Cloud Computing: Future Proofing a Construction SME

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1 CE 6014 Computer Mediated Communication Assit. Prof. Matevz Dolenc Cloud Computing: Future Proofing a Construction SME Patrick Joseph O'Sullivan University College Cork M.Eng.Sc. IT in AEC Dec 2012

2 Table of Contents Abstract... 3 Introduction... 4 Project Problem... 5 Proposed Solution... 6 Cloud Computing... 6 Cloud Security Issues... 8 Public Cloud Services Cloud Computing Conclusions Archiving Web Conferencing Software RFID Tags Conclusion Works Cited Page 2

3 Abstract Engineering Collaboration has always been a key aspect in any AEC project. Throughout humanity construction has been a major part of what we are, whether it be a simple shelter to keep the elements at bay or elaborate places of worship, right up to the present day with modern buildings and sophisticated infrastructure. During all this time one of the most important component of every project is the collaboration and syncing of work processes. By the very nature of the ACE industry these processes tend to be unique and communication is critical to successful completion of any project The AEC industry is historically reticent to adopt new technology (Laurie Balch, 2002). This is a quote from Laurie Balch, who at the time was a senior analyst for design and engineering with Stamford, Conn -based Gartner Dataquest. Although this quote is 10 years old, it still holds true for a lot of industries especially on this side of the Atlantic. Humanity today is living and working more and more on the web using several devices to access personal and work related data. The need for unified access to data is becoming more and more essential. This need for cloud based services to provide access for the vast array of devices being used is and will be a key part of the AEC industry into the future. The study and implementation of Computer Mediated Communication leads to the automation of decision making, interoperability between software and collaboration between people. This makes it key to the future development of the AEC industry. Page 3

4 Introduction In a typical AEC company, be it, a small enterprise like the one I m considering in this project, or a large multi-national, the procedure for the integration of a new employee is similar. The employee is set up with a laptop/desktop and/or a mobile phone. At present this company would have in place all the relevant software related to the company s business along with anti-virus, anti-spyware etc. Also the new employee would be given access to company and given access to a company database. With the increasing availability of broadband internet connections, and with people being online 24-7, the modern day employee is acutely aware of the technology that is out there and the lines between social and work communication are getting more and more blurry. Some sectors of industry such as the media and marketing industries have been quick off the mark to utilize such technology but as mentioned previously the AEC industry has been left lagging behind with its use of available technologies. The focus of this project will be to look at a typical SME based in Ireland and examine the possibilities of using cloud computing to make the enterprise work more efficiently which in turn should increase revenue. Page 4

5 Project Problem The focus company for this project is an SME based in Limerick. Comprising of employees, the company specialises in demolition. A typical project for this company can take between 3-4 weeks to complete. The market they operate in is, at present, Ireland and the United Kingdom. The main administration hub is based in Limerick with 3 depots for plant and machinery located just outside the city. The duration of a typical project means setting up a site office is not viable and welfare facilities are usually provided by the main contractor. Alternatively a mobile welfare POD is brought on site for the work crew. As a result the onsite IT department consists of a mobile phone and a laptop, whatever can be transported in the boot of a car. As it stands all of the communication between site management and the stakeholders is done via mobile phone and . Over the years the communication via has become less effective with certain stakeholder being involved in several projects prone to ignore s. This is primarily due to the sheer volume of s they receive. As a result of the volume of some critical information can get lost in the white noise. In addition to this the company is currently using an in house server which is due to changed soon. The company is considering investing in a new server infrastructure and is looking at the possibility of using a cloud service to better serve their needs in the future. I will also investigate the possibility of implementing a tagging system within the company to track the movement of plant and equipment from depots to projects. Page 5

6 Proposed Solution The solutions which I will feel will prepare this SME for growth and its future needs are: Cloud computing Archiving Web conferencing RFID Tagging The first area I wish to look at is the vast and ever evolving world of Cloud computing with an emphasis put on collaborative documenting. Cloud Computing Cloud computing is real: It has moved from buzz to business, and has changed the nature of IT delivery (Gartner Feb 2012). According to The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing: Recommendation of the National Institute of Standards in Technology (Mell & Grance, 2011), cloud computing is defined as: a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources(e.g. networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly positioned and released with minimal management effort or server provider interaction. This cloud model is composed of five essential characteristics, three service models and four deployment models The Essential characteristics of cloud computing are: On-demand self service The consumer can get the server time and storage as required automatically Broad network access The consumer can access the network through a wide range of devices (e.g. laptops, tablets etc.) Resource pooling The providers computing resources are pooled to serve multiple consumers. The location of these resources is independent and generally not known to the consumer. Rapid elasticity Resources are easily scalable with a sense of unlimited capabilities. Measured service The consumer is charged for the resources used generally on a pay-per-use basis Page 6

