Cloud computing is an esoteric name for a simple concept. Instead of relying on one's own hardware and software for a suite of services, users rely on software, information storage and computing resources accessed over the Internet.
Construction companies, however, have been slow to make use of cloud technology, said James Benham, founder and president of JB Knowledge Technologies, Inc.
His company is a Texas-based information technology services provider, focusing on the construction, real estate, risk and insurance industries.
“With cloud computing, you can access the digital information you need from anywhere, any time through any device — from mobile devices to the computer at home, to the computer at your desk,” said Benham.
“The cloud centralizes, organizes and disseminates your data to the access point most convenient for you.”
The company’s recent survey, the 2012 Construction Technology Integration Report, revealed that more than 30 per cent of 450 responding companies allow no computer applications to be used in the cloud.
For these companies all software is either installed on individual computers or hosted behind a corporate firewall.
Almost 40 per cent allow the use of invitation to bid or plan room apps on the cloud. More than 22 per cent allow project management apps, 19 per cent allow estimating apps and more than 14 per cent allow BIM apps.
However, only 6.5 per cent of respondents allow the use of accounting applications on the cloud, indicating concerns about accounting software providers, who host sensitive financial data off site.
“In many cases people are freaked out by a perceived lack of security offered by the cloud,” Benham said.
Security tools, such as centralized authentication, place stringent controls on who can access cloud data and weed out suspicious activity. Two-factor authentication employs additional security by requiring two forms of identification, for example a pass card and a password.
Benham noted, however, that mobile devices such as smartphones present security challenges that may be mitigated by such approaches as the use of mobile risk management software, employee education regarding security issues and the ability of system administrators to remotely wipe out corporate data.
The survey also revealed that 52 per cent of respondents transfer data using Excel spreadsheets.
“If you’re using Excel spreadsheets to transfer data, you’re living in the past,” said Benham.
“It’s a great spreadsheet program that stinks at sharing data. By using a cloud-based service, you can share the same spreadsheet among colleagues or even lock down certain cells and assign different cells to different users.”
Construction companies are also notorious for using e-mail to send large files, he said.
“It’s an awful habit,” Benham noted.
“By using a free cloud based app like yousendit, you can upload large files to the cloud and allow recipients to download them through a link.
“If you opt for their pay service, you can record the receipt of the file which would be legally defensible evidence that a change order, for example, was received.”
For construction professionals, who haven’t yet adopted business cloud technology, Benham recommended that they speak to colleagues, both in and outside the construction industry, about the cloud-based solutions they use.
He also suggested that they evaluate some popular free or trial-version business cloud software, such as Google Docs, Trimble SketchUp, iCloud, Tekla BIMsight or Microsoft Office 365.
“If you’re using junk technology and software that’s just this side of the cutting edge circa 1995, you won’t understand the capabilities of the cloud,” said Benham.
“You can only become proficient at assessing and learning about these services by using them.”