The term “cloud computing” has been around for many years now. But the term is employed in various ways. It can refer to using virtual servers to offer users access to stored data via the Internet. Or it can mean the use of any application outside of a company’s internal computing environment. Cloud computing is also often the “catchall” descriptor for the near ubiquitous use of smartphones and tablets.
At the end of the day, the cloud is simply a metaphor for the Internet. Likewise, “moving to the cloud” involves transferring some or all of a company’s IT applications from its internal infrastructure to an Internet-based service. Such a move can offer particular advantages to construction companies. Here are three to consider:
- Access and report key information from anywhere. Construction is, by nature, a decentralized enterprise. With multiple job sites in sometimes far-flung locations at various stages of completion — and frequent changes in personnel — you tend to have many irons in the fire. Cloud-based services enable field personnel to easily submit information on job progress and access the data they need to make sound on-site decisions. Meanwhile, managers and staff back at the home office can get the information they need to bill customers, pay invoices, produce financial reports and process payroll — while also easily conveying instructions to field crews. With the right solution, you may be able to reduce or even eliminate paperwork as well. Again, employees can fill out forms and permit applications from anywhere — office, road or job site — increasing their flexibility and efficiency. And instead of constructing towers of paper on office desks, you can neatly store links to Web pages and PDFs on your network.
- Collaborate easily with all project team members. Cloud-based services empower all members of a project team — including general contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and owners — to share pertinent information in a timely way. Providing access to the right information at the right time enhances collaboration, which helps maximize productivity and minimize mistakes that can threaten profitability. The key is to find applications that are easy to use but also secure. You must control who sees what and limit or restrict access to sensitive data.
- Reduce focus on, and potentially costs of, IT infrastructure. With cloud computing, you can buy or lease IT infrastructure from a service provider rather than developing and maintaining these systems in-house. Providers tend to fall into several broad categories:
- Those that provide virtual servers with unique IP addresses, blocks of storage and an application that customers use for access,
- Those that offer a platform as a service — that is, a defined set of programs hosted on its own infrastructure that customers access through a Web portal or gateway software, and
- Those that supply Web-based software services such as e-mail, marketing communication and document management applications accessible through a browser.
Cloud computing for the construction industry can allow you to take advantage of the provider’s expertise and maintenance activities, benefit from regular system updates, and pay only for what you need. But you’ve got to choose carefully to ensure your return on investment.
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