Head in the ‘cloud’
Cloud computing and the construction industry
By Jon Witty
Being “in the cloud” is the latest catchphrase in technology discussions, but the term has many definitions. Some say it refers to virtual servers that allow users access to stored data via an Internet connection. Providing access in this manner is referred to as “cloud-based” or web-based servicing.
Others expand the cloud to include applications used outside a company’s firewall. As InfoWorld has noted, moving to the cloud can mean anything, from increasing data capacity without having to invest in additional infrastructure to licensing new cloud-based software.
Cloud computing and the construction industryThe construction industry balances back office functions – billing, paying invoices, running financial reports, payroll, planning logistics – with the physical presence needed on the jobsite or in a client’s office. Today’s technological solutions must be able to serve users in both work settings.
As a result, making mission-critical business applications available remotely is a hot topic. Remote access allows staff to work from any location. With the amount of consolidation, decentralization of offices, travel-based positions, and project work being done in different regions of the country or even internationally, the ability to offer solid, remote access technology to employees is critical for a construction company’s success.
For many companies, solving this challenge means moving some of its applications to the cloud. One construction company, True Value Homes (TVH), is able to give any employee with proper credentials access to these applications through a secure, web-based environment.
Before the move, TVH was running operations on 17 sites, and employees had to be in the office, so that all papers needed could be brought into the central office for processing and approval. Whereas TVH once had 100 personal computers for 100 employees, now 500 users can access its web-based applications.
“We want to make sure that our employees get the best out of their workplace,” says Arun Nehru, TVH’s director. “What we are telling employees is that [wherever you need to work], the applications are available from office, home or outside. They need not come to [the] office to work.”
Collaboration between contractors, owners/clientsLeveraging cloud-based services also extends beyond the workings of a single construction company. As Constructech’s 2011 IT survey notes, “Today’s construction professional also needs to be highly collaborative. The word ‘team’ has taken on a whole new meaning in the construction industry. Every team needs to obtain a high level of transparency and accountability for the property owner. Overall, construction companies will be more collaborative, using technology to connect all project team members – from subs and general contractors to owners – in one central location.”
Yet, it is highly unlikely that each of the project team members uses the same back office business management applications. So, as general contractors, subcontractors and owners individually look to the web to leverage its capabilities, it will be critical to look at ways technology can ensure the secure and timely exchange of project information between them.
MobilityAs noted by Constructech’s 2011 IT survey, contractors will then take project information “to the jobsite with mobile devices, applying a host of applications.” As the survey reports, construction companies are “carrying out project management, scheduling, punchlists, and time tracking tasks in the field today.”
This is evidenced by growing momentum in the use of mobile technologies in the construction industry. Yet, the type of device varies. According to the survey, “The smart phone is still one of the most commonly used devices at the jobsite (81% of survey respondents). Laptops (69%) and tablets (26%) also receive a significant response.” Given the advances in and adoption of tablets during the last few years, growth is anticipated in the use of the tablet in the construction industry as well.
Given the fast-moving area of mobility, today’s business solutions need to support the highly mobile workforce of the construction industry.
Leveraging technology for the futureDoes that mean that your construction company needs to scrap everything it is using today for cloud-based applications? In today’s economy, companies are looking toward extending the applications they are using into the cloud, when it makes sense.
Originally published in Masonry magazine.
About the Author
Jon Witty is the VP and general manager for Sage Construction and Real Estate, a division of Sage Business Solutions (SBS).