Category: Cloud Computing

Why Every AEC Firm Needs to Move to the Cloud Now

Cloud computing is the future of everything digital. Modern IT environments use it. “Modern IT” is now hosting its infrastructure in some form of the cloud. Moving to the cloud is especially important for architects, engineering, and construction firms (AEC). A 2017 Sage Survey found that most of AEC firms had already moved to the cloud. It was quite a jump from an earlier survey conducted in 2012 when only 16% of construction contractors had migrated to the cloud.

That’s why most of them are on the cloud in one form or another. The AEC industry is highly fragmented, data-intensive, and project-based. Designing, building, and repurposing require all the traditional disciplines you’d expect, but also many ancillary areas such as energy, environment, and waste.

The Journal of Cloud computing: Advances, Systems, and Applications reported that sharing data and supporting coordination between people involved is difficult and reliant on third-party tools to support such capability. “We believe cloud computing provides a more efficient and robust mechanism for individuals within the AEC industry to collaborate and share data. Work is already underway in the AEC sector for developing data and process models to enable greater interoperable working between project participants.”

This research has led to the development of the concept of Building Information Models (BIM) – a design process that looks at a building’s life cycle. The BIM concept helps designers and others see how a building will use resources before it’s built. BIM was an evolution of ideas.  Start with a powerful digital drawing tool and then evolve it into a much more sophisticated program. The software works in partnership with the designer or architect. A set of drawings becomes an interactive database. When the designer draws on the screen, the BIM system computes the properties of the building and even suggest improvements for everything from energy efficiencies to people flow while costing out every conceivable option. Every variable is built into the AutoDesk software. Any design changes are immediately reflected in revised cost estimates. It tells how much energy the modified design will save. The architect is working with a set of drawings and a data model that understands the whole building as a three-dimensional living system. Keep in mind that BIM includes all the information about a building. It should be a complete 4D virtual repository of the data associated with the structure from beginning to the end of its life.

 

Being on the cloud facilitates hiring, and retaining, some of the best talents all over the world.
THE CLOUD ENABLES REMOTE COLLABORATIVE TEAMS to work seamlessly together on complex projects.

Collaborative working environments have been long-standing key aspects of AEC workflows. Traditionally, those collaborative teams had to commute to one centralized location. Today, offering work environment flexibility (home office or corporate office) has become somewhat of an expected perk. This was a trend long before the coronavirus reared its ugly head. Now, there are government mandates pressing the point even more. We’re all being forced to work from our homes. Coronavirus aside, future AEC firms don’t want to have their collaborative teams tied to one physical location. Not any more.

Jennifer Howe, VP of SMMA (an architectural firm headquartered in Boston) and acting president of the ACEC organization, Massachusetts Chapter says, “As much as I don’t want to be working from home, there are times when I need to be working from home. Our IT staff had us set-up to work remotely, but it wasn’t the same as what we have now with the cloud. I can be on my laptop with IronOrbit and see everything the same way as we see it while we’re in the office.”

She recognizes that it’s more of an employee’s market now. “The ability to offer talented candidates the option to work from home is an added incentive to join your team.” That’s especially true when nothing is lost while moving from the office workstation to your mobile device-of-choice working at home. But there are other reasons to migrate to the cloud.

A much more enhanced remote work experience is not the only reason to move the cloud. The biggest, more critical reason, is security. But it can’t be just any cloud solution. , The cloud environment needs to customized to the unique needs of the firm. Jennifer talks about the biggest threat every firm faces. “Ransomware attacks are a tremendous concern. An ACEC Mass member firm had a recent incident where they were hit with a cyber-security breach. That was very concerning to our entire chapter. ACEC actually hosted an informative event where they shared some of the issues that they had. For SMMA, as government contractors, we need to be very protective and careful with the information that we have.”

Just a few short years ago, Google Drive and DropBox were the popular options between those who wanted to share large files. Those options weren’t great at protecting intellectual property. Concerns over security justifiably kept many AEC firms from utilizing them.
In addition to state-of-the-art firewalls, antivirus protocols, malware filters, and encryption, a truly holistic approach to security includes 24/7 monitoring.
Industry-Wide Concern for Security Is At An All-Time High

Carlos Charry is the Director of Technology for SMMA. He says security has been a top concern for everybody. “One of our competitors got hit with ransomware a few years back. It made me look at our own situation and ask, ‘Are we prepared for this?’ I knew we weren’t ready.”

The level of security provided by IronOrbit – the firm’s cloud solution provider is far beyond anything they could have accomplished on their own. The entire IT infrastructure is protected by state-of-the-art firewalls, antivirus protocols, malware filters, and encryption. The security doesn’t stop there. There is an entire team of engineers, rotating around the clock, monitoring the data centers for any type of potential security threat.

But Carlos adds, “The question of security aside, you still have to keep up with technology. That means having your IT infrastructure on the cloud. The cloud provides faster updates. Just keeping all your applications up to date saves you a lot of trouble. Most of my time before the cloud was spent handling IT issues.  Things like the network not being responsive or our server going down. I spent time on things like that and couldn’t devote myself to what I truly love to do which is to improve our business processes. I want to make them better so the company can become ever more efficient.

Carlos continues, “The cloud has enabled us to hire anyone anywhere in the world. The employee just needs a PC and an Internet connection of some kind and they can utilize our tools. We currently have people working for us from Maine and New York. Since we’ve moved to the cloud, my headaches have been reduced. Once an employee is connected to the cloud, I don’t have to worry about it. I know the data is automatically being backed up. My worries are basically gone.”

FINDING THE RIGHT WAY TO COLLABORATE IS CRITICAL TO RUNNING AN EFFECTIVE BUSINESS

Jennifer says, “Working with Carlos, our IT director, we’re always looking for better ways to do our work. SMMA is a full-service design firm. Collaboration is the key to our success. Finding the right way to collaborate internally and collaborate with our clients is a critical part of running an effective business.

MOVING TO THE CLOUD. WHAT IS IT LIKE?