7 The three service models are shown in the table below Wikipedia.org These are the different deployment models for cloud computing: Private Cloud Primarily for the use of a single, more often than not, large organisation comprising multiple departments. Exists on or off premises Community Cloud Similar to a Private Cloud but used by a specific community of users from organisations that have shared concerns. Exists on or off premises Public Cloud Provided for open use by the general public Exists on cloud providers premises Hybrid Cloud Composition of two or more of the three above Bound together to enable data and application portability(e.g. cloud bursting for load balancing between clouds) Page 7

8 What does all this mean for our ordinary SME who needs to keep up to speed with the latest IT infrastructure available? In the current economic climate, upfront costs are clearly an issue. Conventional wisdom would suggest that money already spent on IT infrastructure will put off enterprises moving their IT requirements to the cloud. Why would they lock the door on their air-conditioned servers and walk away? This changes when one considers the fact that all these servers, over a period of time will reach the end of their usable life and the company has to either consider the cost for new hardware or choose a public cloud service instead. There are of course issues that need to be addressed regarding the usage of cloud computing. Cloud Security Issues One of the primary concerns with using the cloud is information security. There is no denying that the cloud has received negative press over the past few years. Dropbox, for instance, recently had an issue when its key management failed and allowed users to enter sites without the need for a password for four hours. Then there was Sony, whose online gaming site of the PS3 had a security breach although a judge subsequently threw out the case as it was difficult to prove that any damage was done as there has been no evidence of any credit card fraud linked to this breach. While we are all aware of the security breaches associated with the providers, companies may not be so aware of the security breaches that could inadvertently be caused by their own employees. Some areas where company employees may not be fully informed on are Quality Control, Risk Assessment, Business Control and Disaster Recovery. This is why it is important for an SME to implement procedures and guidelines for all employees who use cloud services in the day to day running of the business. There are two options to consider with cloud computing, private or public? Private clouds are very much like traditional computing. A company has to buy the hardware and engage a company to plan and install the entire necessary IT infrastructure. In effect, what this does is that the core belief of cloud computing, - shared resources can be lost in setting up a private cloud. One of the possible approaches an SME could use is to engage the public cloud. This could be used for a trail period using a PaaS with non-critical applications or simple storage via an IaaS. The advantages are pretty clear. The service can be operational within a short time, the company only pays for the storage they use and they do not need to install new equipment in their data centre. This way a company can roadmap the best strategy for their future IT requirements. Page 8

9 The author contends that starting with a public cloud removes much of the risk of moving a company s operations to the cloud. The initial investment in capital and labour is minimal and the payoff, (especially the knowledge gained) is high. The main considerations for an SME to factor before investing in a cloud package are: Base purchase on system requirements Use standards for service party risk assessment Protect highly sensitive data with control technology as it becomes practical/available Have a contingency plan if vendor fails Seek business ownership for the business use of information and technology (Jay Heiser, 2012) Many SMEs may still be wary of the public cloud and the perceived issues regarding performance, security and reliability. These fears can be alleviated when you take into account the real costs and the real value of the private clouds vs. the public clouds. Page 9

10 Public Cloud Services According to market research firm Gartner, as of June this year 7% of personal data was stored in the cloud but that number is expected to rise to 36% by So if this SME is ready to implement cloud computing, what products are available and how do they rate against each other? A survey was undertaken this month (Nov 2012) of users of the top cloud storage services by the technical support website, FixYa. They surveyed several thousands of its users about Dropbox, Google Drive and Box and found that primarily they were concerned about capacity, security and missing files. Here are the findings from this report which outlines the benefits and criticisms of these cloud services on the market are at the moment. Dropbox Dropbox recently claimed to have over 100 million users with one billion files being saved to its site each day. These figures make it one of the most popular consumer storage sites on the net. Dropbox operates across a wide range of operating systems on both desktop and mobile so that it is accessible to the majority of consumers in need of cloud storage. Dropbox Survey Security Concerns (40%) Storage Limits (25%) File Syncing Issues (15%) Laggy Responses (10%) Other (10%) FixYa Report Nov 2012 Security is by far the largest concern of Dropbox users, as shown in the survey results above. These security issues are not unfounded. As outlined earlier there was problem in 2011 with its privacy settings resulting in accounts being accessed without passwords being required. Also this summer there was a hack to the website which resulted in spam s being sent to some of its users. FixYa note that Personal users utilizing Dropbox to store personal financial information or similar items that would pose a security risk should steer clear. They go on to say that the same goes for mid-sized businesses looking for an easy way to share bank statements or proprietary business information. So at present, this would not be the best choice for an SME. Google Drive Google Drive was released in April 2012 and was the next step in the development of Google Docs which is used as a platform for users to collaborate and co-edit documents. Any of the half million or Page 10

