Cloud computing comprises a network of web-based platforms that allow users direct access to the 'cloud' (the internet) for a range of computing services that include storage, databases, networking, servers, software and analytics. In other words, it is about the use of external IT resources for internal purposes and is a relatively new phenomenon in the building industry. These services are typically provided by companies called cloud providers.
Before the cloud, information would have been processed and stored locally on the hard drives of individuals or organisations. This meant computer users were limited by the capacity of their hardware, in terms of both storage and processing power. However, with the advent of broadband came the ability to transfer and process data very quickly over the internet which allowed users to store and retrieve information on, and from, other servers in the cloud. What is more, they can do this from anywhere, on any device. The advent of cloud computing has therefore removed the limitations of hardware, improved accessibility and minimised data loss.
Using the cloud, construction professionals are able to access project drawings, models and other information and collaborate in real time without being in each other’s presence. This allows remote collaboration without the requirement for travel to meetings. The project information is stored in the cloud, accessed when required, changed, saved and sent back to the cloud for storage. Using the cloud can also give access to additional processing capbailities, software, artificial intelligence and a host of other benefits.
On site, tradesmen or professionals can access or contribute to project information without having to wait to get back to the office. Likewise, a BIM model that is stored in the cloud is easily accessed by all the project team. But the cloud may also have limitations: project owners may restrict access to information, depending on the sensitivity of the project, and absolute security must be assured.
Construction may be one of the least digitised industries in the world, but a survey by Sage in 2017 found that 85% of contractors had already implemented or were planning to implement cloud solutions.
The benefits of cloud computing to construction include:
- A flexible method of working.
- Cost effectiveness.
- The ability to collaborate with other professionals from anywhere in the world.
- Access to real time information
- Construction documents can be accessed on-site.
- The combination of Building Information Modelling and other software and cloud computing can enhance the productivity of the project team.
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