A wide-scale adoption of cloud-based storage is vital for the industry

Pete Baxter

This time last year I predicted that 2014 would be the year that cloud enabled a whole new set of innovations for designers and engineers. But while I have personally seen some fantastic examples of construction customers doing some very innovative things with cloud technology this year, the sector as a whole is yet to fully utilise the transformative potential of this technology to completely revolutionise the way we approach the entire construction process, from initial design to procurement to on-site to handover.

It is vital that industry leaders take advantage of the benefits of the cloud. Strategic use of cloud technologies can bring huge cost and time savings and productivity improvements. At a very basic level, an on-site engineer who is able to collaborate in real-time on shared documents on multiple platforms and in any location, to solve issues on the spot will save hours of emailing, calls and waiting for different versions of documents to be sent around. Multiply this by the number of engineers on-site for the duration of the project and we’re potentially talking hundreds of thousands of pounds of savings. This benefit is already being realised by the enlightened few and is driving significant productivity gains. And remember, the majority of the project team are not “technologists”, highlighting another great benefit of cloud based collaboration. In most cases these solutions can be used with little more than familiarity with web browsers on mobile devices. This is intuitive technology requiring little training.

Another compelling reason for driving towards cloud based project collaboration is derived from the benefit of having complete and up-to-date project data stored in one location. As well as the well documented benefits of visualisation and communication, the cloud is opening up access to sophisticated analysis and simulation tools, allowing better optimisation of current designs and developments of best practices and solutions for use in future projects.

Despite these opportunities, perceived unreliability of this technology and vulnerability of data stored in the cloud remain a barrier to large-scale adoption. Whilst these concerns were perhaps valid in the early introduction of cloud-based solutions, the reality is now that the benefits are far more compelling than the perceived risks. Other sectors of industry, such as manufacturing, have been benefiting from their use of cloud for some time – there is now the opportunity for the construction industry to realise the potential.

It is worth remembering that while we are thinking of this as a revolutionary approach to the design and construction process, to the new generation of engineers and designers this approach to collaboration is the expected norm. With a huge skills shortage within the industry, the sector will have to adapt to the attitudes of this new generation in order to not only attract, but retain the best talent.

Businesses can no longer afford to miss out on the opportunities afforded by the cloud. Those firms that have yet to make the leap should be thinking how they can do so soon to put themselves in a strong position for 2015 and beyond, to benefit from the productivity gains that cloud technology can deliver.