11 so users of Google applications like Gmail, Google+ or YouTube can easily access Google drive through their accounts. Google Drive Survey Folders Missing (30%) Syncing Issues(20%) Automatically conversion to Google Doc(20%) Unknown Error Occured (20%) FixYa Report Nov 2012 Despite its ease of use and popularity, Google Drive still has some problems as shown on the chart above. Compared to other cloud services, security does not appear to be as big a problem, but users do experience some general usability issues. However in Goggles terms of service, it states that it gives them a a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works, communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content At the launch of their Google Drive service earlier this year, Google moved quickly to clarify these terms of service by stating that what belongs to you stays yours and went on to say "You own your files and control their sharing, plain and simple. Our Terms of Service enable us to give you the services you want--so if you decide to share a document with someone, one, or open it on a different device, you can." When looking at other cloud services, they all detail their terms of service for one specific service whereas Google has a single service policy to cover all their applications like Gmail, Google Docs, and Drive. On closer examination of other public cloud computing services, they essentially reserve the same rights for themselves by using artful language to articulate it. Box Box was founded in 2005and got off to a great start in the cloud sector with the founders receiving numerous awards since its launch. The characteristic which separates Box from its competitors is its concept of sharing files online. This results in a much more collaborative platform in which interaction between users is encouraged and can be done quickly and efficiently. In a business situation, employees can add comments about files implement changes and invite colleagues to review and comment on documents. This positions Box as more than just a cloud sharing device but more of a collaborative management tool. Page 11

12 Box Survey Upload Issues (25%) Security Concerns (25%) Back Up Files Issues(20%) Laggy response on Web Apps (20%) Other (10%) FixYa Report Nov 2012 Security seems to be an issue again as shown above, but this seems to be primarily with free personal accounts and according to the FixYa report, the SME consumers, who pay a fee for their business service account does not have the same security concerns. In June 2012 Aaron Levie, CEO and co-founder of Box announced that they were making their first official foray into the European market with the opening of a London office and the plan to create more localized versions of their product in languages such as French, German, Spanish and many more. Prior to this announcement, European customers already accounted for half of its traffic among 11 million users worldwide, accounting for between 12 and 15 per cent of its revenue. These customers include O2 and the BAA (British Airport Authority) as well as big brands like Procter and Gamble. Cloud Computing Conclusions From the three test cases shown in the survey above, the Box cloud computing service would the best suited to an SME construction firm whose primary requirement would be collaborative document sharing. It is also a much more refined than an FTP platform which the author has used and found it to be very cumbersome. If this solution was to be implemented by this SME, the author suggests using a collaboration document to update a daily site diary which can be shared among the relevant personal within a company (Contracts Manager, Quantity Surveyor etc). At present site diaries in small companies are handwritten on site and usually kept with the Site Engineer. This can lead to problems six months after a projects completion when specific records are required regarding extra works carried out outside the initial contract. A diary that is saved online has clear benefits over its handwritten counterpart. It is instantly accessible and secure with access only granted to designated personal. Perhaps one of the major benefits is that it is legible! The same process would also be in advantage in the tendering process as the tender package could potentially be worked on by several individuals from the Safety Officer updating project specific Page 12

13 method statements and traffic management plans, to the Quantity surveyor and contracts manager updating the latest pricing from sub-contractors and suppliers. Archiving The second area I will discuss is Archiving. All companies archive s whether they know it or not. The real question is whether an SME has the correct procedures in place regarding these archives. In the past few years the importance of e-discovery in business practices has become clear. There have been already in the US, a number of high-profile cases setting precedents in electronic discovery. Despite this, many Irish companies would not be able to comply with a request to produce an employee s s for the past year. This was illustrated in a series of cases taken by the residents of a North Dublin housing estate where significant e-discovery shortfalls were found on both sides. This all points to the pressing need of companies to have a comprehensive archiving system. Archiving Systems provide options that can improve mail server performance. They can move the messages and attachments into the archive after a set period leaving just a stub on the main mail server. This reduces the storage requirements of the main mail server and makes searching and indexing much more efficient. They free up the end users from keeping their inbox neat and tidy by automatically archiving correspondence to less expensive storage and keeps companies compliant to e-discovery regulations which cannot be met with traditional out-of-the-box server/client products. For an SME concerned about a large upfront capital investment, SaaS archiving solutions do not require hardware or software installation and can be up and running in hours/days for a reasonable monthly or annual fee. There are many companies out there with a quick web search throwing up many companies involved in offering this service. On the next page the table shows a graphical representation of the archiving solutions available at the moment. Google are currently transferring their Postini product to the Google apps platform by the end of Page 13

