The cloud holds true potential for transforming the AEC industry. This potential, however, has gone largely unfulfilled due in large part to the ambiguous manner in which it has been defined in general. This in turn has led to a lack of confidence from key decision makers when evaluating cloud solutions for their construction business. The value of the cloud boils down to five essential characteristics, derived from the cloud-computing definition published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Chances are you are familiar with these characteristics on some level, having interacting with cloud-based solutions on a daily basis. Stripping away the tech jargon, along with the marketing-speak, you uncover a solid set of criteria for which to hold the cloud up against going forward.
You control the services. At its core, this is the most essential value of a cloud-based application. This allows you to configure and monitor capabilities on your terms. Take your basic online storage applications, like iCloud, Amazon Cloud, SkyDrive, and think of the premium aspect. You are only billed for what you use under a subscription-based billing model.
In construction this is a model that can be adopted for such systems as project management. Providing a “pay-as-you-use” functionality will ultimately prove its value as you scale from large job down to small.
Broad Network Access
Access any time on any device. Take an application like Dropbox as an example. This file-hosting service helps you maximize usage as desired, allowing access to files from any device at any time. You create a unique folder to upload files. That folder is then synchronized so that it appears as the same folder on any device—web or mobile—regardless of how you choose to access it. Of notable appeal is the ability for various users to share and collaborate on files.
In construction, such functionality becomes the base for many collaborative solutions, some of which have even mimicked the model of Dropbox. One critical factor to keep in mind with broad network access is pertains to version control—ensuring there are rules in place to ensure that users are always working with the most up-to-date documents.
Shared computing resources. True cloud applications dynamically assign such computing resources as processing, memory, and bandwidth across multiple tenants. Your level of demand dictates the manner in which various physical and virtual resources are dynamically assigned and reassigned.
At the physical layer is where virtualization comes into play with hardware being the virtualized resource. The cloud adds that all-important management control layer for scaling the pool up and down as needed. Memory and storage are examples of pooled virtualized resources.
Pay for use. The same manner in which you may add and delete storage on your cloud-based email account, for example, correlates to function elasticity for cloud-based applications.
Do you have a job that requires the need to provide partners, like a sub or architect, access to files or permissions for only a finite amount of time? Work with a cloud-based system that can scale access for third parties up or down as needed. You save on resources and training, while having centrally located files and applications throughout the course of the job.
What gets measured gets managed. This old adage certainly applies here. There is no ambiguity when it comes to measured service—your resources are monitored, controlled, and reported. Think of an automated remote service where you receive reports on what has been used. It’s the cloud equivalent of an invoice. This means transparency for you, transparency for the provider—no questions asked. Today any cloud application worthy of your investment will provide you with such capability.
These five characteristics make up the essentials for embracing cloud services in construction. Understanding the value inherent in each will help you appropriately move forward applying the cloud to your AEC business.
Next comes the step of considering the delivery methods and deployment models best suited for your AEC environment. IT plays a strong enabling in this process. Next month we address the methods for getting IT on board with the move to the cloud.