Hey Everyone. Check out this post from our friend James Benham w/SmartBidNet…it’s good stuff, as always:
The evolution of technology in your office probably looked something like this: copy machine, fax machine, microwave-sized personal computer, inter-office email, bulletin board systems, really slow websites with lots of blue hyperlinks, loaf of bread-sized cell phones…until finally instant messaging, laptops, smart phones, printer/scanners and now the occasional tablet came to save the day. No one wants to remember the black screen and green letters – but it’s important to understand how far we’ve come.
Now what exactly made it possible for you to abandon that pager and flip back and forth between your Angry Birds app and this article on your smart phone? Internet? Laptops? Steve Jobs? What if I told you they were all a part of this term everyone is throwing around as if it’s brand new… The Cloud?
To start, let’s define that annoyingly ambiguous term. What is ‘The Cloud’? My best layman’s definition is: An interconnected set of systems that distribute computing and separate the user interface from the core computing function, leaving the heavy lifting for a centralized server. So essentially, when a video you see on your screen is not, in fact, stored there in your computer, but managed remotely along with a whole set of data just like it, you are accessing that video from The Cloud. When someone says, Software as a Service, Application Service Provider, or Rich Internet Applications, you can safely substitute “cloud service” in your head. (Here’s another way to put it: http://sbn.cc/yXBMv8) In really plain English, The Cloud is when something is hosted and processed somewhere else. Back in the day we called it a mainframe, except today’s mainframes have far more computing power and the terminals are not so “dumb” any more.
Just so we can get this out of the way, I do not consider any client/server app deployed through Citrix, Remote Desktop or some other solution truly a cloud-based solution. Those type of solutions do not deliver the same type of flexibility in splitting processing up between the end user’s workstation and the server as a Rich Internet Application would provide, and they simply don’t have a good end user experience like a truly web-based solution would deliver. Cloud applications utilize both the power of the centralized server and the incredible power of the workstation, smart phone or web enabled device to deliver a much richer user experience than anything we previously thought possible.
You are probably now realizing that you already use many cloud applications, such as Microsoft Office Live 365 or Outlook Web Access. There are a plethora of free applications out there that will maximize efficiency and collaboration while minimizing storage space and maintenance needed on your own devices. For example, my company uses Google Docs, Ring Central, Google Sites for Intranet, Dropbox, and YouSendIt like they are going out of style. The ability to store files centrally in one remote location, share with anyone you want, and collaborate on those files in real-time without worrying about who has the latest copy is invaluable. Project management software like BasecampHQ allows us to add to document collaboration with task, scheduling, contact management, and communication capabilities that can bring multiple team members in various locations together in an online environment with all the data they need.
Then there are many ways to use cloud services for more personal productivity and organization purposes. Organize and display every aspect of individual or group travel with TripIt and share it with whoever needs to know where and when you’ll be. Media services such as iTunes Match, Amazon Prime, and Hulu Plus let you access your music, TV shows, movies, and favorite SNL skits from whatever wifi device is in your briefcase, without you having to store a single file on that device.
And let’s not forget about social networks, which form the most dynamic cloud of all. Distributing and storing information and connecting individuals with an unlimited number of other individuals around the world. The social media cloud can be put to use professionally as well, disseminating project updates, organizing project teams, sharing documents and photos, and putting a human powered search engine right at your finger tips. With 70% of daily mobile device use being social media, it is one of the best mediums to communicate with employees, clients, and prospects alike. Have a look at NBC’s “The Office” learning to utilize the social cloud: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wfG8ngFvPk
The cloud applications available for just construction professionals are just as plentiful. Google Earth (which exists both in the cloud and on your desktop) brings together maps, aerial/satellite/street level views, and navigation that can be combined with Google Sketchup (a desktop based application) for free estimating and markup on physical sites across the globe. Cloud Takeoff is the Google Docs of estimating software, allowing general contractors and subcontractors to access and perform takeoff on plan files simultaneously, while sharing takeoff data, notes and comments. Bid management applications allow general contractors to centralize prequalification, subcontractor databases, project documents, bids, and proposals in online portals where data is saved and stored remotely, so all users have 24/7 access to the most updated information on bid projects.
“The Cloud” is not only revolutionizing applications and the way we access and distribute data, but is also reinventing the devices we use to do so. As local storage and processors become more and more insignificant and data is stored remotely, devices will adapt to shed storage space and boost cloud accessing capabilities. So far, the results are seen in Apple TV, tablets, Ultrabooks, lost Flash drives that stay lost and scratched CDs that can be thrown away without a second thought. Reducing the footprint of the local computing device is inevitable as the requirements on the desktop are minimized.
The convergence of all of these cloud platforms, applications, and devices has resulted in what we now call ‘augmented reality.’ For example, when GPS data, jobsite monitoring cameras, machinery feedback, worker communications, and 3D building plan models converge on the project manager’s tablet device, you get a real-world depiction of the jobsite, augmented by computer-generated sensory data – an ‘augmented reality’ unavailable before the cloud connected such varieties of data in one place. Here’s one of the best and most impressive examples I’ve seen of current augmented reality capabilities in mobile apps: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fZk0HaIs4s And here’s an example of augmented reality used in construction: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yiDnlhxs1os
The benefits of cloud computing capabilities far outweigh the dangers, but there are dangers. Data stored remotely can be out of sight, out of mind, but knowing exactly who and what is in charge of your data’s privacy and security and who is liable should either of those be breached is essential. Any cloud computing service, whether using Google Docs free of charge or licensing a web-based management software, should be fully investigated prior to use. You should know the digital road map your data takes from your screen to wherever it is stored, who’s responsible for, and who has access to, your data along the way and how much administrative control you have should something go wrong.
The cloud is all around us and has been for longer than most people realize. It’s only now that applications and devices are using it to its full potential to bring you data and services where you go through whatever technology you may have in your hands. The possibilities cloud technology offers for personal and professional collaboration, communication, and organization are only growing in number – anyone who isn’t utilizing these technologies yet should probably start sooner rather than later.
James Benham is the President of JB Knowledge Technologies, Inc., the makers of SmartBidNet, an industry leading bid invitation and management software for commercial construction general contractors. His company provides information technology solutions to companies around the world, specializing in the construction, insurance, and risk management industries.