14 Proofpoint Jatheon InBoxer CommVault ArcMail Barracuda Messaging Architects Google Postini ZL Technologies Symantec EMC Infotech.com Many of these products increase storage capacity automatically on a per customer basis at no extra cost. So regardless of how many s an SME sends or receives, they will never run out of storage. This allows for continuous, uninterrupted data growth without cost or capacity issues. As it was outlined earlier as a means of communication is being perhaps over used but the fact remains that it is still the primary form of communication munication between stakeholders in the AEC sector. So it is important for all these correspondence to be archived properly. Page 14

15 Web Conferencing Software The third area I will look at is web conferencing software and its potential use in this SMEs day-today business. An efficient and economical telephone communication system is essential for any buisness. VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephony is an effective solution for an SME featuring a wide range of features and cost benefits. In the recent past the advances made in VoIP regarding call quality have been significant and along with the reduction in technology costs it is now a viable option to a company s business operations. For this project the focus will be on a web conferencing system as the primary use of this technology. This could be a real asset to this SME given the locations of their projects throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom. The benefits of a web conferencing are: Reduced travel costs Less time wasted on the road to meetings. Future Proofed As a hosted web conference system is software and not hardware, updates can easily be carried out with minimal disruption to day to day business. There are a whole host of products on the market, but for a construction SME who would typically be using this application less than five times a week, a hosted option would be preferable. Also any maintenance would be undertaken by the service provider at minimal cost to the company. At present one of the most widely used systems is Skype, but this is unsuited for businesses due to the security concerns surrounding the use of it. One of the methods the author is familiar with is Adobe Connect which is used by ITC Euromaster to deliver lectures to students throughout Europe. It is one of the superior products on the market mainly due to the extras included. PC Mag carried out a review of the products on the market, the results of which are shown on the comparison table on the next page. Fuze Meeting Pro appears to tick more boxes, but Adobe Connect was deemed to the editors choice due to its ease of use and scalability (up to 100 users) along with its price. This allied to the fact that Adobe uses web standard Adobe Flash which means the majority of stakeholders and sub-contractors involved in a project can participate in a meeting by simply clicking on a link sent to their inbox. Another huge plus to Adobe is its ease of use across all devices and operating systems. This is particularly an advantage for attendees out of the office who can join a meeting using a smart phone or tablet, conceivably on the side of a road in their car. Page 15

16 RFID Tags The final area I will address is a tagging system with a particular focus on RFID. PC Mag Comparision Table As mentioned earlier, the SME in this project is a small demolition company based in the mid-west of Ireland. The company employs approximately people and has large and varied selection of plant and equipment. Due the transient nature of the projects and their short duration, mobilising the correct plant and equipment efficiently is paramount. This can be problematic due to the three plant depots and six vans and trucks on the road. As technology has improved, it has now become feasible to look at some sort of tagging system to track and locate equipment. RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is the use of a wireless non-contact system that uses radiofrequency electromagnetic fields to transfer data from a tag attached to an object. Unlike a barcode it does not require line of sight and can be read from several meters. They are used widely in many industries including the automobile industry to track the movement of car parts through an assembly line to agriculture where they are used to identify livestock. The system that would be the most effective for this company would be a RFID tagging system incorporating a portable reader perhaps using an NFC- enabled smart phone Page 16

17 There are two types of tags: Passive Tags A Passive tag does not contain a battery. When radio waves from the reader reach the chip s antenna, the energy is converted by the antenna into electricity that can power up the microchip in the tag. The tag is able to send back information stored on the chip. Today, simple passive tags cost from 20 Cents to several Euros, depending on the amount of memory on the tag and other features. Active Tags An Active tag has a transmitter to send back information, rather than reflecting back a signal from the reader, as a passive tag does. Most active tags use a battery to transmit a signal to a reader. However, some tags can gather energy from other sources. Active tags can be read from 300 feet (100 meters) or more, but they are expensive (typically more than 20 each). Conclusion In the case of an SME a passive tag would make the most economic sense. Using the tags, machinery and equipment would be coded and identified via a mobile RFID device with read/write capabilities or a smart phone. Initially all the pieces of equipment and plant to be tagged would be stored on a database with a brief description and possibly a photo. As they are taken to new projects or placed in storage depots, the tag would be scanned and the new location updated to the database. This system could also be used for the maintenance of machinery with data such as hours worked, parts changed etc. being updated after each service or periodically during the year. There are other systems for tagging which use the traditional barcode system that is common for retail goods and more recently in advertising campaigns used in conjunction with smart phone apps. These might be cheaper alternative to explore the possibilities of using these systems but the advantage the RFID tags have over the barcode system is that the tags are more robust for use in the construction industry Page 17