People were hesitant at first. The cloud environment is different from having your server on the premises. It’s different. “As we were going up to the cloud, and trying to figure out how to use it, they weren’t sure at first what to expect. Is it going to make my life better or worse? Finally, through effective collaboration and communication, we found it to be an invaluable tool. I find that I can access whatever I need wherever I am.  One of the things that surprised me was being at a client meeting and just being on wi-fi and act as if I were in the office. I’m able to pull up any document I need at any time. For example, I do a lot of government work. When I’m doing a client visit, I often don’t have wi-fi available to me. No worries. I just turn on the hotspot on my phone and still be able to open up a CAD drawing. You’d think that would be impossible to do, right? But it really works quite well.”

 

Being able to be remote and share a CAD drawing on your laptop using the hotspot on a smartphone is amazing. “You think it’d be impossible, but it actually works very well.”

 

Hector Inirio is the Design Technologist. He says, “That the most attractive aspect of moving to the cloud was a blend of things. There are many aspects of advanced IT that are beyond our expertise such as high-end security threats. Ransomware is a good example. I really liked the fact that cloud technology democratized our computer systems. We’re not transferring any data from our local workstations. The workstations themselves, really become more like dumb terminals. So, no matter what kind the computer was at a particular desk, they all now respond like high-end machines.  Previously, due to cost, we’d only have some users on higher-end machines. The ones who didn’t need the computing power were working on equipment with less computing power. Now, all of them respond with higher specs.”

“I really liked that cloud technology democratized our computer systems. It made all of them perform like higher spec machines” – Hector Inirio

The computer terminals become virtual desktops because they are hosted by the external cloud server. Any slowness or frustrations you’ve experienced with your current Internet connection go away. Once users log in to the hosted desktop you’re using bandwidth from the cloud. There are separate gigabyte connections to the Internet. Your bandwidth virtually becomes unlimited.

The technology needed to aid the construction industry’s complex workflows hadn’t become available until the past few years. There are now plenty of SaaS solutions available to make full use of what cloud technology offers. Most contractors are implementing cloud solutions. The few who are not risk losing any competitive edge they had. These firms are also in danger of becoming irrelevant as technology advances at exponential rates. They simply won’t be able to keep up. Remaining current with the speed of technology means being able to focus on human capital.  These are qualities like talent, skills, know-how, empathy, and creativity. All of these are undervalued human assets to unlock. You won’t be able to leverage this human capital if you’re stuck in the mud because your technology isn’t current.

MAKE FULL USE OF THE BENEFITS

Construction companies already on the cloud should evaluate if they’re making full use of being on the cloud. There is another benefit of cloud computing. Construction companies should be cashing in on the ability to store tremendous amounts of big data files onto more powerful machines. More can be done with fewer resources. Anywhere there’s an Internet connection you’re good to go. Being on the cloud removes hardware limitations, prevents loss of data, dramatically improves security (if designed correctly), and improves accessibility.

One of the key issues within the industry is the storage of building data throughout the whole life of the building. Data processing is also an important concern for the industry. During construction, a large part of the work takes place on-site where computing resources, up till now, have been non-existent.

The cloud offers data processing power. Drones hover over construction sites and take pictures with detailed GPS coordinates and metadata. Stitching these images into an orthograph requires more processing power than typical computers can muster. Visiting job sites can take hours. Now construction sites can be viewed via a SaaS platform. A design captain or engineer can get a real-time view of the location from anywhere in the world, and on any device. This technology also makes sharing data much easier. There’s a misconception that data becomes less secure on the cloud. It turns out the opposite is true. That is if the new cloud environment has been designed with tight security in mind. If the data is kept at a Level 3 Data Center with round the clock monitoring, cybersecurity is on an entirely different level. It’s in a league of its own. One that isn’t possible for on-prem servers or public clouds.

Technology’s Impact on Healthcare

Technology is transforming the way healthcare operates. The impact is not on one level but on many.  It is certainly a game-changer for the way communication happens and the way data is stored. Most importantly, it is truly enhancing the patient experience. Technology transforms the way patients are diagnosed and treated. It’s also transforming the way the business side is handled.

The true dynamo behind the great healthcare overhaul is mobile technology. These are the smartphones and tablets carried by doctors and nurses as they move between one location an another. Cloud technology provides on-demand access to any IT resource you can imagine. It also delivers resources previously unavailable. This blog will introduce some of these new resources. Because these resources make use of cloud computing, they can be accessed from any device anywhere on the planet where there’s an Internet connection. The added benefit; again, because it is on the cloud, is the flexibility and versatility of being able to scale up or scale back capacity as needed. Bandwidth is unlimited. Store as much as you want. Gone are the days of being frustrated with your workstation because it is slow.

There are 2 drivers behind this technology. One is to reduce costs. The second is to improve the quality of patient care.

There are more mobile devices than there are people on Earth. Clinicians are connected as never before. This means that medical professionals can immediately tap into, contribute to, and benefit from, a growing pool of global medical knowledge. At the swipe of a finger, a doctor can access the latest research on a given disease, learn about the latest drug, or clinical trial outcomes. They can benefit from the collective experience of colleagues worldwide.

Things are changing from the patient side as well. Patients are becoming increasingly accountable for their own health and well-being. They’re doing their homework on diseases and illnesses. They want access to their own data. In the June 13, 2017, Forbes magazine article How The Cloud is Transforming Healthcare, Khalid Raza writes, “providers must satisfy the demand for instant, top-quality access to healthcare services. Patients – who are accustomed to the 24/7 availability and service from online retailers and financial institutions – expect and even demand such access and services from their healthcare providers. People have become more involved in managing their own healthcare needs, which only complicates matters, and gravitate to the web for diagnosis, information, and treatments.”

Software companies have had the pulse on these industry-wide healthcare trends. These companies have responded with new technologies designed to significantly contribute to the flow of knowledge and the efficiency of future healthcare.  There are now multiple secure messaging technologies available to doctors who want to have a quick informal consultation with a colleague. These tools have many of the same features. For example, all communication is tracked and logged automatically.

