How often have you been unable to access zipforms when you needed them?
- Never. (35%, 30 Votes)
- Just a couple of times. (35%, 30 Votes)
- More than ten times. (19%, 16 Votes)
- About ten times. (12%, 10 Votes)
Total Voters: 86
Some form providers embrace cloud-based technology to manage and store files.
But how do you access the forms you need when their servers go down, or your membership lapses? Learn how remotely saved forms put your practice at risk, and about the crash-proof connectivity of RPI (Realty Publications, Inc.) Forms.
Out of hand, out of control
dotloop, a cloud-based forms management software provider, went down part of Tuesday, August 13, 2013, and the entirety of Wednesday August 14, 2013, leaving its users unable to access forms or manage documents. Due to an “unexpected issue,” dotloop’s servers were pulled down for unscheduled maintenance.
dotloop remains tightlipped about what caused the outage. However, their press release indicates the outage was done proactively to safeguard user data and information. After their cloud was brought back online, dotloop “…identified suspicious activity that may have been related to the performance issue at hand,” giving credence to the presumption a security breach triggered the outage.
dotloop’s outage didn’t affect most California agents and brokers, as the California Association of Realtors (CAR) actively suppresses the use of dotloop’s innovative document management interface for its members.
However, CAR’s and dotloop’s procedural handling of forms share a critical structural feature.
Just how are these two strange bedfellows related?
Both are based on the cloud and require you to save documents remotely. To engage with your files, you need to log in online – after paying the hefty $500 annual dues as a CAR member, or $20 dollars monthly as a premium dotloop subscriber.
And if the cloud starts spitting lightning and goes down – adherents of both providers are left empty handed, without access to forms.
When the clouds seep rain
Cloud computing can be effective and efficient. In fact, we at first tuesday operate our internal business operations on the cloud (with frequent scheduled backups).
However, cloud computing can also be a liability when the stakes are high and time is of the essence, as they always are in real estate transactions.
All new technologies go through a rough adolescence. These growing pains are generally tolerated by early adopters, so long as they are not fatal and do not render the entire product unusable. A couple of bugs can rightly be expected, but an all out collapse of a server and prohibited access to forms is not.
Cloud computing places a tremendous amount of faith in the infallibility of the remote server. By subscribing to the ethos of cloud computing, you as the form-user cede direct control over your documents. You operate under the presumption that the beneficent cloud will always make the requested document available when, well, it is requested.
And as the recent dotloop debacle and prior CAR failures have shown, this isn’t always the case.
Faith in the IT-deities
First, a discussion of saving a file locally versus remotely is necessary.
When a file is saved locally, the document is retained on your device, such as your office or home computer. Alternatively, when a file is saved remotely on the cloud, the document does not exist on your device. It is retained “offsite” on the cloud.
The concept of document storage has undergone seismic changes in recent years. Formerly, we stored tangible things – physical documents, items with mass and presence. These documents were easily controllable as they are held in your hand, written on, filed away, and retrieved anytime.
Then, we evolved into an era of digital storage. Though intangible, digital storage proved just as useful as tangible storage – you the user store a digital “thing” locally on your device, retrievable anytime, whether on request from a client or the Bureau of Real Estate (BRE) in the instance of an audit.
However, cloud computing takes this dilution of storage one step further. Now, not only is the tangible nature of the “thing” removed, but its digital approximate is stored externally, on the cloud, with availability contingent on server functionality (and a paid active membership to the trade union, in the case of zipforms).
Anyone who has ever had their computer or smart device inexplicably crash knows this inconvenient truth: technology is not perfect. Thus, when the cloud goes down, as recently happened with dotloop, it becomes apparent that the cloud may have just as much substance as, say, smoke and mirrors.
What you forfeit when you play in the clouds
An outage can befall any program reliant on the cloud, such as CAR’s zipforms. Even the mightiest of networks and servers are vulnerable to infiltration and collapse – look no further than the Sony Corporation, Bank of America and even Nasdaq as recently as August 22, 2013.
Further, reliance on the cloud places the onus on the user to be technically savvy and have a device that is fully upgraded and compliant with the operations of the cloud. When a document is stored locally, accessing it is as simple as booting up your device and retrieving the file.