18 Conclusion On reflection there are many changes that can be implemented for this SME to ensure its competitiveness in the future. The simple fact is that cloud computing will grow exponentially over the next five years and this new business model on how to consume our IT is here to stay. The most important aspect of this project would be to embrace the need for more collaborative work between employees within the company and between the stakeholders of the various projects. This is where utilising cloud computing is going to crucial and essential. The need for a proper archiving solution is already a crucial part of a company s compliance obligation and once it is set up properly will not need to be worried about until it is required. As outlined earlier, an investment in web conferencing software can be very cost and time effective given the locations of this SMEs projects across the UK and Ireland. Also the implementation of an RFID or similar tagging system may not be a necessary investment but if properly implemented could lead to both time and monetary savings due to the efficient tracking and movement of plant and equipment While all the technologies mentioned are on the market and ready to be put in place immediately, what is not so easy to change is the workforce who will be required to implement these new methods to extract their full potential. The huge success of social media in the past few years shows that has been a gradual ground swell in people using Web 2.0 for communication and interaction (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) The majority of these people are young and the older generation are not as quick or in some cases, unwilling to adapt to the emerging technologies. This will probably be the most limiting factor in the adoption of cloud computing in the next few years. This view is perhaps reflected on the Gartner hype cycle shown on the next page. This shows that cloud collaboration services are just over the peak of expectation but are still 5-10 years away. Whereas both cloud computing and public cloud storage are slightly nearer to the plateau and expect to reach it within 5 years. Page 18

19 Gartner via Software Strategies (Aug 2012) Finally on a personnel note, since I completed my undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering ten years ago I have worked on construction projects around Ireland primarily as a Site Engineer. This project has made me aware of aspects of IT infrastructure I was not familiar with and it has been hugely enlightening to research all the different aspects of cloud computing which will be very important to the AEC sector in the future. Page 19

20 Works Cited McCarthy, J. (n.d.). Infoworld. Retrieved from Infoworld-Cloud Paper: Klinc R, Dolenc M, Turk Z (2009) Engineering collaboration 2.0: requirements and expectations, ITcon Vol. 14, Special Issue Next Generation Construction IT: Technology Foresight, Future Studies, Roadmapping, and Scenario Planning, pg , Klinc Paper C Howard, D Reeves, A Thomas Manes, B Blakley, D Blum(2012) Hybrid IT: How Internal and External Cloud Services Are Transforming IT Gartner Report Hydrid IT P Mell and T Grance(2011), The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing: Recommendation of the National Institute of Standards in Tecnology NIST Report Software as a Service Wikipedia SaaS Cloud Computing Wikipedia - Cloud Computing Cloud computing in 2012: An InfoWorld special report (Feb 2012) Eric Knorr(2012) Shaking up the Data Center David Linthicum(2012) The Case for Public First Cloud Computing Cloud Computing in 2012 Infoworld special report Prepare for and Minimize the Security Risks of Cloud Computing Webner Hosted by Jay Heiser, Research VP Gartner 16/11/2012 (Placeholder1) The top 5 issues with the top 5 cloud storage services, Lucas Mearian(2012) Top 5-cloud-storageservices The FixYa Cloud Storage Report FixYa Report Mathew J. Schwartz, InformationWeek (April 2012)Google Drive Privacy: 4 Misunderstood Facts. Privacy and security questions have bedevilled the launch of Google's new online file-storage service. Ignore the hype and consider these four key facts. Google Drive Privacy Rose, Brent.(Sept 2011) "The Best Way to Store Stuff in the cloud". Gizmodo Report Ingrid Lunden (June 2012) Box Floats Into Europe, Aiming For 30% Of Its Cloud Business To Be There In 18 Months Techcrunch Box Report Archiving Deep Dive Report: Managing and Compliance (Sept 2011) Archiving Report Gordon Smith (Sept 2011) Irish companies face increasing e-discovery challenge Silicon Republic E- Discovery Report Vendor Landscape Plus: Archiving. Keep what you have to keep, and find what you need (Nov 2011) Archiving selection Table How to choose the best hosted VoIP system for your small to medium sized Buisness VoIP Solutions Top UK Small Business VoIP Solutions UK VoIP solutions Page 20

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