CB Richard Ellis Goes Wireless

By Allen Bernard

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Jeff Hipschman had a problem. As senior vice president and head of IT for CB Richard Ellis's New York division, the largest commercial real estate broker in New York City (and the world), he was charged with implementing a suite of wireless applications so his sales force could make more sales.

To solve this problem, Hipschman turned to Good Technology and its wireless Exchange software. But that only solved his connectivity needs. He also had to find a way to push out reams of building, lease and tenant information from Ellis's proprietary database, the most extensive in the nation. To solve this problem, he turned to Good's services division for help in developing custom adaptors. Once this was done, however, Hipschman's problem was solved. And, the best part, he said, it was easy to do.

"The email stuff is ... you go buy the device and you plug it in like a Blackberry," he said. "There's not much to do. You have to install some server software, but there's not much magic to it. The real trick to this is getting the data. The tools and building the Good platform was rather straight forward."

Since its rollout eight months ago, Good's GoodLink server has enabled salespeople throughout the Tri-State region (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) to cut down on the lag time between customer's questions and agent's answers.

"The feedback I'm getting from the field is it's a wonderful sales tool and that clients are extremely impressed that we have the capability to answer questions right away," Hipschman said. "What this tool allows (agents) to do, while they're meeting with a client, while they're sitting with a landlord, even while they're touring a space, they can pull up information from our database in real time."

So far, there have been no technical glitches to speak of, so the only worry Hipschman concerns himself with is publishing too much information to his 500-plus agents PDAs. Even though Good uses SSL and Triple Dez encryption technology to safeguard data, it is a wireless solution after all and anything sent out over the airwaves could potentially be plucked from the air.

To make all this work was a fairly straightforward process, said Richard Osterloh, Good's group product manager. Good supplied Ellis with two products, GoodLink server for messaging and GoodInfo server to interface with Ellis's database. Both products sit on the edge of the network, behind the firewall in their own box. GoodLink server syncs up agent's PDA (supplied by Good) with the change log in Microsoft's Exchange server and GoodInfo queries the database with requests for information and then publishes that information in a text format to the GoodLink server.

From there, information and messages are forwarded to Good's network operations center (NOC) for routing via the Cingular Wireless cell-phone network. For now, GoodLink only has agreements with Cingular and Sprint to use their networks, but the company is in the process of adding other carriers to expand its reach.

"The GoodLink piece is really simple," he said. "It's just two-way wireless sync to Exchange. And everything on your (Outlook) desktop and everything on your handheld are immediately reflected and up-to-date. So, that's email, contact calendar, notes and tasks. All it's really is doing is sending and receiving those pages back and forth to the handheld. It's all Web technology (specifically http) on our end."

Overhead, Admin Time Reduced

Because of this, no desktop or laptop client is needed, reducing IT overhead and administrative time. Also, because Good's technology is basically just forwarding packets of information, only one, low-end server is required: a Pentium II with an eight gigabyte hard drive and 512 of RAM, said Osterlow.

And because it works by updating the change log in Exchange, it will work when an agent is out of range so long as the request for information is made when the unit is in range (obviously). When the agent gets a connection again, the information is simply waiting for them just like an email (which any request basically is). PowerPoint presentations, for example, are simply converted to a text message. And since it is a text message, data transfer rates are pretty irrelevant.

"Essentially, the GoodLink server does all the management of sync," said Osterlow, "and all the PDA makes sure it's doing is acknowledging every message it receives and the GoodLink server keeps track of whether or not the PDA is current. That's kind of how it works under the covers."

Cost is relatively low. For just the service (no consulting or platform work) Good charges $2,000/month for the GoodLink server, $60/monthly for seat licenses and a $50/month-per-seat NOC fee to get access to a wireless provider.

The only drawbacks are Good limiting its technology to run on just Exchange server in a Windows environment (no Linux allowed) and just four PDA devices: RIM/Blackberry's 950 or 957; Good's G100; or Sprint's new Treo 600 (due out in a couple of weeks). Next year, though, in Q1, Good will include pocket PCs to this line up, Osterlow said.

But this hasn't stopped literally hundreds of customers from signing up. Since going live in mid-2001, Good claims 1,000 enterprise clients including EDS, Visa, and Aramark.

"It's a fairly clear value proposition, especially for executives and managers to have usage of a product that gets them always up-to-date access from their Exchange solution," said Osterlow.