Remote Working Success Factors:
According to a 2016 survey of American remote workers, about 91 percent of people who work from home feel they’re more productive than when they’re in an office. Forbes Magazine and Harvard Business Review have both written extensively about the productivity gains from remote working.
I have worked remote for the past 6 years. I think working remotely is great for productivity and work-life balance but it might not be for everyone.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of remote working.
Remote work can be good or bad, it depends on you, your job and employer
What kind of a job do you have? Studies show Knowledge and Creative workers will benefit most from remote working. Obviously, if you have a job that requires face to face meetings or special equipment then working remotely is not going to work for you. There is no way a Starbucks Barista is going to work remotely. The exceptions might be phone or chat-based customer service jobs, they are tailor-made for remote workers.
Remote working flexibility is great. It allows you to schedule life around work. You can take a 15-minute break to pick up the kids from school or meet the plumber. These little conveniences improve work/life balance.
Commute time is eliminated. People don’t realize how much time (and money) is spent commuting. I live in a large urban city and my wife spends 3 hours and $15 a day using public transportation. That is a big expense and time commitment. My commute is one minute to my home office.
If you spend a lot of time working in teams, remote working can still be very productive. There are many factors that determine if remote work works for you. Let’s look at those that can make you a successful remote worker.
To work remotely, you need appropriate technology
Remote working requires the ability to work from anywhere, ideally, you need complete mobility.
Depending on your exact situation, you need a laptop (or desktop PC), mobile phone and some kind of screen sharing or online meeting tool. You might also use a chat client or an online project management tool. There are many solutions out there, you need to investigate which tools work best in your situation and with your employer.
I use Google Voice. Google Voice allows one number to ring in many places at the same time, my desk phone, my mobile phone and my Skype number all ring together. I can be anywhere and you can reach me by phone. Many telephony systems allow you to forward your calls to another number or to your mobile phone. There are phone features like Find me / Follow me that ring at multiple locations, one after another until you pick up or it goes to voicemail.
If you work in teams, you need technology to support teamwork. Technologies like Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or VDIs (Virtual Desktop Interface) give you complete access to your work computer and all your office files and programs from anywhere you have Internet connectivity.
If your company does not use VDI or allow remote access, then you are going to have a harder time collaborating with colleagues and access the programs and data you need. Most companies, even if they do not use VDI, have some way to securely access company infrastructure. This is typically done using Virtual Private Network (VPN) and some kind of secure authentication.
I am fortunate my company, Advance2000, provides technologies to enable our entire staff to be 100% mobile. We also help other companies become 100% mobile and work remotely. We can provide an “office in the cloud” and supply servers, desktops and phones all completely hosted in our private cloud and accessible from anywhere you have an Internet connection. Some of our clients don’t even have physical offices any longer.
You need a comfortable place to work. Companies provide a comfortable productive place for their employees to work. Working remote, you need that too.
When setting up a home office, keep these things in mind.
- Door – I find having a door on my office, especially when my kids were younger, was a necessity. If the door is closed, no kids or cats are allowed in.
- Full-size desk – Get a full-size desk for your computer and two monitors. Dual monitors have been shown to boost productivity. Spend some money on quality monitors, keyboards and mice. You spend 8 hours a day on these tools, make sure they are high quality. You want to minimize the chance of eye strain and RSI and you need reliable technology that will last.
- Network/Internet – a wired Internet connection is faster and more reliable than using WiFi. If needed, have an electrician run wiring from your Internet Router to your home office. If you have multiple devices using the Internet, you can invest in a small switch to share your Internet connection.
- Hotspot/phone fallback – I recommend you have a cellular backup in case your home Internet service goes down. You can use a mobile phone or tablet with cellular data to create a mobile hotspot to use in case your primary Internet goes out. Or you can just pack up and head to the nearest coffee shop to work.
