Cloud computing in construction is the use of virtual servers to access documents, drawings, and data relevant to a project through an internet connection. The definition of cloud is further expanded to include the use of mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets.
The term “cloud computing” has emerged from the IT domain and has been gaining a lot of traction in the construction sector. With cloud computing, users can access “live” information from any part of the world. The technology will prove to be very beneficial for the construction sector as it requires a constant movement of employees and frequent setup of new worksite locations.
Moreover, it is crucial to have complete access to the data which may assist with timely, well-supported decision-making and reporting while working in the field. Conversely, the administrative team also needs to stay updated with all the pending bills, invoices, financial reports, payrolls, and logistics without having to visit the site.
Traditional client/server software could provide access to this information only from some selected locations. But cloud technology has opened up new horizons that enable instant connections to be made beyond these traditional preconfigured office sites. It is now possible to tap into back-office information and report the smallest details from any location in a very secure way— all that one needs is access to the internet.
The Current Scenario
Construction projects are getting increasingly complicated. As teams need to account for progressively complex planning and designing, the number of parties involved and stakeholders multiply from one project to the next.
Multiple engineering and environmental specialists must opine on even relatively small projects. This requires a level of collaboration and coordination that adds time and effort. But design budgets aren’t necessarily growing. As a result, civil engineering firms and other project participants find that their resources are stretched far too thin.
Construction companies are uniquely oriented to benefit from the cloud’s ability to provide greater freedom and ease to access information anytime, anywhere—from satellite offices, job sites, or customer locations that span across the globe. A recent survey showed that 85% of construction contractors already use cloud-based solutions.
What is in the Cloud?
Numerous applications and software are being used in the cloud, from traditional options such as email (Microsoft Exchange) through to the latest ones like Building Information Modelling (BIM).
Though the sector is often criticized for being a laggard in the adoption of technology, over the last decade, the industry has sought better and more cost-effective ways of working with IT. The initial real cloud-based solutions appeared in the form of collaboration bases such as Union Square and 4Projects.
These enabled information sharing (e.g. drawings, documents, etc.) as well as collaborative boards to allow data to be aligned towards construction projects. Savings were associated with these early solutions, at least in reproduction costs, given the number of revisions a drawing goes through during the life of a construction project and the need to print these and send out to all associated parties.
Customer relationship management (CRM) solutions such as Microsoft CRM and Project-SalesAchiever also entered the cloud space providing holistic views of their users business, pipeline and relationships.
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software such as COINS and Causeway have also entered the cloud and by using the latest technology, they are finding that integration and interoperability is becoming far easier.
Advantages of Cloud Computing
1. Anytime, Anywhere Access
The most useful feature of the cloud is that it is accessible from anywhere. This is especially relevant for construction companies because employees could be in the office one day and on a job site the next.
And for companies with various ongoing projects, the ability to access paperwork and information without being bound to a desk can save a lot of time and many trips back to the office.
The ability to pull up the same data on a smartphone or tablet as is available from a computer is a real game-changer for construction participants ranging from material suppliers and contractors to property owners and project managers.
2. Improved Coordination between Clients and Contractors
Construction and infrastructure projects are developing at a growing pace and clients don't want organizations to slow down, not even in these challenging times. The modern construction professionals not only need to be the best at their job but also be highly collaborative.
The construction industry demands a lot of mobility – traveling from one work site to another, overseeing multiple projects, coordinating with different teams, etc. By using cloud-based software, project managers can keep everyone updated and have a close view of everything that's going on.
Instead of using emails, all the project stakeholders can access the same calendar, make project updates, and schedule meetings by themselves in real-time. Engineers, supervisors, and contractors can also use cloud-based apps to replan projects and optimize their schedules.
Most cloud services, such as Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox, etc, provide a limited amount of free storage and charge extra for more space. This is beneficial for companies of all sizes as they can choose the apt storage solution to fit their requirements. The cloud storage can be scaled up or down as the company's business grows.
4. Competitive Advantage
A smaller construction company could find it difficult to compete with the giants of the industry, but such small companies could get a competitive edge with the help of cloud. Through cloud computing, even a small firm can achieve enterprise-level of recovery, management, access, and data storage at a fraction of the cost spent by bigger enterprises.
Smaller companies apply strategy and use the cloud which is suitable for their needs. The cloud pay-per-use feature allows them to pay only for the services and resources utilized by them. This encourages healthy competition as the cloud services received by smaller companies are the same as that of bigger companies.
5. Reduced Need for Paper Prints
Several construction teams still rely on paper prints to get an overall view of the project. This is mainly due to the humongous size of the design files. Though PDF and DWF files have lessened the use of prints to a certain level, some teams still prefer the traditional feel of prints that can be unrolled to check for specific details.
However, prints no longer serve the purpose in today's BIM-powered designs, which contain object data and intelligence that prints can't convey. Moreover, prints are expensive and get outdated almost as soon as they come off the printer.
It is defined as the use of virtual servers where the stakeholders can access their stored data through an internet connection.
The technology will prove to be very beneficial for the construction sector as it requires a constant movement of employees and frequent setup of new worksite locations.
Some of the advantages of cloud computing are:
1. Provides ease in accessing data anytime, anywhere.
2. Improves coordination between clients and contractors.
3. Provides a competitive edge.
4. Reduces the needs for paper prints.