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Key Idea: Invest In Technology And Training

Mary Frances Burleson, president of Ebby Halliday Real Estate, is building on the company's strong commitment to technology and continuing education.   More...

Key Question:


Ebby was one the first real estate offices in the country to put PCs on the desks of its agents. To follow Ebby's lead today means that you need to work toward achieving digital workflow. Computers connected to the Internet will allow you and everyone on your team to do everything faster and at a higher level of quality than was ever before possible.

Q: How does a small business use technology in the business?

A: There's lots of ways and many of them were only available to big businesses up until a short time ago. But new products and plummeting costs have positioned all of us to be more competitive in our respective market places with a minimum investment. We can analyze our inventory and learn what sells and what doesn't, in what quantities, to whom, with what seasonality, at what margin, and just about anything else we might want to know.

We can codify the intellectual capital of our organization, protect it, keep it organized and up-to-date, and easily search and retrieve what we need. It's all about the learning continuum, turning data into information and information into knowledge and then using that knowledge as the basis of the decisions that we make in operating our businesses. Hence the term: knowledge management.

Our challenge as business owners is to figure out what data to store, in what vehicle (data warehousing) and how to access it in such a way that it provides meaningful information that is of real value to us in our business (data mining.) We've used a lot of buzz words here; let's look at knowledge management and how it actually works within a small business. There are a number of things that even the smallest business can do to capture, organize, and make available the intellectual capital of the organization. We'll focus on three here.

Now that you have computers, you still generate documents, you still keep them in folders, folders are kept within folders, and various people have access to them. Electronic filing systems can be vastly superior to paper filing systems if we remember to follow the business practices we used in a paper environment. Do you have documents on your computer or network server that are not in folders? How many? How does that compare to the number of documents you would have tossed into a file cabinet without filing?

The good news is that at least (a) the documents are listed alphabetically wherever they are stored and (b) we can always "search" for them if we remember the name, or the software application, or when they were last modified. Hmmm. There must be a better way. You're right! And it's called a common operating environment or COE. In a business with a network environment, where a number of employees have access to a central data depository, you:

1) Establish document naming conventions. As new documents are created, they are named in accordance with organizational policy. People looking for a document would have a good idea of the document name even if someone else created it.

2) Determine the file structure. Folders within folders within folders. Organizing your information so that documents are easily located.

3) Grant access as appropriate. Security levels and edit rights, determining who can have access to what or not, when to permit "read-only" access, and who is authorized to make changes.

4) Safeguard information. Back-up systems, on and offsite, disaster recovery plans. If you do all of the above, provide training on the implementation, you will have established a COE. The benefits are enormous and immediate.

If you do all of the above, provide training on the implementation, you will have established a COE. The benefits are enormous and immediate.

Using Databases to Work and Mine Data Most of us couldn't imagine functioning without word processing software and spreadsheet software in our businesses. We all use e-mail and a lot of us can use presentation software, some more rudimentary than others. Yet for some reason, the database software frequently goes unused in small business. With Microsoft Office it is called Access and with IBM's Lotus Smartsuite it is Approach or Notes or DB2. Many software applications sold by third party vendors are a form of one of these four.

Digitize, Digitize, Digitize Maintaining our information in electronic form is critical to both the establishment of a COE and mining our data on an ongoing basis. Virtually all software applications allow for exporting data and importing data. So as long as you maintain your data electronically, you can take advantage of new software development in your industry without having to reenter the information.

Electronic files are easier to navigate and cheaper to maintain. Additional computers and memory are just less expensive than rent, file cabinets, and storage facilities.

Think about it

How far has your business moved along the learning continuum? Are you taking advantage of the latest technologies to codify the intellectual capital of your business? If you arrived at your office, and all your information OR all your money was gone, what would be more devastating to you? Now compare how you safeguard your money with the way you safeguard your information. As you digitize your workflow, be sure you have adequate back-up systems with offsite storage for all important information.

Clip from: Ebby Halliday built a business and a legacy.

Dallas: Ebby Halliday is a legend in this city.  She started her business in 1946 with nothing but the love of her family. Classic Americana, this is a rags to riches story. She went from the Great Depression to create a multi-billion dollar business.  She is truly one of today's pioneers and quiet heroes. .Today she has over 1500 independent realtors, hundreds who have become millionaires on her watch.

Ebby  will tell us how she broke through the gender barriers long before there ever was a feminist movement, how she found the person who replaced her at the top and why she gave the company to her employees.

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Ebby Halliday Real Estate

Ebby Halliday, Chairman

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Invest In Technology And Training

HATTIE: You're not acting like a salesperson. You're not acting like an employee.



MARY: Not if you're going to aspire, you can't. If you sit there, you're in a box. If you sit in the box, you will remain in the box.

HATTIE: So what you're teaching anyone who's paying attention is you think like it's yours.

MARY: You bet. Our salespeople are not in the real estate business. They have a real estate business.

EBBY: They're independent contractors.

HATTIE: Right.

EBBY: They are given the tools to work with, they are given our company philosophy, they are given the training.

EBBY:To give good service, you have to know your business. You have to know your inventory. You must have seen the inventory. You must know all of the legalese of the very complicated contracts that we work with these days. You have to know the territory. That's why our company is spread out over three or four counties, because we think the people who live there, whose children go to school there, they know the area. They're better informed to help the people that come there. Schools are very important now. And I think you have to have an awful lot of knowledge, and of course now we're in a technological world and you must be able--people's time is so important, especially the transferred people here. And we couldn't live without the computer.

MARY: Ebby started talking about getting computerized in 1980. She would come back from national conventions, and we said `What?'

HATTIE: What's a computer?

MARY: Yeah, what's a computer? What's a PC? What's software, hardware? At that stage there was not software that was specifically generated for real estate, so we started scratching our heads. We started by hiring our own person to do our own internal software. We didn't start with accounting. We started with marketing, the heart and soul of this company. Nothing happens until somebody sells something.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Robert Doyna takes time to teach classes for his colleagues. He also shows us how he uses technology to attract and serve customers.

ROBERT: (Voiceover) Well, I had a situation where I worked with a man all weekend from Corpus Christi, Texas.

I spoke with him on the telephone yesterday. And what I did was I used this digital camera that allows you to take pictures and put them on a three-and-a-half-inch floppy disk. I brought the disks back...

(Voiceover) ...I put them in my computer and I e-mailed them to my client. And I put on my headset, and we interacted for about an hour and this is what I have here. From the time that I got in my car to the time that I was on the phone to him was less than two hours.

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