However, when a document is stored remotely on the cloud, accessing it suddenly becomes contingent on numerous things:
- having a compatible device;
- having a compatible web browser with the prescribed version of java/flash or other support programs installed;
- having a functional internet connection; and
- (in the case of zipforms) a valid CAR membership at a cost of around $500 per year.
- (in the case of dotloop premium) $20 a month.
Thus, if you are in a remote location without wi-fi, or own an older computer with an older browser, you may be precluded from using a form or accessing your records when you need them. Unless you previously printed blank copies of the forms to be filled by hand, your forms are now unobtainable.
Further, in the instance of CAR’s rigid cloud-based ecosystem, once you’re in, you’re in for good. Just like all cantankerous empires, CAR is all about control. Subscribing to CAR and submitting your annual payment is very much like getting branded – it’s painful, and next to impossible to get rid of later, leaving a life-long scar.
Consider the hindered flexibility of the cloud. Should you ever choose to let your CAR membership lapse, your access to the cloud is severed – and along with it, access to all your files (unless you save static copies to your local device which then become locked and unalterable). Even users of zipForms Standard, which is disc-based, are required to “check-in” to the internet every 90 days so the user can be authenticated and approved.
Thus, much like a nefarious drug peddler selling products of an admittedly addictive nature, CAR forms are designed to get you hooked and stuck.
Agents should always have control of all their transaction documents, period.
Clouds make an audit a rainy day indeed
The California Business and Professions Code requires real estate brokers to retain for three years copies of all documents used in connection with a transaction for which a real estate license is required, such as:
- listing contracts;
- canceled checks;
- deposit slips and trust records; and
- other forms associated with the transaction, such as purchase agreements and signed disclosures. [Calif. Business and Professions Code §10148]
On an audit by the BRE, all records must be made available for BRE inspection. [Bus. & PC §10148(a)]
The BRE Regulations are more explicit regarding the storage of digital files.
A broker may store transaction documents electronically, as long as the digital documents:
- are retained for three years;
- are not erasable and are protected from modification;
- are stored as part of the broker’s regular course of business;
- are made or prepared at or near the time of the act, condition or event reflected in the documents; and
- are organized under a reliable indexing system, and are clearly identifiable, along with their mode of preparation and storage. [BRE Regulation §2729(a)]
What do these regulations mean for adherents of the cloud flock? To comply with these audit and record retention requirements, you must either:
- maintain your costly paid affiliation with the entity which operates the cloud (which, in the case of CAR, translates to about $1,500 for three years – ouch!); or
- take the additional step of religiously saving separate local copies of all your documents from the cloud, or printing physical copies.
Or you could just save your documents locally to begin with.
Head out of the clouds, feet on the ground
Just as there’s a superior alternative when it comes to form content, you don’t have to subscribe to the cloud method of document storage. The greatest way to mitigate the risk of outages is to have a local copy of the forms you use perpetually available to you on your device.
With RPI Forms, you have access of all forms online from our website and are encouraged to save all of them directly to your hard drive. Your locally saved forms are fully functional, enabling you to digitally fill, personalize, email, print and save them. They’re your forms and you are able to save them wherever you like, save as many copies as you like – and retrieve them on your terms. Flexibility, not rigidity.
Unlike with CAR forms, you do not need to log in and verify your credentials prior to using the program or an individual form saved to your hard drive. There is no lock and the program is not set to expire. It can be installed on multiple computers, and does not require internet access to function or authenticate. You never need to check in with first tuesday, ever.
Additionally, though all RPI Forms are available online from our website, all multi-media first tuesday students receive a hard copy of the CD-ROM you’re your enrollment – thus, your have a tangible copy of the program. No internet connection? Access the forms from the CD-ROM we sent you.
Unfamiliar with first tuesday forms? Try these samples (and save them locally – on your machine!)
Experience first-hand the superior content of RPI Forms. And save the following forms for your use today, tomorrow and forever.
It’s sunnier out from under the cloud, isn’t it?
Editor’s note – first tuesday’s most popular forms are listed below. Click on any form to open a fully functional PDF copy of the form. Digitally fill, print, personalize and save. No authentication. No strings attached. Ever.
Have you ever wrestled with the cloud? Share your experiences in the comments below!