Ask these 10 questions before your company jumps head first into cloud computing.

With the frequent setup of new jobsites, constant flow of workers and overall mobility of construction companies, the industry is well-suited to reap the benefits of cloud computing. The cloud—a system of IT servers hosted on an overarching network that stores massive data available to many authorized users—allows workers to access information while at a jobsite via any Internet-enabled mobile device. It allows staff to work from anywhere, permitting them to save files and emails for storage and retrieval, even if someone deletes them locally. Because that data isn’t stored on the physical device, the data is safer in the cloud.

As for costs, businesses in the cloud are able to use software and hardware without actually having to buy it, which is often a hefty capital expense. With the cloud, companies are simply paying an operating expense. The cloud is faster, more efficient and more flexible than the typical storage system.

One in five organizations use the cloud today, and a 
recent IBM report suggests that adopters double their revenue growth and achieve nearly 2.5 times more gross profit growth than other companies.

While many tangible ways exist for construction companies to benefit from cloud computing, how can you determine if your company is ready for the cloud? Each organization’s unique challenges—such as budget, data growth and storage needs—determine where to begin and what to store in the cloud.

Ask yourself the following 10 questions before jumping head first into the cloud.

  1. What do you want to achieve with the cloud? This question will help you determine what cloud computing can and can’t help you accomplish. You also should gauge how much it will cost to handle a project in the cloud. Usually, working in the cloud will be less expensive because you simply pay for the infrastructure you use. Still, look into the probable costs of some projects you want to initiate.
  2. Would it help to develop a strategic 
analysis and business plan? Such a plan can help identify the tactical challenges that surround software, applications and platform. Formulating a strategic business plan as you consider moving into the cloud will help you determine what the cloud must do for you. The plan should consider security and risk implications of taking data from a data center and moving it to a cloud provider. Not every data element will fit into a virtualized environment, such as legacy applications that can’t be integrated into new systems. Can you justify the risk of moving some elements?
  3. What applications are and are not ready to move to the cloud? Some applications can’t move into the cloud because they’re backed by 
legacy systems. Some servers have performance needs that make them poor candidates for the cloud 
without redesigning the application, such as those with scale-up vs. scale-out systems. However, some 
IT investments are due for a hardware refresh, which 
offers a good chance to reevaluate and consider the cloud as a viable option.
  4. How will the cloud impact your web 
presence? Generally, maintaining such a presence is one of the easiest things to do in the cloud.
  5. Can the cloud satisfy any specific 
regulatory compliance demands? For other industries, such as the retail sector, compliance 
issues are a hot button because of payment card regulations. Be sure to assess any regulatory exposure you might face and if certain data can be stored on the cloud. Usually, guidelines exist that provide a 
road map that defines security responsibilities for cloud providers and customers.
  6. What is the cloud’s scalability? Initially, rapid scalability was judged to be a significant 
benefit of the cloud, especially since the cloud can help contractors scale up or down fairly easily, closely aligning costs with revenue. However, many industries with particular up-and-down times or seasonal 
activities don’t think rapid scalability is as much of an issue anymore. But it is important to ensure 
that your cloud can grow with your needs.
  7. What is the cloud’s security strength? 
Again, cloud managers are savvy about security. Still, you need to understand what is protected and how the security system works to ensure you comply with all applicable regulations. Some auditors require that they have access to the data center, but not all cloud vendors can provide the necessary level of access or certification.

  8. What type of fee schedule and service-
level agreement does the vendor offer? 
You must know what the agreement does and does not cover. Some providers might advertise that their service costs 20 cents per hour, but they leave out other factors that influence the price. For instance, running the server might cost 20 cents per hour, but you may have to pay another 5 cents for monitoring network traffic and 10 cents for certain storage duties. You should understand the cloud provider’s fee schedule, as well as its service-level agreement, to 
ensure that what the provider offers will meet your company’s needs. Be sure to understand vendors’ definitions of downtime in determining their service-level agreement obligations.
  9. Does the cloud provider retain consultants who help migrate data to the cloud? Depending on the amount of data and systems, moving to the cloud can be overwhelming. Make sure you assess how you want to migrate there and what the warning signs are.
  10. Can your service provider weather a storm? Determine a cloud service provider’s resiliency and recovery capabilities should some crisis occur, such as a data center hampered by a disaster like Hurricane Sandy. Ensure the provider has 
done its homework in terms of disaster-preparedness. Also, ask to see printed reports of successful disaster-recovery testing and, of course, ask for references.

Other issues to explore include the vendor’s patching and backup regimen; reporting for performance management; whether the provider compensates for downtime; and how it maintains servers and knows they’re secure.

As for the day you make the move, a cloud service 
provider should have an in-house staff to help you move. Like changing tires on a race car during the Indy 500, the quicker and easier it can be done, the better.

Also, a construction company should determine how well all things will perform. The cloud system will 
likely be a hybrid system for which the contractor 
manages some IT elements and the cloud provider manages others.

For instance, you usually don’t move the accounting and HR systems; intellectual property; or those other 
areas that require a very specific environment to the cloud. 
Ask the cloud provider for a service catalog that lists all the services it provides.

While it’s true that the construction industry is quickly moving to the cloud, you don’t want to be stuck in a 
cloud of uncertainty. Ask yourself these questions to clear those unsettled skies.