Here are a few of the new technologies that are changing the face of medicine. And they’re all being facilitated by cloud computing in one way or another.

 

DIGITAL FLOWS
SPEED UP
DIAGNOSIS, PROGNOSIS & TREATMENTS

There are still thick heavy reference books collected throughout doctor’s offices and nursing stations. These mammoth books are collecting a lot of dust now. The reference books have probably been forgotten or left where they were simply for reasons of interior design. Now if a nurse or doctor needs a quick reference, they pull out their smartphone. Mobile apps enable clinicians to quickly dial into any information needed about drug interactions or complications associated with a particular condition.

 

The Med360 Mobile App

Med360 is a program that automatically collects every new publication matching your interests. It collects data from thousands of traditional open access journals and funnels it into your personal stream. A doctor has only to call up the app on his or her smartphone, do a quick scan of the screen, and know exactly what’s going on with the patient’s medication history-taking and reconciliation. Pharmacy pickups, dosage changes, and re-fills are presented in a clear interface on the clinician’s mobile device.

 

 

 

 

 

VAST AMOUNTS OF DATA

The February 2019 article in Nature Medicine reported on a program that used patient information such as symptoms, history, and lab results to diagnose common childhood diseases. According to the article, the system was given data on nearly 600,000 patients at a pediatric hospital in China. The results produced by the system were highly accurate.

In another February 2019 article, Cade Metz reported that Google is developing and testing systems that analyze electronic health records in an effort to flag medical conditions such as osteoporosis or diabetes. Similar technologies are being developed to detect signs of illness and disease just based on X-rays, M.R.I.s and retina scans. The main thing these innovations have in common is their reliance on neural networks. This is a breed of artificial intelligence that learns tasks largely on its own by analyzing vast amounts of data.

Computers can be programmed to recognize patterns amongst vast amounts of data. These patterns can be linked to specific conditions. These are patterns that would be difficult, if not impossible, for a person to notice. Huge amounts of data from medical imaging are fed into artificial neural networks. The program follows an algorithm. The computer then proceeds to learn on the job so to speak. The more data it receives, the better it becomes at interpreting the data.

This learning process is already being used in many applications. Computers learn to understand speech and identify objects this way. Self-driving cars can recognize stop signs. It can tell the difference between a pedestrian and a telephone pole.  Google has created a program to help pathologists read microscope slides to diagnose things like cancer.

 

Mobile devices are the key to tapping into knowledge flow streams.

KNOWLEDGE ACCESS

ON

ANY DEVICE ANYWHERE

The fact that everything is accessible on any device anywhere means patients can get medical help at the hospital, at the ambulatory center, and in the comfort of their own home. In the past, if you wanted to see the doctor, you’d physically have to travel to where the doctor practiced medicine and visit the doctor’s office or go to the emergency room.

Now, much of that care can appropriately be pushed into the patient’s home.

 

Telehealth is the distribution of health-related services and information via electronic information and telecommunication technologies. It allows long-distance patient and clinician contact, care, advice, reminders, education, intervention, monitoring, and remote admissions

Hospital at Home, a program at Mount Sinai, enables video visits. You can check-in, access monitoring tools, and input your vital statistics. Patients can do things like check their pulse, blood pressure, or weight. The information can then be sent to the patient’s care team for review and response.

In a May 10, 2019, Harvard Business Review article, Albert Siu and Linda V. DeCherrie report that “research has shown varying but clearly positive impacts on mortality, clinical outcomes, readmission rates, and cost. A 2012 meta-analysis of 61 randomized, controlled trials, for instance, found that the hospital-at-home patients had a 19% lower six-month mortality rate compared to hospitalized patients. Our research finds that patients who receive hospital-at-home care have fewer complications and readmissions; they also rate their health care experience more highly.”

Bruce Darrow, MD, Ph.D. and Chief Medical Information Officer at Mount Sinai in New York.

Bruce Darrow, M.D., Ph.D., cardiologist and Chief Medical Information Officer for Mount Sinai Health Systems says, “It’s empowering for the patient and it’s good for the clinicians too. The technology allows doctors to let the patients do the jobs they would want to do themselves.  Artificial Intelligence is going to be essential to healthcare. When we think about doing the work with patients at growing population levels effectively, A.I. technology is going to play an important role. If I’m a primary care doctor who is taking care of 2,500 patients, only 20 or 30 of those patients will come into my office on any given day. At the same time, there may be several at home who are at risk. Rather than combing through the entire list of 2,500 patients, if I have tools to look at the prior history of the patient along with their current vital signs, I can determine who I need to see first.”

 

Medical record systems are notorious for not communicating with one another.

Darrow goes on to say, “Electronic medical records have been challenging to connect to one another because of the way they were born. The original idea was not to generate a national patient identity that would allow the same patient to be identified as such from one system to another. There was no original standard for what the medical records would do and how they would interoperate with each other.

The government and the healthcare industry have recognized the problem. That’s where the work of the next few years will be. We’re making progress. At this point, I have patients who come to see me in the office. I can pull their information from a number of systems throughout  the New York area as well as nationwide.”

Telehealth

Telemedicine is the practice of caring for patients remotely when the provider and patient are not physically present with each other. This HIPPA compliant video technology enables clinicians to consult with their patients effectively. Patients can follow-up with their doctor through a video visit instead of making the trip to the hospital or clinician’s office. Patients can get an on-demand video visit with emergency trained doctors. A doctor can have virtual communication with a specialist. Or a stroke specialist can be transported in to participate in the care of an emergency room patient. All of these things are possible today.

 

What is the Cloud?

How many of us really know what the cloud is? Oh sure, we know that the cloud involves storing and accessing stuff via the Internet, but do we understand the powerful transformational nature of cloud computing technology. Do we appreciate how it has changed and continues to change, the way we live and work?

