Construction in the Clouds

What is Cloud Computing?

cloudCloud computing technology isn’t new but it has been gaining in popularity over the past few years. If you’ve ever done any online banking or if you have a web-based email account such as Gmail you’ve used cloud computing. Cloud computing connects the user on the front end through a software application or secure website via the internet to the cloud which is made up of data storage systems, servers and computer systems to handle the user’s software and hardware needs.

Benefits of Cloud Computing

For construction professionals one of the biggest benefits of cloud computing is mobility. Imagine being able to manage any aspect of your business anywhere you have an internet connection and a mobile device such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop. Say for example you’re at a jobsite and you get a call from the architect stating that there’s been a change order and the plans have just been updated to reflect the new scope of work and on top of that you have a payroll issue that has to be resolved before the end of the day. With cloud computing you could review the new drawings and handle the payroll without having to waste valuable time driving back to the office to deal with those issues.

Another great benefit of moving to the cloud is the money your company can save by reducing IT costs. The cloud can help eliminate the need for costly server and computer upgrades and maintenance as well as having to constantly purchase new software and keeping up with software licenses. You can also scale your cloud computing needs as your business grows and expands.

Cloud computing can also lead to better collaboration and distribution of information. This will probably best be realized when used in conjunction with another hot industry trend, Building Information Modeling or BIM. In simple terms BIM is a method to generate and manage a digital representation of the physical and functional elements and characteristics of a facility. By combining cloud computing and BIM a client could access the data and request a change order, the architect would then go in and create the necessary objects and make the changes to the building model so the contractor would be able to go in and access the new information to determine and order the exact amount of material needed and make any necessary changes to the construction schedule. The beauty of this is that it can all be done quickly over the internet at any time of day.

Uses in the Construction Industry

There are a host of providers of cloud computing solutions tailored to the construction industry. These companies offer a wide range of solutions from estimating and takeoffs, to managing contracts, subcontractor and supplier bids, cash flows and budgets and scheduling. There are even services available to track leads and manage LEED certification scoring. Options vary from complete solutions for managing all aspects of your construction business to individualized services such as project management or payroll solutions.

Selecting a Cloud Computing Option

There are a number of factors to consider when choosing your cloud solutions. You want to choose solutions that are going to assist you in running your business more efficiently and smoothly and that will enable you to have faster project delivery. Before you commit to anything you should always request a demo. The same way you wouldn’t purchase a piece of heavy equipment like a backhoe or a skid steer without a test drive you shouldn’t invest in any sort of cloud solutions without testing them out first.

Here are some things to consider before in investing in any type of cloud computing solutions:

Cost – In order to do a true cost comparison you need to determine what your current computing costs are including all your software licensing and hardware costs. If you move your entire computing needs into the cloud the need for costly servers will be eliminated because you won’t need the processing power you had before to run all your software. You also need to be aware of the costs of the cloud services you purchase such as whether there will be an increase should your business grow and you need to add more users.

Support – Is there support for your system 24/7? What kind of turnaround is the vendor required to meet when an issue arises? You want to choose a provider that always accessible and that can resolve any issues in a timely manner.

Ease of Use – You want to make sure that you choose a solution with an Application Programming Interface (API) that is straightforward and easy to use. You don’t want something so complicated that it takes your employees months be able to use efficiently. This is where that free demo comes in handy.

Safety & Security – Everyone wants to know that there data is safe and secure. Any provider should routinely backup your data. Most providers have multiple data center where you data is mirrored to provide enough redundancy should something critical happen to the main center where your data is store. In the same line you want to know that your data is secure. You want to choose a provider that will encrypt your data and provide data-leak prevention.

Reliability – From time to time computer networks go down and there’s little to do to prevent it. You want a provider that can offer service priority and that uses multiple network paths to ensure the service is always available.

Compatibility – You want to choose solutions offer scalability. Your cloud computing services should be able to grow with your business as it grows or shrink if you have to downsize. Be sure to thoroughly read and understand the service level agreement before making any decisions.

Since 2013 has been dubbed the “Year of the Cloud”, how many of you are already using cloud computing for some aspect of your business? What are some of the benefits your company has experienced since making the move? For those of you not using the cloud or considering moving to the cloud, what are your concerns about making the move?

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