Bryce Hooker didn't have to say much before he was greeted with an ovation at a recent HER Inc., Realtors, company meeting.
The company's CIO merely made mention of the purchase contracts put online for real estate agents when he was interrupted by applause.
"What that indicated was such a high degree of acceptance of that particular application," Hooker says of one feature of My HER, a personalized intranet site for the company's 800 real estate agents, corporate staff, franchisees and affiliated-company employees.
The internal network gives HER associates one point of reference, accessed from the company's Web site, for everything from checking e-mail and reading company announcements to working online. Virtually all HER forms -- more than 100, in fact -- are available in Web-based formats. My HER also includes an internal calendar of events, mortgage rates, links to real estate news, discussion groups, weather and sports information.
The system automatically creates personalized Web sites for agents, franchisees, managers and executives.
In fact, the company's CEO and general counsel, Harley E. Rouda Jr., uses My HER to maintain his own Web site -- something he's never done before.
"The Web site enables me to keep in touch with people still being recruited," says Rouda, who posts on his site testimonials from agents who have joined HER from other real estate companies. He also uses it to maintain contact with his sphere of influence: family, friends and business associates who refer business HER's way.
Agents also use My HER to send out direct mail, post their open houses to the company's Web site and order promotional material.
"We believe for marketing and technology to work in unison for our clients and associates, it must be seamless and painless," Rouda says. "Toward that end, everything that will happen, will happen automatically. The Web sites are up for everybody. All that's left is if they choose to modify it, they can. If they choose to do nothing, they have a fully functional, workable Web site."
Overall, Hooker says, HER's online features make the company's agents more efficient and allow them to spend more time with clients rather than on administrative details.
"The more we can automate and get them out with people," Hooker says, "the better off we'll all be, because we don't sell real estate by doing paperwork."
Key features of HER's intranet include:
Easy access. "If they can use a browser and click, they can use all our software," Hooker says.
Recently, an agent vacationing in Florida was contacted about a sale. Instead of having to write the contract, fax it to Columbus and have it faxed back with changes, the agent accessed My HER through the Internet, created the contract and asked an assistant in Columbus to make a few changes, print it out and deliver it to the client. Sales associates also can communicate directly with clients through My HER.
Personalization. Not only do associates get their own e-mail and address book, but their individual pages can include sale listings, prospects and more.
Feedback. A special electronic form lets associates tell Hooker about problems or additional features they'd like to see on My HER.
"For example, they wanted to save and retrieve contracts they've written," Hooker says. "But people have trouble building files, folders, remembering names."
Now, every contract goes into a list by date and pertinent information, such as the buyer and seller, so agents can easily find previous records.
Consistency and timeliness. "Every form that we have to facilitate the purchase and sale of real estate is up here," Hooker says. This allows HER to maintain consistency in the forms, and agents can set defaults for certain types of sales they may have more often.
The process also enables HER to speed up various processes. For example, its Home and Estates magazine now is produced electronically -- in one week instead of the usual six. The company hasn't missed a deadline since it put the electronic process in place.
The fine print
Hooker declines to say how much the intranet cost HER, but notes the expense could vary widely depending on what hardware and technology expertise was available; whether the intranet would be housed on a company server or by an ISP; and what features the business wanted.
For example, he says, duplicating HER's system exactly, starting from scratch, could cost $1 million; the investment might be just a fraction of that if the business already had some of the infrastructure available.
The payoff, Hooker says, is in enabling agents to be more effective.
"Believe it or not," Hooker says, "this is only the beginning."
How to reach: HER Inc., Realtors, www.herrealtors.com or 459-7400
Joan Slattery Wall (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.