Not that long ago if you mentioned the cloud, most people thought you were talking about the weather. As recently as 2012, Wakefield Research discovered that 51% of the people surveyed, most of whom were Millennials, thought that storm conditions could interfere with cloud computing. Later that same year, Business Insider reported only 16% understood the cloud to be a network of Internet-connected devices to store, access, and share data. So if you don’t know that much about the cloud, don’t feel bad. You’re not alone.

Most people, if they think of the cloud at all, know it simply as a place to keep iTunes, archive our favorite movies, or family pictures and videos. Consumers know the cloud as a storage service offered by Apple. Our knowledge of iCloud is usually associated with the company’s invitation to add more space. Then there’s Netflix. Millions of people access feature-length movie titles stored and delivered on-demand via cloud technology. Do you store and share large files via DropBox? Does your office use Microsoft Office 365?

This article won’t be describing the cloud per se. Nor will it attempt to explain the various types and configurations of clouds. But rather a high overview of how cloud technology transforms companies and whole industries. It will explore the way cloud technology changes the way we work with each other all over the world. Technology growth is accelerating at multiplying rates. This acceleration is due to all the technologies blending together into the cloud.

 

The Supernova
The Cloud is a Supernova

 

We use a soft fluffy metaphor like the cloud, but “the cloud” paints a misleading picture in our minds. The Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Thomas L. Friedman, in his book, THANK YOU FOR BEING LATE, prefers to call the cloud “the supernova.” A term originated by Mircosoft computer designer Craig Mundie. Why refer to it as “the supernova” and not “the cloud.” In the world of astronomy, a supernova is the explosion of a star. It’s a huge astrological event; in fact, the largest explosion that takes place in space.

So too, the cloud is an incredible release of energy. The energy reshapes every man-made system that our society has built. And now, every single person on the planet who can access the Internet can tap into its power. The only difference, Mundie points out, is that a star’s supernova only happens once. The computer supernova keeps releasing energy at an accelerating rate. It’s interesting to note that the components that make up the cloud continue to drive down in cost. The cost goes down while performance keeps going up.

Just as the discovery of fire was a game-changer back in the Stone Age, and Electricity lit the way from one century to the next in the late 19th Century, the cloud has fundamentally changed the modern world. There are more mobile devices on the planet than there are people. Soon everyone on the planet will be connected.

Go with the Flow

The cloud has large amounts of digital information moving in every direction. The information travels up and down. The white-water rapid current moves fast and with equal energy. You have to learn to go with the flow if you’re going to thrive. Like maintaining constant homeostasis, you have to go with the flow to keep your balance. You’ll be better equipped to look ahead, predict trends, and respond to the ever-changing market.

The Flow of Knowledge Stocks

In the past, the traditional idea was to go to college. Get an education. Find a job where you can apply that education. Show up. Do the work and you’d be fine. You’d be set for life. The focus was on one person having a stock of knowledge. Today, the focus has shifted to the flow of knowledge. As pointed out in the 2009 Harvard Business Review article “Abandon Stocks, Embrace Flows,” it’s no longer about having knowledge.

As the world accelerates knowledge tends to become outdated at a faster rate. The premium shifts to a focus on updating knowledge. Choice marketable characteristics will be a high level of curiosity, and staying in touch and maintaining the pulse on the latest advancements. As the world accelerates, stocks of knowledge depreciate at a faster rate. This is true for items you buy as well. Notice how quickly product life cycles have compressed. Even the most successful products fall by the wayside quicker than before. We have to continually learn by participating in relevant flows of new knowledge. And it’s not just a matter of diving into the flow when we feel like it. Participation and benefiting from this flow of knowledge requires that we must also contribute to it on an on-going basis.

This is the world of the cloud. This is where workspaces connect globally. Ideas and knowledge are exchanged freely. The so-called little guy can compete with the big guy. In the March 2016 study “Digital Globalization: The New Era of Global Flows” by the McKinsey Global Institute, we see in great detail how the world is more interconnected than ever.

Many enterprise companies are taking advantage of this interconnectivity. They’re leveraging the technology in order to take advantage of the knowledge flows moving around the planet. For example, Friedman describes in his book THANK YOU FOR BEING LATE, how General Electric supplements its internal resources of engineers to run global contests to see who can come up with the best design solutions. One such contest received 697 entries from companies and individuals all over the world.

It’s All About Interconnectivity

This interconnectivity is expanding “instantaneous exchanges of virtual goods.” The cloud enables digitized financial flows to happen at unfathomable rates. The science journal Nature published “Physics in Finance: Trading at the Speed of Light.” It presents an industry driven by ever-increasing speed and complexity. The article reports that more than 100,000 trades occur in less than a second. That’s for a single customer.

High-frequency trading relies on several things. It needs fast computer algorithms for deciding what and when to buy and sel. Live feeds of financial data are needed. And high-frequency trading also requires about $15,000 a month to rent fast links.

Moving faster also increases the likelihood of mistakes. In 2012, a flaw in the algorithms of KNIGHT CAPITAL – one of the largest U.S. high-frequency firms, caused a loss of $440 million in 45 minutes. The algorithm accidentally bought at a higher price than it sold.

Data speedbumps act like traffic cops slowing down the flow of traffic.

Some trading firms established a way to keep the traffic from moving too fast. They introduced a kind of digital speed bump. Slowing down the flows of digital traffic by 350 microseconds. Apparently this was all time traders needed to benefit from faster feeds. The inclusion of a speed bump, all 350 microseconds worth, meant we’ve already surpassed the optimal speed for trading.

Speed & Complexity Are Free

Because information moves much faster now, global markets become more interdependent on each other. Remember when China made some financial missteps in 2015. It caused a ripple effect that stretched across the planet. Americans felt it immediately. On August 26, 2015, CNN.com reported:

“The American stock market has surrendered a stunning $2.1 trillion of value in just the last 6 days of market chaos. The enormous losses reflect deep fears gripping markets about how the world economy will fare amid a deepening economic downturn in China. The Dow, S&P 500, and Nasdaq have all tumbled into correction territory. It is their first 10% decline from a recent high since 2011. The dramatic retreat on Wall Street has been fueled by serious concerns about the fallout of China’s economic slowdown.”

