OBA: Mixing a Little Excel with Your Cloud Strategy

cloud-app-access-via-multi-devicesMore than 30% of construction companies rely on spreadsheets as part of their process for carrying out day-to-day construction tasks. For anyone familiar with this industry, that number shouldn’t come as a shock. But what might come as a surprise to some is the fact that such a stat could have cloud implications. This figure comes from the recently published report Construction Software BuyerView by Software Advice. I agree with their assessment that most construction firms find it difficult (i.e., cost prohibitive) to relinquish their traditional methods and adapt their processes. But this is where construction companies must embrace a strategy of adopting new technologies while still leveraging current investments.

This is where I believe Microsoft Office Business Applications (OBAs) play a valuable role for the construction industry. For those not familiar with OBA, here’s a quick run down:

  • An OBA is an application written for Microsoft Office and is based on .NET technology that uses Web services to connect to a standard Line of Business (LOB) or other application. This certainly makes OBAs very NIST-friendly based on its Five Cloud Characteristics.
  • OBAs work by using Microsoft Office as the interface to capture information that is sent via Web services in XML format.
  • The most commonly used OBAs in the AEC industry are based on Microsoft Excel.
  • OBAs are different than the use of Microsoft Office in combination with import/export methods—don’t let some vendors fool you! Here’s the difference: OBAs connect to the LOB application via Web Services. A Microsoft Excel-based OBA, for example, allows for a pre-mapped, secure, two-way connection over the Internet between Excel and the LOB—something that simply cannot be done using traditional import/export.

Here is where the cost value truly comes into play. For many construction companies, achieving such level of integration involves developing a custom solution. And that’s where Software Advice’s statement about the industry’s reluctance to relinquish traditional methods holds true. But that doesn’t need to be the case, thanks to OBAs.

Take the AECCloud customer Morley Builders, for example. It was looking for a way to eliminate the need for employees to manually input large data sets of drawing and specification information. The company is using AEC Cloud’s Drawings & Specification OBA, which interfaces with Microsoft Excel and other spreadsheets.

With this, Morley’s employees are able to quickly input a large amount of data all at once, which saves time. Perhaps the greatest time-saving activity comes during the start of a project, when it is not uncommon for certain information to be repetitive.

And this is one of many success stories. For AEC Cloud, we take a very targeted approach to delivering OBAs to the construction industry:

One Source: The OBA Store is our online source for Microsoft OBAs where we have standard OBAs for most features supported by Trimble Meridian Prolog. We have standard OBAs for most features supported by Prolog and are always looking to build them for other Line of Business applications based on client demand and Vendors opening up their web service technologies.  Get a free account to access and browse to the largest catalog of OBAs for the AEC Industry! Sign Up Here or Login Here if you already have an account.

One Host: We offer the ability host them, or allow users to host them if that is preferred.

Centralized Management: OBA Online is the source for hosting OBAs, and when combined with the OBA Store allows users to buy, manage, and deploy OBAs in a very efficient manner.

An Eye Ahead: We are always looking to build OBAs for other LOB applications based on client demand. But this necessitates other software vendors opening up their Web service technologies.

So for anyone who tells you that the use of Microsoft Excel and the cloud simply don’t mix—think again. OBAs can make that use of Excel very innovative for years to come.


About The Cram Group & AEC Cloud Since 2001, The Cram Group is a leading Consulting, Hosting, and Development services provider focused on the AEC Industry. Core offerings include education about Cloud Computing and Solutions based on the NIST Cloud Definition; Software for Unified Application Management and Role Specific Applications; and Services from Advisory to Maintenance which are available direct and through a nationwide Certified Partner Network. For more information, call 212-505-0381, or email us sales@aeccloud.com