Doing Business in the Cloud

Every contractor in the construction industry has most likely used the Internet for business at some point in time. You can use the Internet to research projects, products, subcontractors, and/or stay in-the-know on industry news. But the Internet can also be beneficial for business management.

A term that’s certainly not new but has been gaining momentum in recent years is “cloud computing.” What is it? While there are many definitions for cloud computing (do an Internet search and you’ll see) cloud computing basically refers to using the Internet as your source for storing and accessing information. How does this relate to business management for asphalt contractors?

Many contractors use software programs that have to be installed onto a computer. They are then limited to only accessing the information recorded on that software program from the computer it was installed on. Using cloud-based systems means contractors can enter and access information from any computer or mobile device with Internet access. This can include project management, ERP systems, timesheets and more.

“The cloud provides online storage of your information,” explains Linda Tucker with ProjectFootage.com, a cloud-based solution for construction projects. “This storage allows 24/7 remote access to information through any internet connection on many devices: smart phones, tablets, laptops and desktops.

“You no longer must manage your data from one computer in your office,” she continues. “Project plans, documents, videos, photos, etc., are all accessible anytime and anywhere by anyone. All parties are able to stay on the same page. Updates and the progress of the project are now in real time. Budgets and schedules can be kept tight by closely monitoring the progress of a jobsite. This is done bridging the gap between the office and the field — hence the cloud. “

It’s easy to get started using a cloud system. ProjectFootage.com provides customizable cloud hosted microsites for your projects. A user launches a project and uploads all jobsite data. Users may now create a project and share a project’s latest videos, photos, audio files, documents, and user comments. ProjectFootage.com provides built-in tools to collect, share, and transfer media and current posts to multiple users. User passwords can be established with assigned permissions. Depending on the desired permission, you control outside user uploading, downloading, viewing or user comment posting. Your project may be setup to be kept privately or can be accessible to public search engines.

Easy access for everyone

Cloud systems allow every person involved on a project to have access to all the information on that project from anywhere.

“ProjectFootage.com was first introduced in the construction industry to help job contractors share job progress with their clients in different locations,” says Tucker. “Owners, project managers and lenders are able to view the up-to-date progress without the necessity of emailing and downloading large files. Furthermore with the ability to post documented comments, project collaboration is easy. The overall result is time savings. Data is not transferred to several people over and over again with each modification. It’s loaded in one location for viewing and editing.”

Cloud systems are used as the hub where everyone can upload their critical piece of the project and leave it there, knowing that it is secured and safe and may be accessed whenever and wherever needed.

“The speed of uploading a large file is minimal when compared to other types of sharing,” says Tucker. “Email programs typically have size restrictions, ground delivery is expensive and slow, faxing is likewise slow and not always perfect.” ProjectFootage.com uses cloud technology to store your project videos, photos, audio files, documents and notes for the duration of the project. “It’s a knowledge repository for your projects, large or small,” says Tucker.

In addition to allowing easy access to everyone involved on the project, cloud systems offer other benefits.

• When the project info is uploaded to one accessible location, all parties maintain current information without duplicative, overlapping communication.

• Physical work can be documented using the power of the built-in video player and photo viewer. This validates changes in the work, failed designs, and protects against future liability.

• Payment processing can be streamlined by lenders and clients to contractors by giving them ability to view the job in real time.

• At the completion of the project the contractor’s administrator can download all of the job data into compressed (zip) files to retain for future use.

“To be as close to the project as a cell phone video or photo can be, to quickly gather information to help make critical decisions and to keep the project moving forward — these are the benefits of using a cloud system,” says Tucker. “All along the process the project is vulnerable to poor communication which includes versions of documents as well as loss of time, which of course means less efficiency and increased costs.”

A contractor’s point of view

Cary Gandrup, president of Associated Construction Inc., based in Watsonville, CA, has been using ProjectFootage.com for several months as a beta partner. The company is a general engineering construction firm with 22 years of experience and performs grading, paving and pipeline work in both commercial and residential sectors.

Gandrup feels cloud-based systems are a great solution for the construction industry. “This product is efficient and saves time,” he says. “It connects the field with the office which helps get pertinent info relayed to all parties efficiently and quickly with better documentation of the project.

“I was at a point where I was tired of defending our company on issues in which I had project pictures somewhere to support the case, but no way to share them efficiently,” he adds.

Gandup says ProjectFootage.com helps them save not only on time, but keeps them on track with the budget of each project. It can also help contractors in the case of a lawsuit.

“The office can see the field updates, which helps keep things like budgets on track,” he notes. “This system places all project data in one place which eliminates duplicative emails. Project documents can be categorized for easy viewing, and all project info can be saved to zip files or a disc once the project is completed. This is a huge advantage for protection against lawsuits.”

Gandrup feels the construction industry is behind the curve on this technology.

“I think if the industry eventually accepted this product, project flow would become better,” he says. “Think about it, with geo-tagged photos and video updates, does a lender even need to visit the project for inspection and approval of monthly progress payments? If an inspector does not show up, and you have product on the way, there shouldn’t be an issue if the inspector can easily see the before and after shots.”

ProjectFootage.com is an evolving product. Currently, the company is working on mobile apps. Gandrup notes they have a mobile version that works great on an iPad. The mobile apps will allow for easy uploading of data from any mobile device.

“The application and use of video within construction will be extremely useful over time,” says Gandrup. “ProjectFootage.com is developing a pilot program currently with some municipalities now using it. I like the idea of one place to retrieve project info and updates. Often times in construction, subs are scheduled to perform a task when the project is NOT ready. If you can view the project visually from your office then you can see whether the project is truly ready before you mobilize.”

ProjectFootage.com has also just implemented the ability to have your “trusted associates” link to your profile, reciprocally recommending each other.

“The other members of your company are also able to connect directly to the projects they are working on as Project Participants, so collaborators may join a project and may also invite others to join as well,” explains Tucker. “Each party may enroll in RSS feeds which shoot out a quick update to the interested parties as new notes, pictures, documents, etc. are added to the project. This allows ProjectFootage.com to become a tool to connect the industry.”

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