PayPal has become one of the most important drivers of digital finance. The company set out to democratize financial services by enabling every citizen to move and manage money. The explosion of smartphones gave users all the power of a bank branch at their fingertips. The incremental cost of adding a customer is nearly zero. What is common-place for Americans to do, send money to someone, pay a bill, or get a loan, was now simple, easy, and nearly free for 3 billion people around the world. These were the people who would have to stand in hours to change their currency and stand in another line for hours to pay a bill. PayPal doesn’t rely on FICO scores the way a traditional bank or credit card company does. Instead, they use their own big data analytics based on your actual transaction activity on their site. This gives them a more accurate picture of your creditworthiness. The result: instant loans to more people around the world with a higher rate of payback. PayPal is one of the companies eliminating the need for cash. PayPal is also experimenting with “blockchain” for validating and relaying global transactions through multiple computers.

Cloud technology has brought with it a period of adjustment. We need time to absorb, learn, and get used to the idea of working differently. The cloud will make economies measurably more productive. Because of it Individuals, groups, and organizations are now on a level playing field. These individuals, groups, and organizations can shape the world around them in unprecedented ways. And they can do it with less effort.

Leverage & Synergy

There has never been a better time to become a maker, an inventor, a start-upper or an innovator. It’s leverage and synergy in action as never before.

Leveraging Technology

 

Consider some of these examples:

Uber

The world’s largest taxi company owns no taxis

FaceBook

The most popular media owner creates no media

Alibaba

The world’s most valuable retailer has no inventory

Airbnb

The largest accommodation provider owns no real estate

THE DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD

Technology has always been an amplifier of the best and worst of humanity. It tends to magnify our psychological and spiritual condition both good and bad. Cloud technology is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it empowers the individual, groups, and organizations as never before. Companies communicate faster and more fluidly. Small boutique shops can become multi-national enterprises in a short amount of time. More brains are connected globally. The smallest voices can be heard everywhere for the first time.

Alternately, technology can be used to belittle and disempower. Just as the cloud enables builders and makers, it also gives power to breakers. One person can do more damage more cheaply and more easily. Take Navinder Singh Sarao for example. Sarao, operating from one computer on a network connection out of his parent’s house in West London, single-handedly manipulated the U.S. Stock Market into losing a trillion dollars in less than a half-hour. He “spoofed” the Chicago Mercantile Exchange into setting off a terrible chain reaction. Spoofing is an illegal technique of flooding the market with bogus buy and sell orders so that other traders, both human and machine, are fooled into helping the perpetrator buy low or sell high. He had developed his algorithms to alter how his orders would be perceived by other computers.

Big forces can come out of nowhere and crush your business. You’ll never see them coming. The mobile broadband-supernova is a double-edged sword. How it’s used depends on the values and tools we want to put into place.

WE BECOME WHAT WE BEHOLD
We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.

In summation, the cloud, our technological broadband-supernova, is here to stay. It won’t be the same cloud a few months from now, but it’s here to stay. And things will continue to accelerate. It’s going to be difficult for many to keep up. Keeping up may be one of the great challenges facing society in the decades to come.

In answering the question, “Why is the world changing so fast?” Dr. Eric C. Leuthardt states in his “Brains and Machines” blog:

The reason for accelerating change is similar to why networked computers are so powerful. The more processing cores you add, the faster any given function occurs. Similarly, the more integrated that humans are able to exchange ideas the more rapidly they’ll be able to accomplish novel insights.

Different from Moore’s Law, which involves the compiling of logic units to perform more rapid analytic functions, increased communication is the compiling of creative units (i.e. humans) to perform every more creative task.

A great primer for anyone interested in understanding the transformational power of cloud technology is Thomas L. Freidman’s 2016 book THANK YOU FOR BEING LATE: AN OPTIMIST’S GUIDE TO THRIVING IN THE AGE OF ACCELERATIONS.

The Top Cloud Solutions Every AEC Firm Should Be Using in 2020

The quantity and quality of cloud offerings have grown significantly in the last few years. There are a number of new solutions available to AEC firms that are especially worth taking a look at. We’ll look at a few of the top cloud solutions in this article.

The AEC industry faces incredible growth and changes in urbanization and globalization. As traditional data centers become insufficient to meet these demands, so does the demand for security and efficiency. Trends such as hyper-automation, the distributed cloud, and practical blockchain are just some of the trends that will continue to proliferate into 2020. Each one of them has the ability to transform and optimize initiatives.  The AEC sector has done a good job of keeping up to date. More than 2/3 of AEC firms store data in the cloud. The reason: cloud solutions are an important ingredient to maximizing workflow, costs, and sustainability.

Cloud storage, for instance, can be a more cost-effective alternative to spending thousands on upgrading your local IT. Cloud computing has become increasingly popular for a number of reasons: it’s more affordable, able to perform computationally intensive work, workspace flexibility, and more secure.

Also, there is the added advantage that, with cloud-based computing, it’s possible to view and work with complex renderings on an underpowered device.

Scalability is also easier in the cloud. Most providers allow for scalable, on-demand resource usage. This enables your company to have more computing power when it’s needed.

Cloud storage providers enable benefits that are impossible to duplicate. A Cisco report suggested, “By 2021, 94 percent of workloads and compute instances will be processed by cloud data centers.”

Firms that have moved to the cloud have an edge over the competition. With that in mind, let’s take look at what kind of cloud services are available. Let’s also consider how each one benefits an AEC firm.

 

1 – Cloud Storage

It’s less expensive than storing large CAD files on premises to house large data with a cloud storage provider

 

Cloud storage is a great solution because it is simple and offers several important benefits.

First, cloud storage providers backup your data. Cloud storage companies will often have servers in two different parts of the world. One server might be on the West Coast of the United States. The other server might be on the East Coast so that even the largest disaster won’t wipe out your files.