- Good desk chair – Get a good office chair. Do not buy a cheap box store chair. You are going to spend 8-10 hours a day in your chair. There is a reason office chairs are so expensive, they are designed for all-day comfort. Don’t scrimp here, if you can’t afford to spend a lot, check out office equipment resellers. They have lightly used office chairs by all the major office furniture providers. Go and sit in the chair, make sure it is right before you spend hundreds of dollars.
- Private space – I recommend a private office space not shared with the rest of the family. You need to separate from the family distractions.
- Windows / fresh air – it is a bonus if you have natural light and operating windows in your office.
- Monitor/keyboard/headset – These are the tools you use all day. Along with a good chair, get a good keyboard and mouse and monitors. Ergonomic tools are a plus. If you spend a lot of time on the phone, consider using a lightweight high-quality headset.
- Office in a wardrobe – Tight on space? You can house an entire office in a piece of furniture. There are also desks that hide the office equipment from sight.
- Build an office? – Depending on your local building codes, you might be able to build an office in your backyard. This gives you the mental and physical separation from the home. You leave your house but still have all the amenities of home just a few steps away.
Photo courtesy Will Leger
Office parks/coworking spaces – Finally, if you can’t stand working alone, there are many coworking spaces available everywhere. For a very small monthly investment, you have access to a shared desk and workspace. Coworking spaces offer Wifi, refreshments, shared desks and team/conference rooms. You just bring your laptop and work. Some people find the social activity stimulating to work.
Successful remote working ultimately depends on you. It requires discipline and organization. If you are the type of person whose attention wanders you might not be a good candidate. Here are some things you can do to improve concentration and reduce distractions.
- Music – some people use music to provide “white noise” to help them focus on tasks at hand.
- Minimize interruptions – Be careful of distractions / Internet / social media. Stay away from distractions online. Consider using browser extensions to block all websites for a period of time. (RescueTime)
- Pomodoro technique – Work 25 minutes without stopping and then take a 5-minute break. Specialized Pomodoro apps and websites can help you use this technique to stay focused.
- Set time for lunch and breaks – every 20 minutes look away from the computer screen for 20 seconds. Plan a regular time for lunch and get away from the computer.
- Face time – Plan regular trips to the company’s office. You need face time occasionally. This makes working remote more successful. Once you meet someone in person, it is much easier to work with them remotely.
- Demographics – Surprisingly, younger people prefer working in an office for the “social” aspects.
Tips for remote workers
- Keep a professional attitude – When remote working, it is tempting to not get dressed or shave or get out of your pajamas. Resist these behaviors, they affect your thinking. Maintaining professional behaviors will help you be more productive. Don’t take conference calls in bed.
- Turn off social media – Use organizational technology to keep on track, create lists. If you know what to do next, it will help you resist the temptation to waste time.
- Schedule all your time – Schedule your todo tasks as well as your meetings and appointments. When you have free time, refer to your to-do list and move to the next item on your list. Stay busy and your mind will not wander.
- Use fill-in tasks – I have a list of projects to do right now, to do in the future and to do someday. Having those lists prepared keeps you from wasting time by not knowing what to do.
- Establish regular hours – Keep regular hours. I start work at 8 AM and take lunch 11-11:30 and end my day at 5. Beware of the trap of working all the time. It is tempting to answer email and phone calls 24/7/365. Unless you are required to do this, working remotely is not an excuse to work 12 hour days. Working remote can improve work/life balance. Working all the time increases stress and is unproductive.
- Take regular breaks – Take time away from the computer screen, rest your eyes every hour. Take lunch every day, I take a shorter lunch (30 minutes) since I don’t have to get food or go anywhere to eat.
Pulling it all together
- No commute
- Fewer distractions / interruptions
- Lower employee attrition (higher retention)
- Better home/work balance
- Self Management (responsibility)
- Save money – no commuting costs = instant raise, eat at home
- No office space required/create a virtual company for startups
- No face time / alone / isolation
- Lose “social” aspect of the office
- Time management harder / requires more discipline
- No physical presence in the office – out of sight …
- Need to over communicate to be heard – you are not seen
- Must be a good time manager
Convincing the Boss
So how do you convince your company to allow you to work remote? In the studies on remote work, middle management seems to be the most resistant to allowing staff to work remote. This might be because they can no longer see their staff working in front of them. There is a certain amount of trust required on the part of managers to let go.
