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Traditionally slow to adopt information technology, the construction industry has begun to harness the power of the cloud to transform businesses. Leaders have recognized that emerging cloud technology, along with 5G connectivity, can transform how they plan and manage projects, monitor machinery and fleets, build bid estimations and increase productivity. The cloud is making new ways of working possible.

And the industry needs it. Construction faces skilled labor shortages, supply chain challenges and fragmented operations. These problems have been growing for years and they were quickly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Leaders realize they need to evolve—not just to thrive but to survive.

Cloud technology can prepare construction companies to face the volatility of an ever-changing business environment by combining out-of-the-box microservices in ways that address the specific needs of the business. Lean, event-driven applications can provide leaders and teams with increased jobsite visibility; real-time, data-driven decision-making; onsite access to up-to-date plans; and increased collaboration. The real advantage of the cloud for construction businesses, however, is its ability to reduce operational costs.

Reducing Operational Costs

For many construction leaders, operational costs are rising and innovation feels further and further away. High operating costs have plagued the construction industry for years. Some are unavoidable—wages, rent and utilities, for example. But other costs can be minimized, such as those associated with maintenance, job scheduling and paper-based workflows. While it was once cost-prohibitive to implement technology solutions across multiple jobsites, cloud services and 5G networks finally make it feasible to access advanced business software from any device at any time, without the need to install expensive IT hardware at individual jobsites. By utilizing a global network of cloud services that hundreds of thousands of other companies use as well, it is possible to take advantage of economies of scale that lower technology costs. Further, the flexibility to only pay for the services when they are needed reduces overall IT spend.

Pay-As-You-Go Technology

Cloud capabilities reduce the need for always-on, onsite technology infrastructure. With servers and other infrastructure in the cloud, construction businesses can take advantage of the pay-as-you-go model. That means they can turn cloud services on for new jobs and scale the services back as they wrap up; or they can configure cloud systems to auto-scale down every night and weekend, saving significant funds.

Skilled Worker Resource Management

With cloud tools, skilled workers can track their time accurately to ensure they spend as much time as possible on critical tasks. In a time when skilled workers are in high demand, helping them achieve optimal productivity is a major cost-saver. “Internet of Things” devices at the jobsite, combined with complex time-tracking models, can deliver better insights into each worker's tasks. They can even provide recommendations on how to reallocate resources.

Predictive Maintenance

Cloud-based IoT services can also help reduce costly and unexpected repairs by providing accurate and automated monitoring of equipment and machinery. These devices alert the crew when maintenance is needed and automate the process of submitting a ticket to the team in charge of repairs—extending the life of the machine and reducing time spent manually tracking maintenance schedules and unplanned downtime.

Digital Communications

In any project, with hundreds or thousands of details in play, communication is key. Unfortunately, much of the communication in the construction industry is still paper-based. Many project managers are still printing out paper documents and physically taking them to the jobsite every day. Sometimes documents get lost, and high-skilled workers must often return to the office to reprint them. By tracking this data in a well-organized cloud application, a crew can save time and focus on skilled work, field data can be made more accessible and projects can stay organized.

Getting Started in the Cloud

While many of the benefits above have the power to transform, businesses don't have to make a significant change to see results. It's possible to shift one or two workflows to the cloud to start. Or a first iteration could consist of building a lean modern application to streamline a specific process. Taking an agile approach allows cloud innovators to prove the power and cost-effectiveness of the cloud to key stakeholders so that taking a bigger step in phase two becomes more feasible and less risky. Smaller steps can also include lift and shift migrations in which a legacy business application is transitioned as-is to powerful and affordable cloud infrastructure. This shift makes the system's functionality more widely available and improves its performance while making minimal adjustments; the application will work faster and be easier to use and maintain.

Alternatively, construction businesses could take a hybrid approach for critical on-premises systems. For example, a hybrid strategy could consist of rebuilding a business application module-by-module using modern cloud-native architecture. Or, an on-premise solution could leverage a specific cloud service at all times, such as a cloud storage of assets, to drive better performance.

Cloud enablement is about more than innovation. Business leaders should focus on improving the company's bottom line and business operations through lean project management and by adopting new ways of thinking about, interacting with and supporting key stakeholders.

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