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DCD Magazine

Cloud Computing and Construction Management:
What Can it Do For your Business?

By: Jon Witty, Vice President, Sage Construction and Real Estate

What is Cloud Computing?
Being "in the cloud" is the latest catchphrase in technology discussions. It can refer to virtual servers that allow users to access stored data via an Internet connection. Providing access in this manner is frequently referred to as using cloud-based or web-based services. Being “in the cloud” can also mean using an application outside of a company’s firewall, such as conducting business with a smart phone or tablet (iPads).

Cloud Computing and the Construction Industry
The construction industry must balance back-office functions — billing, paying invoices, running financial reports, payroll, planning logistics — with the physical presence needed on the job site or in a client’s office. Today’s technological solutions must be able to serve users in both work settings. Responses from Constructech’s 2011 IT survey show construction companies are reporting from the field as well as "carrying out project management, scheduling, punchlists, and time tracking tasks out in the field today."

Remote access allows staff to work from any location while still managing their workload throughout the day. 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, being able to offer solid remote access technology to employees is key for any successful construction company.

For many companies, solving this challenge means moving some of its applications to the cloud.

One construction company, True Value Homes (TVH), based in India, 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 could only work in the office so all papers needed to 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," Arun Nehru, TVH’s director, said. "What we are telling employees is that [wherever you need to work], the applications are available from the office, home or [onsite].

Collaboration Between Contractors, Owners/Clients
Leveraging 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 trade partners to general contractors to owner — 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, trade partners and owners individually look to the web to streamline business operations, identifying the kinds of technology that will enable the secure and timely exchange of project information between all involved should be determined at the planning stage.

Constructech’s 2011 IT survey indicated that contractors will then take project information "out to the jobsite with mobile devices as well as applying a host of applications on these mobile devices."

The growing trend of utilizing mobile technologies in the construction industry supports the surveys findings. However, 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 such as Apple’s iPad over the past two 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 management solutions need to support the highly mobile workforce of the construction industry today and into the future.

Leveraging Today's Technology for the Future
Does that mean that your construction company needs to scrap everything it’s using today for new cloud-based applications? In the current economy, many companies are looking towards extending the applications that they are using today into the cloud where it makes the most sense.

About the author: Jon Witty is the Vice President and General Manager for Sage Construction and Real Estate, which is a division of Sage North America. A former Microsoft executive with more than 25 years of experience in the technology and ERP markets including the construction and project management vertical, Witty is responsible for driving Sage’s business strategy and initiatives in the construction and real estate market. For more information visit www.sagecre.com. 

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