One suggestion might be to rotate the days you work remote. Maybe you go to the office on Monday and Friday and work remote Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday? Or maybe part of your department works remotely while the rest are in the office and then you switch. Companies using remote workers need less office space. Fewer offices/cubicles and less office furniture reduce costs for a company. It is a win-win for employees and their companies.
Remote working is not for everyone or for every company. Set up a remote working trial and see how it goes. I think you will be surprised how it can improve productivity, create happier employees and save money.
For more information on setting up a virtual office and working remote, contact us today. Click here and we can get you started.
Technology In Construction Benefits
Technology in construction isn’t discussed anywhere near as much as it deserves to be. Construction has a rosy outlook for the not-so-distant future, and here’s a look at the technology to help get us there faster and cheaper.
The Future of Construction
Construction is on the up and up. Statista (https://www.statista.com/statistics/226368/projected-value-of-total-us-construction/) has placed a monetary value of 1.23 trillion USD for new construction during 2017, and that number is expected to reach 1.5 trillion USD by 2022. The United States currently has strong bipartisan agreement that our infrastructure deserves our federal attention and funding (https://www.constructiondive.com/news/two-years-of-trump-where-are-we-and-whats-next-for-construction/542578/) and we’ve already seen that rhetoric transform into action with the recent signing of the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (https://www.epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/addressing-americas-infrastructure-needs). This Act invests in, among other things, the maintenance and construction of water and wastewater infrastructure in the States. Just this December (https://www.constructiondive.com/news/dot-awards-15b-for-91-projects-across-49-states-and-dc/544268/) the USDOT awarded $1.5B USD for 91 road, rail, transit, and port infrastructure projects. This is all great news for construction firms booking up the coming years.
While the future is bright, both the Associated General Contractors and the American Institute of Architects have a few factors to keep in mind. Chief Economist Ken Simonson at the AGC of America expects (https://www.agc.org/sites/default/files/Files/Communications/Construction%20trends%20%26%20outlook.pdf) manufacturing construction to continue to recover in 2019, “tariffs, foreign retaliation, [and] rising construction costs are major concerns.” Rising inflation in building costs is a significant point of concern. From mid-year 2017 to mid-year 2018, steel prices are up 12 percent, aluminum is up 20 percent, and lumber/plywood is up 18 percent. Combine that with an aging workforce, a shortage of skilled labor to replace it, and concern about possible “federal immigration policies that threaten one of the most reliable sources of labor for the AEC industry,” and any contractor will begin to sweat (https://www.aia.org/articles/205181-despite-emerging-economic-concerns-construc). Essentially, what the evidence is saying: even though the outlook is optimistic, construction needs to be mindful of cost and labor.
Here’s where technology in construction comes into play.
Innovation and Improvement in Construction
The most well-known existing tech in AEC is Building Information Modeling (BIM) software, which has turned productivity in AEC around. When used to its fullest extent, BIM allows construction companies to take active roles in the pre-planning process rather than assume reactive roles later. Even though BIM software has been around for a while, the programs are constantly improving. Specifically benefiting construction, they’re increasing the processing power and cross-program integration. Add-In apps integrate construction programs like BIM 360 and Navisworks seamlessly with design programs like Revit. This enables early detection of conflicts, and building teams have been able to address schedule set-backs before they happen. The time-schedule savings alone has been monumental.
BIM software has influenced an expanding technology in North America: Off-Site Construction. This technology isn’t new, as it’s well established in Europe, Asia, and even making appearances in rapidly growing cities in Africa, but it’s just now getting it’s foothold in NA. As off-site construction (or as American’s generally refer to it, prefabrication) is based in integrated project delivery, the real-time collaboration among stakeholders easily identifies what can be prefabricated in off-site manufacturing factories immediately. Of course, the limitation here is how many construction companies have the facility space to add prefabrication into their company? For companies that have the warehouse or yard to take advantage of off-site, it reduces the need for on-site skilled workers–reducing labor costs–and prefabrication cuts down on material waste–reducing material costs. Construction companies embracing off-site construction are experiencing schedule savings, increased labor productivity, waste reduction, and all while using the same BIM software they were using for complex on-site projects.
