The Prudent Use of Electronic Information

By Furlong, Brian A. | Real Estate Issues, December 1995 | Go to article overview

The Prudent Use of Electronic Information


Furlong, Brian A., Real Estate Issues


ERISA demands prudent investment decision making. In an ERISA environment, it is essential that plan sponsors, their consultants and advisors operate with as much information as possible pertinent to the performance of the plan assets. A key to the prudet garnering and management of information for pension plans is the appropriate use of technology.

Recently the financial and business press has been awash with talk of the Internet, the Web, Cyberspace, Bandwidth, etc. While some real estate professionals have been at the vanguard of recent developments in telecommunications and computing, many have only vaguely followed new developments. What's going on with electronic information, and what does it mean for real estate counselors?

What Changes Are Afoot?

From the 1940s through the early 1980s, most Americans had little direct experience with computers. The typical computer was a mainframe, run by professional information processing professionals for big corporations, institutions and the government. The hardware was expensive, and the software was generally a programming language, such as FORTRAN or COBOL, which only specially-trained people could run.

In the early and mid-1980s personal computers came into widespread usage. They were affordable to small businesses and home users. To meet the new market of users who where not computer professionals, programmers developed high-level software for the general public. This included word processing and spreadsheet applications for general business use and easy to-use special purpose programs such as lease-by-lease analysis programs. People who had never turned on a computer became regular users. The way in which offices carried out business changed forever, as evidenced by the fading away of old technologies such as the IBM Selectric, CorrectO-Type and ruled accounting paper.

Throughout the 1980s, the main changes in technology involved increases in processing speed and memory, or software improvements designed to enhance the functionality or ease of use. Most people operated on single computers, and the only way they shared data with other users was by distributing printouts or floppy disks. In the 1990s, improvements in memory capacity, software functionality and ease of use have continued at a rapid and apparently inexorable pace. However, the real innovation of the 1990s is shaping up to be another phenomenon, networking.

For most business users, networking started with the installation of Local Area Networks (LANs)(l) for use within their offices. Many companies with multiple offices followed up with the installation of proprietary Wide-Area Networks (WANs).(2) On the home front, most people first became networked with modems to join a commercial on-line network service such as America On-Line, CompuServe or Prodigy. Over the last year or two, the Internet caught the attention of many home users. Each of the commercial on-line services began to provide their members with an easy interface to the Internet, as did numerous firms concentrating directly on Internet access. In 1995, commercial real estate professionals are catching Internet fever in large numbers.

What Is The Internet?

The Internet is a network of constituent computer networks all linked with a common protocol called TPC/IP.(3) It is the world's largest network linking tens of thousands of other networks. With well over 30 million users, it is growing by leaps and bounds, and some analysts expect that it will link over 100 million people before the decade is over.

It is relatively inexpensive for a firm or organization to offer its own information or services over the Internet, and thousands have. As a result, the breadth of services offered over the Internet is vast. Some of the principal services and tools available to most Internet users include:

*Electronic Mail, for sending and retrieving electronic messages. Each user of the Internet has an E-mail address, and E-mail can be sent to any other user around the world. …

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