How will FM be affected by the rise of cloud computing?
Some insight into how facilities management will be affected by the rise of cloud computing is provided by GARY WATKINS from Service Works Global.
Cloud computing is one of the most widely used buzzwords in the technology marketplace and businesses of every size are welcoming its flexibility. In return, they are benefitting from reduced costs, increased productivity and speed to market.
In simple terms, the cloud is used to describe the supply of information technology (IT) infrastructure and software over the Internet. On a technical level, cloud is essentially a progression from virtual private networks (VPNs), still in use, in which a private network provides a ‘tunnel’ through the Internet between a remote node and a central computer.
Software as a service (SaaS) before affordable, ubiquitous broadband wasn’t really a viable option. Once the faster IT infrastructure was readily available, however, the business case was indisputable. Cost savings, specialist infrastructure management, scalability and the corresponding business benefits have led to considerable success for the cloud, which creates genuine commercial value.
Facilities management has followed suit because the benefits are quantifiable. A few top line advantages are:
- server management is moved from an in-house IT team to an outsourced specialist, speeding up the procurement process for purchasing facilities management software as well as the implementation process
- a cloud solution shifts the cost of facilities management software from capital to operational expenditure, and
- the cloud supports the event driven role of the facilities manager.
Pervasive cloud technology means that a facilities manager can log or report on a job anywhere, and people on the move can be alerted to issues and review details on a mobile device. The cloud and mobile technologies complement one another.
Many believe that cloud computing will increase facilities management software use dramatically, particularly for smaller organisations where there is a need for software but the capital expenditure can’t be justified. By moving to operational cost, it can fall within a facilities manager’s budgetary sign-off, so the procurement process becomes simpler.
Cloud provides a secure, resilient and scalable solution. The hosting provider takes care of the management and expenses relating to the infrastructure, and the budget becomes more predictable.
Moving to the cloud should also boost a facilities manager’s personal output. Facilities managers are finding that the cloud improves the way in which they interact with software. It is agile and works remotely as well as on premises, it speeds up application deployment and enables the software providers to fine-tune, maintain and upgrade the software centrally, so all adjustments and improvements are felt immediately.
In many instances, the essential structure and functionality of the system will be the same as a premises-based system application, but using cloud technology, most of the processing is handled off-site. The server purchase is eliminated completely. Essentially, the purchase becomes a matter of securing the benefit without the overhead.
The browser-based nature of the cloud also makes it simpler for companies to move people around. An entirely cloud-based setup using Wi-Fi means, other than the furniture, nothing has to change.
RISK MANAGEMENT AND SECURITY
Risk management is an important element of any new technology. Concerning the cloud, it’s essential to understand that the physical safeguards businesses have had in place will no longer be there. A new set of security precautions need to be replicated or replaced by the new cloud provider.
In addition, it is important to keep in mind that cloud providers may be acquired or go under, and to know what will happen to the information in these circumstances. Regulatory compliance remains the clients’ duty.
Security is one of the major concerns of people new to cloud computing. Key issues include:
- compliance with current data protection legislation
- industry ISO certification
- the terms of the service level agreement (SLA) – assuming no system can be running 100 percent of the time, how much time is actually obtained?
- support level – 24/7, online, email and/or phone?
- the physical security measures in place at the data centre
- data centre location
- segregation of data from other organisations’ data
- hardware redundancy on offer – if the systems fail on current servers, can more be turned on quickly?
- back-up on offer and disaster recovery plan
- availability of multiple internet service providers, so there is not one single point of failure, and
- implementation of penetration tests.
PAYING FOR THE CLOUD
There are different models of payment for cloud computing. One of the most common is charging on a utility basis. This works like any other metered utility. Utility computing can be an advantageous method of managing the costs when fewer resource demanding applications are used and peak use is rare, although it may be inefficient to meter on a smaller scale. Another popular and alternative method is paying for the service on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis (based on storage usage, for example).
PRACTICALITIES TO CONSIDER
The cost benefits and flexibility are likely to make compelling arguments for the cloud’s adoption by the facilities management industry. This reflects a wider trend of organisations scaling up and scaling down on demand, which in turn has its implications for the facilities management community.
There are many major practicalities to consider before adopting cloud technology. The key question is two-fold: first, is cloud a good idea for the specific business in general? And, second, will it help facilities management in particular?
There are clear business benefits beyond the obvious cost savings. These include:
- working where you need to with a tablet or smartphone where necessary
- working in real time – information is uploaded to a cloud system immediately, so colleagues can start working on it in other staff’s absence, and
- flexibility of working location.
Practical considerations include:
- what sort of cloud fits the specific organisation best – private, public or hybrid
- should the whole of an organisation’s infrastructure or just some apps be put into the cloud – should the idea be piloted first (in a substantial organisation this will be essential), and
- will the IT workforce have to be reskilled beforehand?
These are not drawbacks, but necessary steps. They will help ensure the rewards outlined above.
Gary Watkins is managing director of Service Works Global. This article is based on the white paper FM in the Cloud. For a complimentary copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.