taking into account the fact that a single product usually should be released on multiple platforms, it can be hard to achieve this goal. Design systems are the answer to the scaling needs of the product team. 

In 2019, more teams are starting to incorporate a systematic approach to design. While design systems are not a web design trend, they have a significant impact on web design. Thanks to design systems, product teams can reduce repetitive work and, even more important, achieve consistency across all platforms they design for.

Design system. Image: Justin Reyna.

Conclusion

Some of the trends you read in this article will be familiar to you, and some might be completely new. But don’t rush to implement all those trends in your products. 

No matter how impressive the trends seem to be, it’s important to remember that the mission of the designer should always stay the same: help users achieve their goals by creating more usable products. That’s why fashion should never trump usability. It’s vital to evaluate every trend and implement only solutions that create a better user experience for your users.

Nick Babich

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nick Babich is a developer, tech enthusiast, and UX lover. He has spent the last 10 years working in the software industry with a specialized focus on development. He counts advertising, psychology, and cinema among his myriad interests.

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Five Ways Technology Helps You Accelerate Your Commercial Real Estate Business

Are you ready to be a part of a digital transformation in commercial real estate (CRE)? If your answer is yes, then great! It’s important to be aware of the latest CRE technologies so that you can decide what’s best for your business and discover tools to give you an edge over the competition. A pen and paper or a spreadsheet will only get you so far. Today’s technologies will help you stay on top of things as you grow and scale your CRE business.

If you’re not sure whether you want to get involved in new and ever-changing technologies, we get it — change is hard! We understand that you’ve been successfully running your commercial real estate business using the technology you already have. However, as new CRE technologies develop, there’s a whole new set of tools at your disposal. We strongly encourage you to give newer technologies a chance. Here’s why:

1. Cloud-based software makes information easily accessible

Do you ever struggle to access necessary information? Maybe one of your investors needs to know how their investments are performing, but you can’t find the documents you need in order to crunch the numbers for them. Or maybe you need to know the terms of a lease on the spot, but the lease is sitting in your desk drawer in your office on the other side of town. Whether it’s a misplaced file folder, a disappearing document or excessive reliance on a team member to remember certain information, we’ve all been there:

With today’s technology, it’s easier than ever to keep all your crucial information centralized in one place. You can organize and access your portfolio data, tenant information, budgets and lease terms all in one place. With cloud-based technologies, you can even access documents and information from any device.

Having your information easily accessible can save time, which is important when tenants and stakeholders are waiting on you. It also helps with collaboration, because everyone on your team can access information when they need it without having to rely on others.

To get started using cloud-based software, you simply have to find one that meets your needs and import your data. Set it up so that you can reach it from your various devices (e.g., your work computer for when you’re in the office and your phone for when you’re out and about).

2. You can keep communication organized

Have you ever been in this scenario? Someone from your team speaks with a tenant — let’s say the tenant is discussing whether or not they intend to renew their lease in the coming months. Your team member goes on vacation the next week, and you’re wondering whether the tenant is happy in their current lease or not, but you can’t easily find out without repeating the conversation with the tenant.

Now, there are easy-to-use programs that can help you manage tenant relationships in a variety of ways. Your team can quickly and easily record conversations with tenants in a centralized tenant management platform. When combined with friendly and caring management, these types of tools can help your business build better relationships and increase renewal rates and tenant retention.

There are many options for tenant management software, and a simple online search should give you a great place to start. If you have a lot of tenants, this can be a game-changer.

3. You can get automated alerts when something requires your attention

When you’re managing several commercial real estate properties, it’s easy to miss things. Whether it’s a missed rent escalation payment or an imbalance in your real estate portfolio, you need to stay on top of all the small and large issues that require your attention — no matter how many properties you manage.

With today’s technology, you can receive timely, helpful alerts and reminders. With systems like this, you’ll never have to wonder when lease escalations are due or loans are coming up for renewal. This technology allows you to stay in control of your fast-moving business without stressing about the tasks you may have forgotten.

When researching real estate analytics tools, make sure you settle on a solution that provides automated alerts and reminders.

4. You can easily collect and view data to make future predictions 

In the past, many landlords had their important information stored either on paper or in disconnected files, making it hard to look at all their data as a whole. And even today, with QuickBooks and other accounting software, most landlords lack the specific algorithms and tools that they need to glean valuable data that would help them make predictions and plans for the future of their CRE business.

Along with keeping your data in a cloud-based centralized location, you should look for CRE analytics software that will let you look at all your data as a whole. When doing your research, we suggest that you schedule a demo (if possible) to see just how your data can be visualized. Is the data organized in a helpful, informative way? If so, that may be the tool you need to better your business.

5. You can focus on growing your CRE business

Today’s software can keep you organized and efficient. It can make it quicker and easier for you to access the necessary documents and data. It can make team collaboration easier. It’ll automatically alert you when there’s an issue that needs your attention, whether that’s a lease renewal, a problem with your portfolio or anything else. In short, CRE software can automatically take care of things that you used to have to manually take care of.

When you automate certain tasks, you can keep your mind and energy focused on what really matters to your business. You won’t get bogged down by the details. You won’t get distracted by the mundane day-to-day tasks. You can keep your sights set on scaling your CRE business. Forbes Technology Council is an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs and technology executives.

via Forbes

Written by Uriel Barillas

Co-founder and CTO of STRATAFOLIO, an asset management, automation and analytics company servicing the commercial real estate industry.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/everbridge/2019/12/16/peace-of-mind-in-a-risky-world/