July 31, 2018

How the Cloud Has Changed the Construction Industry

By Kayla Matthews

Cloud Construction Industry

Cloud and remote computing have transformed the modern world in many ways.

One may not expect so, but the technology has even taken hold in completely unrelated industries — construction and development is a great example.

Why It’s so Helpful

What makes it so special is the fact that all processing, storage and data handling is done remotely via offsite servers or data farms. Something as simple as Dropbox allows users to upload files and documents to the cloud and then access them from any device, anywhere, at any time.

This has serious implications for business, enterprise and, by proxy, construction. Companies can save on costs and operating fees through utilizing a cloud provider over deploying a local system.

Want a real world example? On-site workers and project managers can be editing and reviewing the same blueprints or BIMs simultaneously, from completely separate locations. This improves collaboration and keeps everyone informed, no matter where they are or what they’re doing.

That explains why it’s so popular. Ninety-two percent of companies have adopted a public cloud setup, while 75 percent have adopted the private cloud. Both of those numbers increased for 2018 over the year prior. Naturally, this shows adoption and support for cloud computing will continue to grow into the foreseeable future.

But how does this technology factor into outlying industries such as construction? What has it changed? What benefits does it bring?

Achieve More With Less Resources

So long as there is an active internet connection, cloud services and both online software or hardware remain available.

“Through telemetry data, we are now able to view information and events as they happen and provide solutions to our customers proactively,” says Brett Mireau, Technology Development Manager for Gregory Poole Equipment Company.

“We have also integrated and utilized software which can prioritize the events we are seeing based upon a scoring system of our choosing to help us qualify these touchpoints,” Mireau says. “Without technology integration, we would have to make assumptions about the customers business and utilization and/or wait for the customer to call us when they have a need.”

Access to cloud information also means employees can work from anywhere, from nearly any device. In an industry such as construction, where teams are always visiting new job sites far from an office, the cloud is a huge convenience.

Cross-collaboration between multiple agencies or parties is also a huge boon. Contractors are generally working with other teams to complete a project or job, which means the accurate and real-time sharing of documentation and processes is necessary.

Cloud computing makes this a possibility, eliminating the need to email or upload various document versions between groups. Online tools and applications can be used to edit the documents in the cloud, effectively keeping everyone clued in and working on the latest version. Furthermore, as the file size grows, the performance and access never changes — this is important on mobile and lesser devices with hardware limitations.

It alleviates the added stress of sharing and collaboration between teams, even sub-contractors and third-parties.

In 2017, over 87 percent of the construction industry revealed they felt open to deploying cloud-hosted software for future projects.

Connected Jobsites and Improved Collaboration

Even better, this helps sync up or connect separate jobsites by allowing everyone on the team to tap into the same network or system. For project managers, it affords an incredible level of insight as to what a team is doing, what work they are currently focused on, or even how they can collaborate or provide assistance.

Imagine a project or property proposal, for Instance, that everyone on a team has access to and can update in real-time. One team segment could update the details on support structures and foundations, while another could handle ductwork or wiring. And there’s no need to stop any one team or individual from working, they can all achieve this simultaneously.

Are There Any Drawbacks?

For starters, having a network open to the internet and a multitude of devices can hinder security. The same can happen for digital data stored elsewhere.

Not only can sensitive data end up compromised locally, but it can also become affected via the cloud. It’s possible for hackers to gain access to remote systems, abscond sensitive data or demand a ransom in return for access. In construction, this could mean competitors or outside parties gaining access to trade secrets. Other sensitive information includes intellectual property, proprietary assets, architectural drawings, or financial and corporate banking accounts.

In 2016, a serious data breach affected Turner Construction, which resulted in the compromise of employee social security numbers, salaries, tax information and other sensitive data.

In addition to the financial hit an organization takes from such an event, they also lose valuable time that must be dedicated to researching what happened, improving security and fixing any Vulnerabilities. This could lead to weeks or even months of additional downtime as the related systems are maintained or repaired.

Remote systems are also dependent on an internet connection or wireless signal. In areas where the signal is poor, or when internet equipment experiences issues, there’s often downtime. This can also have a detrimental effect on cost — as downtime often does. Worse yet, imagine trying to operate during an environmental disaster — such as a hurricane — where there’s no internet connection to be had.

If on-site workers can’t gain access to the system or important documents, they might as well be left out in the cold. Project Managers can also experience similar issues, such as being unable to assess or partake in contract bids, deliver reports and commands to their teams, or communicate with clients about a project’s status.

Many tools allow users to work offline, doing things like editing documents and files, but things are still separated from the online features and support. Editing a BIM would mean the document isn’t updated, in full, until back online. That could potentially cause conflicts between team members, especially when real-time access is absolutely necessary.

Real-time Insights and Metrics

When there are so many different devices — in use — connected to a central network or system, there’s an incredible opportunity to gather a vast amount of information users.

In construction, and for a team, this means project managers and overseers can get detailed stats on their personnel at all times. Personal details get combined with GPS or location info to keep an eye on everyone while they’re at a jobsite. Monitored elements can include injuries, breaks, work in progress or even those following safety protocols and regulations.

One can also use the incoming information to build a more detailed profile of a project. Suddenly, realistic estimates about how long a job might take, bottlenecks and setbacks and personnel limits, all become much more manageable.

Cloud Computing In the Real World

Believe it or not, there are industry innovators currently using this technology out in the field.

Moss and Associates turned to CMiC for a cloud computing solution that would help them make more informed and timely decisions. More importantly, they required a database solution that meshed both operations and accounting data to save time, money and resources.

After developing the proper system, it’s been offering great support ever since. Today, the company focuses on coming up with a mobile-oriented access portal that will also allow them to tap into advanced analytics.

Costain, a prominent construction company, is currently developing a BIM or Building Information Modeling system deployed in the cloud. This would mean that everyone on a job site — and off — has access to critical project information particularly in regards to the project models including any updates or revisions.

This would enhance the collaboration between engineers, designers and site workers to streamline projects, especially those that require dynamic strategies.

Cloud Computing Offers Advancement

As anyone can see, cloud computing and its transformative nature are taking hold in construction and development, just like it is in other, unrelated sectors. It will help to modernize, optimize and improve collaboration for all in the industry.

Better yet, it offers some significant improvements to the management and operations process, allowing for project overseers to know and understand more about their team and the work at hand.

By Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews is a technology writer dedicated to exploring issues related to the Cloud, Cybersecurity, IoT and the use of tech in daily life.

Her work can be seen on such sites as The Huffington Post, MakeUseOf, and VMBlog. You can read more from Kayla on her personal website.
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