The future of construction work is in the Cloud. By Stewart Carroll
In an industry built on blueprints, clipboards and spreadsheets, the move to databases and 3-D modeling systems has been nothing short of a revolution. Change may have been slow in coming, but make no mistake – it’s here. And as more construction technology moves to the cloud, the biggest changes of all are on their way.
Astonishing advances have been made in every step from preconstruction estimating to 5-D modeling, and layered on top of it all is the cloud, which houses software and data on the Internet rather than your desktop. This centralization of data will be a game changer for today╒s construction businesses, and how they adapt to it will be a deciding factor in their future ability to win work.
Transparency and Efficiency
By creating entirely new processes and workflows in which technology plays a central role, general contractors (GCs) have already empowered themselves to do much more in less time. This benefits not only GCs, but also the owners they serve, who are able to get more accurate answers faster than ever before. As more and more of these technologies move to the cloud, GCs will be able to deliver even more of what owners have been clamoring for.
Storing data and applications in the cloud will allow teams to create a shared set of common data, accessible from anywhere, on any device. In the not-so-distant past, construction managers were often seen on building sites carrying a stack of paper. Today, they’re carrying tablets or laptops instead, but are still often spotted on their mobile phones, asking someone else at the office to look up some figure they didn’t have handy.
The cloud will soon make it possible to tap into everything you need to know about any project, no matter where you may be standing, from a device that fits in the palm of your hand. It also updates in real time, so any information one user puts into the application will be instantly accessible to every other user. Nobody will have to waste any time reinventing the wheel, manually updating information, or hunting down data that resides on different computers or systems.
Instead of relying on the limited content of standalone documents and PDF files, cloud users will be able to access aggregated data in one location, providing a much more transparent and detailed picture of every aspect of work.
With all project data in a common location, you will be able to build up some extremely valuable records over time. Curious how your current rebar estimate compares to your actual rebar cost on your past three projects? Instead of being stuffed in a filing cabinet or on a hard drive in Bob’s office, that cost data will live in the database on the cloud, instantly accessible.
Timeliness and Collaboration
Instant, anywhere access to a vast resource of data will help construction companies become more efficient, communicate better, and get answers for owners faster. And in the age of Google, that’s what owners have come to expect.
If you’ve ever met with a prospective client who asks for clarification about a floor plan adjustment, you’ve probably had to tell them, “I can get that answer for you, but I’ll have to run back to my office and compare the current plans to the original plans.” Cloud applications will soon give you access to the historical information you need to answer them on the spot, without ever taking off your hardhat. And soon, you’ll be able to make changes to a cloud-based 3-D model on the fly, so you can show the owner what any other adjustments might look like.
When you have all the information in the palm of your hand, owners will be able to get the accurate information they need to move their projects forward faster, with less risk and fewer costly surprises. You will become a collaborative ally, not another delay standing between them and their profit.
Cloud Evolution and Workflows
With all that the cloud has to offer, why isn╒t everyone jumping right in? Many GCs are. And many more would love to, but find it cost-prohibitive. Smaller firms may be intimidated by the all-inclusive, subscription-based pricing structure, which can add up over time to a price tag that’s higher than a traditional software license. But in exchange, you will get unlimited, centralized updates and a vendor who handles all the technical issues and data security, freeing your IT team to do other things besides update and fix software on machine after machine.
Another concern is that once you’ve got your data in a cloud application, it might be hard to migrate it somewhere else. That’s a big advantage for the cloud service providers who want to keep their users, but not for GC firms that may one day feel stuck with an application they╒ve outgrown.
Data security is another concern for many GCs, especially if the cloud will house sensitive information about government structures or other confidential projects. In reality, data security is a two-way street. Cloud providers already have strong encryption protections in place, and tight processes to restrict data access are a must on the GC side.
For some applications, integration kinks haven’t quite been worked out. When cloud applications don╒t communicate seamlessly with office-based ERP or accounting systems, for example, data can get lost in transmission, and somebody has to sit down at a computer and put it back where it needs to be. These are all valid concerns, but as cloud technology continues to evolve, the negatives are increasingly outweighed by the advantages.
Today’s construction technology cloud looks like a patchwork quilt of separate applications, all handling different functions, that don╒t yet communicate perfectly with each other. But vendors are building bridges, new applications are in development, and a holistic solution that ties all the back-office and front-office applications together is not far away.
Meanwhile, the construction industry is adapting its processes and workflows to take advantage of all the data that is there for the taking. As owners demand greater transparency, efficiency, timeliness, and collaboration, more and more GCs are realizing that the path to deliver all of these runs right through the cloud.
As chief operating officer of Beck Technology, Stewart Carroll runs all aspects of the corporation, corporate strategy and vision, and continually evangelizes the use of its technology. He has been a lead A/E/C technologist for well over a decade and continually speaks on the integration of cost and scoping technologies to owners and developers.