BY LEN WHITTEN
A 2012 survey by JBKnowledge Technologies of 450 construction firms found that 30 percent do not use cloud computing. The other 70 percent use it on a limited basis with only 6.5 percent using cloud-based accounting apps.
But interest in cloud migration grows. Sage Construction & Real Estate’s last two annual surveys found that the percentage of contractors who view cloud computing as important to their business more than doubled to 35 percent from 16 percent. And there are ways to gain the many benefits of the cloud while still using the tools which you currently employ.
In the cloud, a network of remote virtual servers hosted on the Internet stores, manages and processes your business’ data. This network replaces a local server or a personal computer. For construction companies, cloud computing delivers several distinct advantages, including lower outlay for IT resources, hardware space and maintenance, and inherent efficiencies.
THE CLOUD’S BENEFITS
So what, specifically, are the advantages of using the cloud for contractors?
The cloud makes a contractor’s life easier while at the office, remote on a jobsite or at a client’s office-space. At the office, cloud computing can help seamlessly deliver back-office functions – billing, payroll, paying invoices, preparing financial reports and planning logistics. Remotely, it can help deliver business applications critical to a job, whether it’s local, in a different region of the country, or internationally.
Cloud apps also enhance competitiveness, team collaboration, agility and productivity. Access to back-office data is often necessary for contractors on a remote site, especially for information involving back-office financial and operations systems.
In addition, cloud computing lets builders collaborate with clients and other contractors anytime. It’s especially useful for those firms that have small in-house IT teams. It also is excellent for tracking projects on mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, as well as desktops and laptops. The cloud is able to scale up or down quickly, which is especially helpful for workforce and staff changes when projects begin or end.
COST ADVANTAGES IN THE CLOUD
As for costs, the cloud offers several advantages. Contractors can use software and hardware without having to buy it, saving an often-hefty capital expense. Contractors whose systems are in the cloud only pay an operating expense. The cloud is also faster, more efficient and more flexible than a typical storage system.
Small contractors, especially, can find better pricing with cloud computing than traditional on premise software and IT resources. This lets them deploy faster with newer tech apps. Without the cloud, these apps were available only to the biggest operators.
Security of the cloud has been a concern for businesses. Yet while the threats continue to grow, the onus of security can be placed in the hands of a cloud-based host provider that has been doing it for a while and has strong built-in controls and processes, instead of storing data locally where a company may not have such security controls.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR MIGRATING TO THE CLOUD
With this background, should your company move to the cloud? Here are some considerations:
- Determine what you want to achieve with the cloud. Gauge how much a project will cost in the cloud and what the goals for your cloud environment are. The cloud will usually prove to be less expensive because it’s an operating expense, not a capital expense.
- Decide if you should first develop a strategic analysis and business plan. It can help identify tactical challenges involving software, apps and platform. It should encompass security and risk implications of migrating from a data center to a cloud provider.
- Figure out what apps are ready and what aren’t ready to move to the cloud. Systems will prevent some apps from being in the cloud. Applications that are due for a hardware refresh may be perfect for the cloud.
- Establish whether the cloud will affect your website, although generally, maintaining a web presence ranks among the easiest things to do in the cloud.
- Determine what regulatory compliance demands the cloud can satisfy. Often, this can prove a big advantage for making the move to the cloud.
- Know what’s protected in the cloud and how the security system works to make sure you comply with regulations that apply. Some companies require they have access to the data center, or allow a third-party auditor. Not all cloud vendors can provide that level of access or certifications. Find out how the vendor maintains servers and knows they’re secure.
- Ask to see a vendor’s fee schedule and service-level agreement. This is vital since it’s critical to know what is and isn’t covered. Some providers may say their service costs 20 cents per hour, but they omit other pricing factors. Running the server may cost 20 cents per hour, but you may have to pay another 5 cents for monitoring network traffic and 10 cents for certain storage duties. Understand a vendor’s definition of downtime in determining their service-level agreement obligations and find out if the provider compensates for downtime.
- Judge whether a service provider can weather a crisis. Determine its resiliency and recovery capabilities should a storm or other crisis occur. Ask to see printed reports of successful disaster recovery testing. Ask for references.
- Think of other questions you want answered, such as: When you migrate to the cloud, does the provider have a staff to help with the move? What is the vendor’s patching and backup regimen? How well will all things perform – both what the vendor manages and what you will continue to manage under this hybrid IT system.
Benefits abound in the cloud. A recent IBM report indicates that cloud adopters double their revenue growth. They realize nearly 2.5 times more gross profit growth than other companies. Whether construction companies generate these returns isn’t directly known, but interest in cloud computing continues to grow within the industry.
Will your company be the next cloud adopter?
Len Whitten is cloud services product manager at Sungard Availability Services, a provider of information availability through managed IT, cloud and recovery services.