If you’re in the process of choosing secure cloud software for lettings that sounds downright scary. But it need not be. Not if you do your homework beforehand.

Everyone is advocating moving business systems to “the cloud”. That amorphous blob of Internet-related “stuff” that we’re supposed to trust with our critical business data. Quite simply, they’re advising us to entrust our very livelihoods to “cloud software providers”. Yes, those faceless people who build systems out of “cloud stuff”.

Secure cloud software for lettings? Ask the experts

Over the years, it feels like our team at Tilt Property Software have been asked all the relevant questions before. People have very real security concerns. They feel reluctant to just hand their key data to unknown third parties.

We’ve shared these questions and answers below to allay your fears and concerns. Hopefully, this practical advice will help offset the risks when dealing with cloud providers.

1. Who actually owns my lettings data in the cloud?

Your data is yours; that should never be up for discussion. If any provider says otherwise, don’t walk away; run!

However, there are a number of critical things you need to be aware of.

As long as you are paying a subscription to use a cloud service, this enables you to manage and process your data in various ways. But, when you stop using that system you lose the functionality and features that it has been providing.

You must export your data before you cancel your account, so that you continue to use it yourself in future. In line with data protection legislation, the provider will delete all copies of your data after a short time, Check the provider’s contact terms to see the exact detail – e.g. section 3.2 in Elevate’s terms of service.

Cloud data spread across the Internet

Consider your online banking as a good example.

Your money is always your money. You can withdraw it at any time, print statements, pay bills, export transactions and transfer money to other accounts. However, if you stop using that bank’s services you must withdraw your money. Naturally, you then lose the ability to make further payments, view statements, etc. You should print off or export all your statements and transaction activity before you leave. Once you cancel your account you cease to be a customer, and the bank will no longer provide any services to you.

2. Where is my agency’s data physically located?

The cloud might be a mythical place where your data floats round in the ether all day. From a practical perspective, however, that data must be physically stored somewhere. You need to find out where that place is.

While it might not actually matter to you so long as its in safe hands somewhere, there are data privacy implications which are more important in some sectors than others.

Cloud server data centre

For example, if your data is stored on servers located within the US, that data might be able to be scrutinised by government agencies whereas the same would not happen within the EU. Even worse, some servers may be located in other countries with poor security provisioning, and your (and our) obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998 and the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) state that data should not be transferred outside of the European Economic Area unless proper data protection is in place.

Apart from the geographical location, you’ll also want to make sure that the data centre where your data is being stored is adequately secured against physical threats also, e.g. fire, theft or other loss. For the record the Elevate property management software servers are located within Amazon Web Service’s secure European data centre in Dublin. Although their platform supports mirroring that data into other global regions, we do not currently do that.

3. What steps do you take to restrict access to my data?

Any responsible cloud software provider, for lettings or otherwise, will take every possible precaution to safeguard your data, They should treat your data as it it was their own.

Stormtrooper protecting data security

At the very least the application itself must be secured using secure certificate technology. That’s the trusted padlock in the browser address bar. Only your properly-authorised letting agency users should have access to that system, usually protected by secure passwords. The browser will encrypt all passwords during transfer over the network, and the software must encrypt all credentials  stored in the database.In Elevate, we encrypt all passwords using one-way algorithms which means that they cannot be reversed and recovered.

We securely encrypt all sensitive data such as bank account details when we store them on our servers. Those servers themselves are hosted in the highly secure Amazon Web Services data centre in Dublin, As you would expect from a world leader in secure cloud software services, these servers are extremely well protected both physically and digitally.

4. Can I export my data at any time?

Yes, you must make sure that you can export all of your key business data at any time.

For your complete peace of mind we would encourage that you do so regularly, e.g. at the end of each month. Make sure that the data can be exported in a commonly used format such as Excel-readable CSV files, or database-ready SQL files.

Tilt Elevate enables export of account data via the Settings menu at any time. Ideally, back that data up locally within your own organisation as part of your standard data backup processes.

However, just be aware that exports are for your own use and are independent of any software system. They will most likely not be importable directly into another system with some work from a developer, but at least you have a full useful copy of all your data.

5. Can you give me an uptime guarantee?

The more clued-in agents will seek the reassurance of formal Service Level Agreements (SLAs). These are terms of service that ensure that your supposedly robust and secure cloud software for your lettings agency doesn’t go down and leave you without service.

However, in the online world where third-party services are outside the provider’s control these may not be of much practical use. And while the figures may sound great on face value, check to see that means in real terms.

99.99% uptime equates to 53 minutes downtime each year.

For example, Elevate is built on the Amazon Web Services infrastructure, a highly resilient and robust platform which offers unrivalled levels of availability globally. Additionally we integrate with other trustworthy third parties. These partners offer services such as highly reliable email delivery, postcode lookups, SMS text services and tenant referencing. Each of these independent providers has the potential to affect our system, so we only work with the most responsible and robust partners.

In reality, we have thankfully had absolutely minimal problems over the many years that we have been using the AWS platform. Any issues we did encounter affected service for minutes each year , not hours. But despite that, we always steer clear of making promises we may not be able to keep.

Downtime can affect anyone, but it must be controlled

The issue of undeliverable promises aside, uptime guarantees will be weighted heavily in the vendor’s favour. An admin-intensive claims process may allow a reclaim a small subscription credit, but that’s as good as you’re going to get.