Files stored on the cloud can be accessed from anywhere. Whether your crew is working 10 or 1,000 miles away they’ll have easy access to everything stored online. It’s also simple to set permission levels on various files. For example, an administrator can dictate that renderings can be viewed at the job site but only edited in the office.

 

Everyday examples of cloud storage providers include DropBox, Google Drive, Sharepoint and One Drive.

2- Cloud Storage Gateways

Cloud storage gateways can help to reduce costs in a number of ways. Data compression reduces bandwidth which enables increased storage. These cloud storage gateways can make smart decisions about where to save files. Files that accessed frequently) are called “hot files.” Hot files can be more expensive to store online. A gateway may keep them in local storage while storing more infrequently used files in the cloud.

Panzura

Panzura has a cloud-based version designed to create a shared environment for everyone to work in. With Panzura users can store CAD and BIM files online and open them in a matter of seconds, not minutes. All files can be accessed from any location making collaboration easier. Panzura claims to “reduce infrastructure costs up to 70%,” over traditional data centers.

Like all cloud storage service providers, Panzura makes it easy to share files and collaborate across a variety of devices.

Another of Panzura’s interesting features is the work-sharing monitor. Work-sharing allows for remote viewing of another Panzura user’s workstation. As with other cloud-based solutions, Panzura can scale as your firm grows.

3 – Cloud-Based Accounting and Management Applications

Running your firm’s accounting and management applications in the cloud simplifies workflow. Collaboration is fluid when everyone at the company has access to the files. Accessibility to files while at the office, at home, or at a hotel room on the other side of the country.

Decreased IT and Hardware Costs: You’ll be able to significantly reduce IT and hardware costs when you host your Sage or QuickBooks software off-premise with a cloud hosting provider.

The cloud enables collaborators to work in real-time. Different permission models can be set for different users. It is also easier to collaborate with suppliers, distributors, and contractors. Since the files and data are already online it’s simple to give outside parties access. That’s opposed to localized data which is more difficult to share.

Deltek is a cloud-based solution to track projects. Project steps can be broad or detailed. Deltek tracks billable hours, resource usage, and expenses. If your firm uses different programs for different purposes, it may be time to consolidate.

While localized programs have offered project tracking for years. Deltek makes collaboration easier for the whole team. Everyone from accounting to the drafting team has access to the same program. The functionality is the same whether they’re on a $5,000 workstation or a $200 smartphone.

 

4 – Internet of Things (IoT)

The number of Internet-connected devices is growing at an exponential rate. As microchips and transmitters are becoming more affordable, more applications and innovations are being introduced onto the market. This means more tools for the AEC industry to track and improve efficiency.

The whole Internet of Things (IoT)

Internet-connected GPS devices, for instance, are great at tracking fleet mileage. They can also make recommendations about necessary vehicle maintenance. There is a Bluetooth tag that attaches to a piece of equipment making it easy to locate on a crowded job site. The tag also helps recover lost tools.

 

5 – Hosted Desktops

Hosted desktops transform computers into more powerful workstations without having to purchase expensive PC hardware.

A hosted desktop is ideal for AEC firms running multiple AutoCAD workstations. Scaling is also a breeze as hosted desktops can increase their resources to handle any task.

A hosted desktop transforms cheap laptop or tablet devices into a powerful workstation. The kind of devices that can launch power-hungry programs and model complex drawings. That makes it great for the crew out in the field who don’t normally have access to powerful computers.

 

IronOrbit INFINITY: The All-in-One Solution
The all-in-one solution offered by IronOrbit provides peace of mind, increased agility, and true synergy with key organizational objectives.

While cloud solutions (here are 7 good reasons why AEC firms need the cloud) offer a number of advantages to AEC firms, not all products are created equal. Products like INFINITY offers tremendous functionality and flexibility.

INFINITY is a convenient cloud-based workstation. It combines the best features of cloud-based solutions into one place. This includes:

  • Hosted desktops
  • Cloud storage (including Panzura integration)
  • Application hosting (any application, including accounting and ERP software)
  • Unlimited computing, upgrades, and bandwidth
  • Managed backups and disaster recovery
  • Managed security and compliance
  • 24/7 US-based IT support

INFINITY is a workspace that allows access to CPU and graphics-intensive applications from anywhere.

With unlimited CPU and RAM upgrades you never have to be concerned that you’ll run out of processing power and collaboration is easy when your whole team is working in a centralized environment.

Centralization allows the team to work with the same version software. The whole team uses the same application and work from the same set of files. There’s no longer the concern that employees are accessing different versions.

Inconsistent files can cause delays, accidents, compliance violations and more. Having the team working from the same set of files is a considerable benefit.

Then there’s the convenience of dealing with one vendor. Forget about tracking costs from multiple service providers. There’s no dealing with half a dozen account managers and support teams. IronOrbit gives you everything in one package so that you’ll only ever need to work with a single company.

An Easy-To-Manage and Future-Proof Solution, Too

Speaking of the all-in-one package, IronOrbit wants to make cloud management as simple as possible. They take care of setup, backups, application security as well as user support.

Other cloud solutions require the client to do a number of things. They have to set up the service. Integrate the service with existing infrastructure, and manage it on an ongoing basis. With IronOrbit these time-consuming processes are gone.

When considering a cloud service provider, it’s important to think about the future. IronOrbit is backed by today’s cutting-edge technology. It’s flexible enough to support any future technology growth.

IronOrbit is constantly upgrading its infrastructure. Their clients can take advantage of unlimited GPU and RAM; unlimited bandwidth, and unlimited upgrades to the latest versions of Windows and Microsoft Office.

Whatever devices and operating systems the future holds, IronOrbit INFINITY will be ready to support them and give you the same level of service that you’d expect from a professional cloud-solution package. With INFINITY’s centralized, all-inclusive and convenient software you’re always in good hands.

In Thomas Friedman’s book THANK YOU FOR BEING LATE, he refers to the exponential acceleration in technology based on Moore’s Law: the speed and power of microchips double every 24 months.

In this age of acceleration, companies have 3 major objectives. They want to do more. They want to move faster. They want to do it at less cost.

