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The Benefits of Construction in the Cloud 

 

By Eric Law, Senior Director, Product Management, Bentley Systems, Incorporated

The goal of construction is to create a physical structure that is put into place by construction professionals on site. Therefore, it might seem ironic that many construction teams are now harnessing a virtual infrastructure—the cloud—to execute their very real projects. Relying on virtual technology for building is nothing new. Builders have used ink and paper to create two-dimensional virtual representations for centuries. While not virtual in the sense of computing, physical drawings were, and in some cases continue to be, a means for communicating a virtual representation of a structure.

With the evolution of computing and networking capabilities, however, there is growing momentum to take advantage of cloud technology to move beyond the use of virtual representations of structures towards the capture and delivery of a wide variety of data throughout the project lifecycle. The proliferation of Internet availability, broadband, and mobile devices is allowing teams to break free from the physical restraints of previous generation computing. This reality is accelerating the development of cloud-based services that capitalize on the unprecedented availability of data, and is fueling the deployment of solutions that harness the flow of data between office, site, and field.

 

Cloud Benefits

So, let’s get specific about the advantages of the cloud for construction. The easy and ubiquitous access to data is probably the most important. Users can access project data and connect with each other wherever there is Internet connectivity. Today, many design and construction teams are dispersed throughout the world. The architect might be in Spain, the engineering firm might be in New York, and the project might be in Dubai. Enabling project participants to collaborate and share data improves their performance.

The concept of access to data leads us to another big advantage of cloud-based solutions—the ability to off-load the responsibility of IT infrastructure management. Computer networks and servers are required for data delivery and storage, and they are expensive to buy, operate, and maintain. Servers must be housed somewhere and a staff is required to manage them. Construction companies that make a strategic move to cloud-based services can provide their teams with seamless access to project data while reducing the expense of buying and maintaining their own data infrastructure.

The issue of scalability is also efficiently addressed with cloud solutions. Cloud solutions can quickly scale up or down to meet the changing business needs of a project-based industry. Also, cloud-based solutions have “instant-on” capability for fast deployment on new projects, and your users will always be on the latest version of the solution without the inconvenience of having to update their software tools. Having your data stored in the cloud storage can also function as disaster-proof backup, as there are multiple backup servers located in different geographic locations.

No technology is going to succeed if it is difficult for teams to use, and many organizations have made the mistake of investing in expensive, custom solutions that are so cumbersome that their teams refuse to use them. The evolution of the cloud is moving hand-in-hand with a growing number of maturing solutions. These solutions—built specifically to take advantage of the cloud—deliver an expected ease-of-use that makes them easy for teams to embrace. This acceptance is partly due to the improving functionality of the solutions and the increasing comfort of users based on their increasing experience with mobile and cloud-based technology.

 

Practical Uses of Cloud Construction Technology

Effective collaboration is at the center of successful project execution. A cloud-based design and construction solution facilitates this by providing the ability to share data and manage deliverables in a controlled, transparent, common data environment. The upshot is that these solutions close the loop between design, construction, and handover.

In the design phase, your team can work securely in a common environment while collaborating with other project participants on version-controlled documents. Users can share drawings, models, and files of any type with authorized recipients inside or outside their organization, and streamline document reviews by alerting project participants when their attention is required. This type of solution allows for the virtualization of talent across geographically dispersed organizations for greater efficiency of staff resources.

A project’s construction phase requires participants who will transform the design into the completed project. Construction managers, contractors, subcontractors, and consultants require a system that can support the workflow requirements of the construction phase—such as RFI and submittal review—and they will need to collaborate with participants involved in the design phase. The cloud is particularly suited for allowing the project supply chain to expand organically within a secure, easily accessible data environment.

Combining BIM technology with cloud delivery via desktop and mobile devices is a powerful combination for construction teams. Your teams can perform simulations to identify constructability issues, and collaborate efficiently between office, site, and field to mitigate issues found in the field. Field personnel can review and mark-up 3D i-models along with associated drawings and all types of documentation. Well-designed applications can also improve the quality of data collected in the field and reduce the need for manual data entry through customizable forms that synchronize data back to the cloud.

Automated, cloud-based collaboration applications, such as Bentley’s ProjectWise, have very reliable up-time and they are useful for capturing a complete record of what happened on the project. With this type of project record you can see how your team is performing and which participants are holding up the flow of communication. Also, if the project runs into trouble, having a complete record of all project documents, communications, and the actions of all project participants is incredibly valuable. This data can be used to verify or dispute claims that might arise.

With the amount of construction data—such as the data from drones and the powerful applications that are being built for them—continually increasing, now more than ever, it makes sense to adopt cost-effective, accessible, reliable, and scalable cloud-based construction technology solutions.

 

About Bentley Systems

Bentley is a global leader dedicated to providing engineers, architects, geospatial professionals, constructors, and owner-operators with comprehensive software solutions for advancing infrastructure. Founded in 1984, Bentley has more than 3,000 colleagues in over 50 countries, more than $600 million in annual revenues, and since 2011 has invested more than $1 billion in research, development, and acquisitions. For more information, visit www.bentley.com