Belvoir Letting Agents, one of the UK's largest residential property lettings and management organisations, is rolling out a hosted messaging and collaboration service for its staff and franchised operations across 92 offices.
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The service, Microsoft Hosted Exchange from Cobweb, is designed to give Belvoir's central management team control over the functionality it can offer its franchisees, without compromising their local ownership.
The service is currently being used by 200 of Belvoir's 400 or so franchisees. Migration of the remaining users is expected to be completed with three months.
The system will give offices round-the-clock access through a desktop or mobile browser to applications including e-mail, diary and address book, as well as a library of public folders.
Andrew Goddard, head of IT at Belvoir, said the company's previous communications system was fragmented and offered little scope for centralised control.
"Even with a franchise model such as ours, it is essential to keep a degree of control. We do not own our franchisees' e-mail, but we do need to be able to support them," he said. "This solution occupies a middle ground between local ownership and group management."
Goddard said the system was flexible, giving the IT team control of all functionality from Belvoir's central office in Grantham.
In each office, the hosted service works alongside Belvoir's main business application - residential letting software from Carl Communications. This is installed locally but feeds into central repositories, including Belvoir's website, where prospective tenants can view the firm's available properties.
"Although there is no clear-cut return on our investment, since e-mail is obviously a business requirement, we chose this hosted service because an in-house solution would have been far more expensive and we were already comfortable with using hosted services," said Goddard.
Among outsourced providers, Cobweb was more expensive than some, said Goddard, but he was impressed with the support services it offered and that it was ISO-accredited.