To achieve all 3 objectives, a company has to ensure one thing. That there is alignment between their business objectives and their IT capabilities. Harmonizing clear objectives with IT capabilities, companies will realize their full potential. Not all companies are able to follow that path on their own. They may know they need to change, but don’t know how to get there.

If they do know how to get there, they don’t know who will manage the new environments. It’s more common now that company leadership won’t have a clue of what their future state should look like. Our primary job is to listen to the customer. We need to understand our client’s objectives and future-state desires. Then we analyze the requirements against IT capabilities. It has to be a solid yet flexible enough infrastructure that will support the future business goals. To the degree this harmony between goals and technology is in place, the intended transformations will happen.

It’s Time for an Upgrade

In the last couple of years, there have been a lot of exciting developments in the AEC-cloud-industry. From time and maintenance tracking to hosted desktops allowing users to render complex projects on their iPhones, the cloud has much to offer.

Not to mention savings, when you factor in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars you can save by not having to continuously upgrade your workstations.

If you haven’t looked into getting on the cloud yet there has never been a better time. Cloud computing and project management are the directions the AEC industry is heading toward. No firm is going to want to play catch up to its competitors.

What is the True Cost & Benefit of Moving to the Cloud

Moving to the cloud should be more of a business decision than an IT decision. Cloud servers are a keystone of modern business technology. Once you consider moving to the cloud as an initiative to make full use of new technology, you begin to envision the kind of agility, stability, and responsiveness the cloud enables down the road. It’s also a solid first step in future-proofing your business. This perspective demands a view on ROI that moves beyond calculating dollars and cents.

 

Calculating ROI
Calculating the ROI of your technology investment doesn’t have to be rocket science, but remember what Einstein once said, “Not everything that counts can be counted.”

Looking beyond spreadsheets and calculations means considering how your technology helps you meet your strategic objectives.  Long-term success depends on a proactive agenda of workforce transformation, strategic flexibility, security, and manageability.  Are your technology investments driving productivity for your business? Are they solving challenges or creating more problems? Answers to questions like these are the main reasons why many companies are moving to the cloud.

 

Forrester released a report in early 2019 that stressed the importance of corporate leaders to gain more fluency in the technology choices made. They need to understand the different performance yields of different innovation efforts. It’s important to be visionary about where the company is headed during the years to come. Know what is at stake should you keep your IT infrastructure on-prem or move it to the cloud. Become focused on how to make business technology a basis of a durable strategic advantage.

Board Meeting
While corporate leaders need not be able to use devices, programs, and apps, they should know enough about them to discuss them intelligently with the team.

In a more recent podcast, Forrester gives its top predictions in IoT, AI, and cloud computing.

About half the big enterprise outfits that try to transform their systems fail or stall under the sheer size, and complexity of the process. Certainly, a large part of the problem has its origins in the failure to design a strategic plan that works. Don’t put the cart before the horse. Remember the carpenter’s rule, “measure twice, cut once.” You’ll avoid costly mistakes, both in terms of time and money, if you do research and get as much information as possible before you start spending resources on cloud migration.

ADVICE FROM EXPERTS 

Every organization has its own unique strategic needs. Not all businesses have the same priorities. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to developing a strategy or plan to move to the cloud. Any significant technological transformation requires analyses and consultation with experts in the field. It also helps if these experts know as much as possible about your business goals.

The first step is to become clear-eyed on the business strategy.  Evaluate business objectives and assess how your existing technologies align with meeting those plans. Inevitably gaps will become apparent.

Utilize the insights from the best technology consultants you can find. They’ll be able to recommend available options and optimal routes. In some cases, there may not be an immediately available option that best suits your objective. In those situations, something more innovative and customized to specific needs may be needed. This is exactly why a good advisor is critical to successful cloud migration. A good advisor will be a true IT professional, one who stays abreast of the latest technologies, but also one who has a comprehensive understanding of business operations. Having this kind of resource on hand can mean all the difference between a successful transformation or one that goes off the rails. Failed attempts are costly with absolutely no ROI.

While it’s true that every company is unique and each one has its own set of priorities for future growth and productivity, there are a few technology industry trends that can serve as a guiding light.

THE INCREDIBLE EVER-CHANGING WORKFORCE

This isn’t your grandfather’s workplace environment anymore. It’s not even your father’s workplace environment.  For people to become fully engaged and productive, they need flexibility over the tools they use. The choice of places to work would be nice too. Employees need reliable and secure access to the resources they use and depend on.  Consistency of experience shouldn’t be over-rated either.

Wakefield Research conducted a survey showing the scope of this on-going technological evolution. Not too surprising, the report found that 69% of the employees regularly work remotely. Some 21% of them blend environments by working both in an office and somewhere else, such as at home or a communal workspace (Starbucks anyone?). The survey went on to show that a whopping 80% of the office professionals agree that, within 5 years, businesses will not be competitive without using cloud-based apps. Future-proofing means leveraging cloud servers and taking advantage of new technologies as they become available.

MEETING RISING EXPECTATIONS, PRESSURES, AND DEMANDS FOR INCREASED SECURITY

New business models, competitors, and customer preferences emerge seemingly from nowhere. Turn around for a moment, and there are new things to look at. During this age of acceleration, all of us have to stay on our toes. We have to practically reinvent ourselves from Monday through Friday. Companies of all sizes have to move quickly to capture new opportunities. And if you think it’s intense now, just wait until next year and the year after that. Modern technology and its impact on business is moving at an exponential rate.  I’m getting dizzy just thinking about it.

Even as things are moving at breakneck speed, security demands have never been greater. Security is also more challenging than ever.  Check out our previous blog on cyber attacks and ransomware for some not so gentle reminders of how costly cyber attacks can be. IT transformation has increased the opportunities available to would be hackers. And these hackers have their choice of mobile devices, web apps to IoT. New mandates, like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPB) have raised the stakes for everyone.

