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Construction in the Cloud: What Are You So Afraid Of?

By James Benham
President of JB Knowledge Technologies, Inc. and SmartBidNet

There’s a good chance the entirety of your personal data resides in the cloud (e.g., email, social media accounts, banking accounts, calendar, etc.). You’re able to access the digital information you need every day from your home and mobile devices because the cloud centralizes, organizes, and disseminates that data to the most convenient access point for you. Some of you may read the privacy and security statements before signing up for online banking, for example; others assume that the large population of people already employing the service know what they're doing. Either way, you put a great deal of trust in your consumer technology services and devices every day. In return, your technology gives you a mobility, redundancy and efficiency that was unattainable before the original cloud, the Internet, graced our horizon.

Now consider the technology you use exclusively at work on a daily basis. How much of your information is stored on your computer desktop, in a file cabinet, on the company's internal servers, or on servers hosted remotely via cloud services? I'm willing to bet the amount of work data you access from the cloud is significantly less than the amount of personal data you access from the cloud. The 2012 Construction Technology Integration Report revealed that out of over 450 commercial construction industry respondents, 30.4 percent work for companies that allow no form of cloud applications to be used. That means packaged accounting, project management, bid invitation, estimating and BIM software are either installed on every company computer or custom systems are developed and hosted internally. Not surprisingly, when identifying which specific processes are not allowed in the cloud, if all building IT isn't prohibited from being in the cloud, 75.1 percent stated that accounting software is the software most likely to be kept within the corporate firewall at all times.

What is it that's keeping IT directors and CIOs in 30 percent of commercial building companies from embracing cloud technologies? What are their biggest fears? Are they justified? Let's take a look at some common statements we hear about the cloud:

Statement #1: Project Data in the Cloud is Not Secure
Data stored remotely is a daunting concept. Placing already public information into cloud solutions is one thing, but a database of consolidated, secure data in a location outside company firewalls presents a much more tangible threat. When your data is hosted in the cloud by an accounting software provider, for example, the questions that present themselves are endless. Who has access to your data? Where is it backed up? How is it encrypted? How can they guarantee that it won't be compromised by third parties? Security of data in the cloud is the most justified argument, especially when it comes to sensitive financial project data. The exciting news is that security tools like centralized authentication and two-factor authentication are coming to more cloud solution providers, giving you significantly more control over data access and potential security breaches. The other particularly exciting point is that private-public cloud hybrid solutions are emerging that keep ultra-private data inside the most secure data servers.

Statement #2: Project Data is not Accessible When I Leave my Cloud Provider
When data is no longer stored exclusively on in-house servers, it's easy to feel a loss of control, ownership and access. While the privacy of your data can be guaranteed and maintained throughout your use of the cloud service in diligent contract language, it is important to plan ahead. This can be done with the use of cloud-to-local-server synchronization software (like Syncplicity works with Google Docs) to constantly monitor your cloud software and synchronize the data stored there to a local server so you always have a current copy of your data in case you have to sever the contract with your provider.

Statement #3: Project Data in the Cloud is Too Mobile
Anyone with their life on their smartphone might argue that nothing can be "too mobile." However, a company with detailed project data being viewed and transmitted across mobile devices has cause to worry. Wi-fi enabled devices constantly connect mobile users to a different network, and all the transmittable baggage that network carries. Even if cloud services can guarantee data security when accessing their web-based platform from the office, how can they additionally track mobile devices that are constantly changing locations, IP addresses, and network services? Should companies have to invest in an additional cloud service, MRM (mobile risk management) software, to employ a primary cloud service? These are legitimate questions. The problems certainly are partly a people problem (practices of employees) but they are also an architecture problem with mobile apps. Mobile apps should be designed with built-in safeguards for locally cached or stored data, and should give IT administrators the ability to reach out and remotely wipe corporate data on demand.

These are just a few of the concerns of construction industry professionals on cloud adoption. A recent survey by CompTIA of 500 IT decision makers said that 85 percent feel more positive about the benefits of cloud computing this year and 57 percent identified scalability as a motivating benefit, but it begs the question: How many of these adopters will be in the construction industry? Eighty-four percent of net new software across industries will be cloud-based. Not surprisingly, it's predicted that the software will be adopted most rapidly in industries like media, education, banking, government and insurance — where the need to understand and collaborate on data is driven by consumer demand for maximized services. Why is it so hard to find or present optimistic predictions and statistics on construction cloud adoption? In addition to the data concerns addressed above, is the business to business (as opposed to business to consumer) nature of our industry affecting the demand for innovation?

Do three things this week. First, evaluate the cloud (web-based) services you use in your personal life. Second, talk to your friends in other industries and find out what cloud-based solutions (software, mobile apps, devices) they are using at work. Lastly, spend one hour trying out some basic business cloud software on your own time, start with DropBox, Google Docs & Sketchup, Autodesk BIM 360 Glue, Measured Mobile App, SmartBidNet, and Cloud Takeoff. Even read up on their data privacy, security, and mobility policies and ask your company's IT experts how they compare to internal policies. Chances are you'll begin to agree with a few of the following statements.

The more than 30 percent of construction companies still using spreadsheets as a primary data storage and transfer medium are just this side of pen and paper. If you're one of them, you’re well aware that there must be a better way. Your consumer technology and your ‘marketing friend's web-based CRM software’ make your desktop software look like the original Nintendo. The best cloud services are addressing the same security concerns your company addresses internally, but on a grander, more cost-effective scale. And finally, with such paperless and collaborative solutions available, the construction industry has the potential to catch up to other industries — but the demand must come from the consumer. That's you.


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