With all the buzz recently about cloud based construction software, I’m sure many business owners and project managers are wondering if it’s the right fit for their business. So I thought I’d jot down a few of the considerations with adopting software in-the-cloud.
You might first be asking why it’s suddenly emerged that the cloud is all the rage. The answer to that is it really comes down to timing. The idea of cloud computing has existed for many years; but it was only about five or six years ago that the technology and infrastructure were in a mature enough state to truly support complex applications that were web-based and hosted in the cloud. Prior to that, software like Facebook, Gmail and online trading systems were about as complex as you’d want to go. Today, however, that’s all changed. With new more powerful browsers, huge advancements in underlying software development tools and a proliferation of high-speed data centers; we now have the capability to do anything a desktop (or, thick-client) software solution can do.
Construction software typically manages a lot of data and varying workflows such as: project estimating, earned value management, project accounting, change management, project cost tracking, procurement, etc. So, the demand it has on the server, as well as the client browser, is much greater than the typical website. But today's cloud software systems can easily handle it - and it just keeps getting better.
So then, what would be the downside of cloud computing? Well, depending on what your priorities are, it’s hard to find a downside – especially in the world of construction project management software. The biggest concern that people express about cloud software essentially boils down to a feeling of control. The fact that their critical data is processed and stored in a data center that’s not in their direct control, gives some people misgivings about how that information is secured, backed up, and transmitted. This type of response, however, is much more of an emotional response than real one. It’s a bit like the difference between driving and flying. Statistically speaking, flying is far more safe than driving (as they say, the most dangerous part of a flight is driving to and from the airport). And it's the same principle with cloud software - it's typically much safer and more well managed than most organizations have the capacity to possibly achieve. It’s fundamentally the difference between feeling safe and being safe.
Well, maybe I have a bias, and you might feel differently – and I’d love to hear from you if you do – either way, here are my top advantages to cloud computing in construction project software.
Advantage #1: You can access it from anywhere
To many people, the biggest advantage of cloud software is that it’s truly available on any computer or device anywhere in the world. This is particularly useful when the project team members are in the office, in the field and in a variety of geographical locations. There’s no hassle with synchronizing data or uploading changes to a centralized server. Everything is centralized already – so collaboration is built-in. You no longer face moments of not knowing if you're looking at the most up-to-date version of a report; or those crushing times when you're on your way to a customer meeting and, whoops, the report you need is on Dave's laptop and, too bad, Dave's in Mexico this week. Everything's connected, integrated and constantly current.
Advantage #2: No Downloads or Installs
There’s no software to install on your laptop. So, when your laptop crashes on you or you upgrade to a new system – you don’t have to start all over again! Not only that, but there’s no worry about having permissions from your IT department or admin rights to install software. Cloud software only needs a user id and password.
Advantage #3: You don’t need hardware or IT infrastructure
Powerful enterprise software applications that aren’t cloud-based require expensive hardware and networks to run them. You need to buy a server, maintain that server, secure that server, apply patches & upgrades, store that server in a server room, power that server and buy a new one when it gets old. And you also need someone on call 24 hours in case the disk crashes. Oh, and you need a second server for failover. And of course you need a disaster recovery plan, backup strategy, network security, firewalls, and virus protection. With cloud software – all of that and much more simply comes as part of the package.
Advantage #4: Upgrades are automatic and invisible
With cloud computing, you don’t need to worry about the version of your software. Upgrades are invisible and compatible. You don’t have any concerns about rolling out new versions that may or may not work on the variety of computers in your organization.
Advantage #5: PC, Mac, iPad or Android - it all just works
Running on a browser, there’s a built-in multi-platform compatibility that comes with the territory. You can work on your Windows 7 computer at the office and then borrow your wife’s Mac to finish a few things at home. You can whip out your iPad in a meeting and bring up a real-time chart that shows up-to-the-minute results. You can walk into an internet café while you’re on holiday in Peru and check the latest numbers. The restrictions of desktop software are all lifted, giving you and your team ultimate freedom and mobility.
The power of cloud computing is bringing many new possibilities to the world of construction project software and enabling many businesses large and small with a wealth of new capability previously out of reach.
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