As companies increasingly leverage the cloud to store customer data, SOC 2 compliance is becoming a necessity.
START AT THE BEGINNING

So, let’s start at the beginning of any company’s transformational journey. Ask the question, “Can your current technologies help you meet all the requirements in ways that enable you to move quickly and stay on top of your priorities?”

 

Wakefield Research shows that 69% of the employees regularly work remotely and 21% of them combine home and office environments.

MOBILE FORCES

MORE PRODUCTIVITY, WITH LESS STRESS AND IN LESS TIME

It’s becoming more common to see employees working from home or both at home and in the office.  Where ever they choose to plow through their day, they need tools that are smart, fast, seamless. They need to work collaboratively. They need to be open robust programs like Revit, or SoftImage, or After Effects, and use them quickly, seamlessly, and without interruption.  Having apps on cloud servers enable distributed teams to collaborate easily across great distances.  Whatever the scenario, the new IT setup needs to empower your people to get more things done, more easily.

 

KEEP IT SIMPLE

Before making an investment in technology, consider if it adds to the complexity of your workplace or helps reduce it.  Does it help to streamline operations? In other words, does it impose a burden of daily management that diverts attention and resources? Or does it free-up people’s time so that they can focus more on their own work.

 

SECURITY IS A CHALLENGE

The threat of cyber attacks is greater than ever. A breach of security can be devastating. Finding skilled security professionals has never been more difficult. The more complex the IT environment, the greater the security risk. There are more openings for attacks. Consider public networks, mobile devices, and web apps. There are insider threats, phishing, and so on.

Sometimes it may be worth taking on the additional security risk in exchange for exceptional business value. It’s a trade-off that should be factored into the evaluation of your transformation strategy. Keep in mind, if a technology can make security simpler, more transparent, and more effective, that’s an advantage.

Cryptojacking is the unauthorized use of one’s computing devices. It is accomplished by injecting the system with hidden code that immediately starts benefiting third parties. About two-thirds of companies targeted by ransomware attacks have been infected.
LEVERAGE THE FLEXIBILITY TO IMPROVE STRATEGY

It’s a great period of time to be an IT professional or developer. The hybrid, multi-cloud era has brought tremendous freedom and flexibility to what used to be just a metal box and a lot of colorful cables.  Now, cloud technology enables us to provision resources and demand, scale easily, and support users anywhere. Cloud servers also allow for beefed up security and greater performance. The cloud is where data rules supreme.  It’s not under the rug, in the closet, or filed away on hard drives stored in a drawer. We now have a place, seemingly with no limits, to put all the data we’re accumulating (organizations stockpile data but seldom dispose of it).

On the user side of things, cloud computing has given employees the freedom to choose any device, time, or place to work. These various cloud options mean a consistency of quality user-experience.

The prediction is that 41% of enterprise workload will be run on public cloud platforms by 2020. Another 20% will be private-cloud-based, while 22% will rely on hybrid cloud adoption.
NO TECHNOLOGY EXISTS IN A VACUUM

If one of your investments limits the utility of another, it degrades the value of both. A Good strategic transformational designer will always look at the big picture and assess how everything is connected.

When it comes to remaining profitable while future-proofing a company, not everything is about dollars and cents. Considering the ever-evolving workplace, with all its need for mobile applications, collaboration tools, data crunching, and massive amounts of storage. Keeping our eyes on the big picture is necessary if we’re to evaluate ROI accurately.

The true ROI has to do with information technology that advances key priorities such as productivity, reducing complexity, strengthening security, and ensuring choices are available whenever needed.

 

The Benefits of Cloud Computing Being an OPEX: Lower and More Manageable Costs

Cloud computing is an example of an operating expense (OPEX). There are multiple benefits of the cloud being an OPEX. These include having the power to avoid paying any significant upfront costs or making any long-term investments. And that it makes your IT costs fully tax deductible.

Business expenses come in two forms: capital expenditures (CAPEX) or operating expenses (OPEX). A capital expenditure is when you buy something that you intend to use for more than a year.

Some examples of capital expenditures include company cars, offices, and IT hardware. Operating expenses, on the other hand, are the day-to-day costs of operating your business. They include things like salaries and wages, office supplies, and software licenses.

Cloud computing is an OPEX because it’s paid for on a recurring basis, usually every month. The two main alternatives to cloud computing, in contrast—installing IT assets “locally” on the hard drives of users’ devices, or hosting IT solutions on your own onsite servers—involve mostly CAPEX.

The Advantages of Cloud Computing Being an OPEX

advantanges of cloud computing being an OPEX

No Long-Term Investments Needed

One of the benefits of cloud computing being an OPEX is that it doesn’t have the prohibitive upfront costs. Costs that come in building onsite IT infrastructures.

The cloud’s low upfront costs allow even small businesses set up their own IT infrastructure.  Even if they don’t have a lot to spend on IT. They also gain the capability to expand or improve their existing setup more quickly.

Cloud computing being an OPEX also means that you don’t have to make any long-term investments in expensive IT hardware.

Purchasing IT hardware tends to result in waste, since you are stuck with hardware that you purchased for the full extent of its lifespan, yet businesses’ IT requirements change all of the time.

If your business’s IT requirements go down between the time you bought the IT hardware and the time the hardware reaches the end of its lifespan (if you downsize your workforce or experience a decline in sales or customers, for example), then you will end up stuck with thousands of dollars’ worth of IT hardware that you don’t need, and you won’t get a full return on your initial investment in the hardware.

Getting stuck with IT assets that you don’t need wouldn’t happen with cloud computing. With the cloud you can simply cancel or scale down your IT solution at any time if your IT requirements decrease.

Fully Tax Deductible

The last advantage of cloud computing being an OPEX that I wanted to mention is that it makes your IT costs fully tax deductible. With CAPEX, in contrast, you can only deduct a fraction of the CAPEX each year that you use the purchased asset.

So if you purchased an $8,000 server and expected to use it for 4 years, instead of being able to deduct the full $8,000 the year you purchased it, you would only be able to deduct $2,000 from your taxable income for the server every year for 4 years.