Even the big names, like Facebook, have some down-time.

So what can you do to address this? Well, just asking the question, along with the other questions in this guide to secure cloud software for lettings is a good start. Make sure your provider doesn’t dodge the question. Ensure that if there are (or were) any issues, they were treated openly and honestly. Whether that is a complete server loss or a critical service-affecting bug, they shouldn’t try to hide them.

Check for a service status page, or announcements on the vendor’s website or social media highlighting any problems. These don’t have to be admissions of guilt or attempts to blame. Service announcements are to reassure customers that issues are acknowledged and resolution is under way.

Have there been a small number of service-affecting issues, and were these resolved promptly? That is much more meaningful than unrealistic promises of 100% system uptime.

6. How quickly can I get support when I need it?

A huge fear with any cloud software, for lettings or otherwise, is not getting help if things go wrong.

If the system becomes unavailable, you need to be able to reach support (and get a reply) immediately. Or indeed, just with any questions about why something isn’t working as expected within your lettings software.

Lightning-fast software support

If there is an outage with your cloud software within your letting agency, the only thing more frustrating that the problem itself is not getting a prompt response from the support team.

At Tilt Property Software, we commit to answer all questions within 8 working hours from Monday to Friday. Our helpdesk performance stats highlight that we answer 85% of tickets within one hour, and 100% of them within 24 hours – that’s including weekends.

Benchmarks show that the industry average for first response time to software support tickets is 20 hours; we’re 20 times faster than that!

People often look for the comfort of being able to talk to support staff by phone. In our experience, however, it’s possible to deliver technical support even more efficiently by email than by phone. Indeed, this is the standard approach for cloud software providers everywhere nowadays.

Test it out for yourself. Raise questions during the day and see how well the support team deals with it. If you encounter problems at night or the weekend, ask the question anyway. Then sit back and compare the response time.

Rest assured, if a problem is service-affecting it must command full and immediate attention. Any professional cloud software vendor will tick this box.

7. What happens my data when I stop using your system?

Most letting agencies have now adopted subscription-based Software-as-a-Service solutions to provide secure cloud software for their lettings management.

The days of  investing thousands of pounds on buying and installing in-house servers are gone. That’s not to mention the thousands more spent on software licences. And that’s before you consider hiring some IT people to get it all up and running, and keep it operational.

With cloud software for lettings, you pay to use the system on a pay-as-you-go basis. This modern approach offers a very attractive low cost of ownership and minimal setup time or cost. That certainly explains its growing popularity.

So when I stop paying, I can’t access your software?

Well, yes.

You are paying for access to the software, so stop paying and you can’t access it.

Cancelling cloud software subscription

You will need to make sure that you have exported all your necessary data from the system before cancelling your account. Don’t worry. we will remind you before we delete anything.

The reason why we delete your data when you cease to be a customer is one of data protection, nothing more sinister.

Reputable software vendors like Tilt Property Software will be registered with the appropriate data protection authorities. In our case, that is the UK Information Commissioner’s Office. This obliges the data controller (us) to handle all customer data securely and responsibly. That includes not retaining data for any longer than is required.

When you cease an account with our Elevate secure cloud software for lettings management, we will queue it for deletion after 60 days. At that point, we will fully remove all identifiable client data from our servers. We do retain independent nightly server backups for a rolling period of one year. However, we would only ever use these for disaster recovery purposes. They won’t enable us to restore individual accounts.

8. What happens if you go out of business?

Without doubt the most common question we are asked is what happens if we disappear.

“Don’t worry, it won’t happen to us” doesn’t cut the mustard.

It might seem like an acceptable answer from a slick salesman or confident customer support agent. Until it actually happens and then it’s too late to be ask anyone. Assume that it can indeed happen to anyone. As the age-old mantra says, “hope for the best, but prepare for the worst”.

There are two main steps you should consider on this front.

Primarily, do your homework when sourcing an organisation to trust your business to in the first place. Choose a company with an established track record, not the new kid on the block making lots of flash promises.

Secondly, take regular exports of your data independently from the system. That will allow you to salvage your key business data if the worst does come to the worst.

Deserted if business closes

What about the service itself? If your software-as-a-service provider does go bust, then they will stop paying their bills. In turn, their providers, e.g. Amazon Web Services, will switch off their services and servers. Unfortunately at that stage you will not longer have access to the system. But if you have prepared for the worst and have some data exports, then at least you will have something. That would allow you to produce statements and account balances, and to start the process of migrating to a new system.

What about our secure cloud software for lettings?

At Tilt Property Software, we have been providing secure cloud software for the lettings industry since 2004, and are still growing steadily. While we can confidently state that your data is safe with us, don’t just take our word for it. Follow the advice in this practical guide and you won’t go far wrong. 

Have any other questions which we haven’t answered here but which still trouble you? If so, please get in touch and we’ll be happy to answer them for you.

If you’re a property manager or letting agent looking for the best property management software for your letting agency, please sign up for our free 14-day trial to see how Elevate can help you grow your business today.

Photos from Unsplash by: Tim Bogdanov, NASA, İsmail Enes Ayhan, Liam Tucker, nikko macaspac, Mantas Hesthaven, Eduardo Gutiérrez