Drones have been allowed on construction sites for a couple years now (https://connect.bim360.autodesk.com/construction-drones-fly-freely). Drones render the site landscape for a fast and accurate start to a building project, or scan existing structures to identify maintenance needs not always visible to the human eye. 3D scans from construction sites cut down on time spent checking measurements, project progress, material inventory, and general surveillance. While BIM Software allows for real-time collaboration between stakeholders, drones upload real-time progress. As the cost of drones decrease, the ROI they provide increase.
Realtime Capture LLC., Scott Cooper
Peoria, AZ Site Overview Drone Footage: https://vimeo.com/207677742
3D printing looks like it will offer some relief in regards to cost of materials at some point. Additive manufacturing of 3D printed concrete, polymeric foam, and steel offer solutions to existing construction problems: more efficient use of materials, more output with less man power, and project completion in rapid time. Of course, at the time of this writing, there are real world issues that prevent 3D construction printing from going into effect immediately. The first hurdle is whether or not 3D printing will comply with building codes and standards (https://www.3dnatives.com/en/3d-printing-construction-310120184/). The second major constraint is while 3D construction materials are affordable, the upfront cost of the 3D printer is prohibitive. The startups pioneering this tech team up with established large scale construction firms or public universities to sustain the R&D.
Increase Knowledge Transfer with AI
The World Economic Forum identified a few factors as to why when compared to other industries, technological benefits in construction are lagging on a global scale. Most of the shortfalls that prevent increased productivity is the failure to utilize the existing technology. Specific to construction, a few technological challenges are the lack of formal processes, insufficient knowledge transfer from project to project, and weak project monitoring (http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Shaping_the_Future_of_Construction_full_report__.pdf). Currently, the most efficient on-site processes, historical experience, and expert project monitoring are entirely dependent on companies’ best project managers.
Artificial Intelligence will take the human element of the industry and make it duplicable. But the human element won’t disappear entirely: contractors, project managers, and construction foremen are essential to the continual improvement of this tech with their creative touches from project to project. If we take away the human element completely, and there’s no more innovation.
Adam Ward of Space Group and BIM Technologies makes a case that machine learning is the way to make construction more efficient. In September of 2017, Ward wrote for AEC Magazine that “machines are very good at consuming and analyzing large amounts of seemingly unrelated data and finding patterns in the chaos” (13). Programs learn to recognize data from each project, they predict patterns and behaviors to detect productivity issues, and increase the efficiency of project monitoring and create formal processes. We’re already starting to see the early stages of this in current BIM software, as mentioned earlier. If AI can transfer this kind of knowledge from project to project, that would help increase project productivity in fiscally measurable ways.
In order to amass this information, machine learning will use astronomical amounts of data pulled from the cloud to simplify mundane project tasks and streamline the results. Ward explains “if a computer programme sees thousands of architects selecting a particular type of door handle—for use on a particular door type, in a particular building type, in a particular country—it can use this knowledge to make future recommendations to architects automatically about which door handle they might select” (15). AEC probably won’t be nostalgic about no longer assigning panic bars to emergency exits.
Innovation Begins in the Clouds
In order to take advantage of these emerging technologies to benefit construction directly, it’s vital to be connected to the cloud (https://www.advance2000.com/10-reasons-aec-firms-moving-cloud/). Project data, user patterns, and general industry progress will all depend on information stored and analyzed in the cloud. While this shared information sounds scary, Advance2000’s Compute and Collaboration Hub has been specifically engineered to protect each client’s intellectual property while sharing only the data the client wants shared. Most design software companies like Autodesk have access control functionality integrated into their programs for security purposes. In addition to that, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is another gatekeeper to keep your sensitive data safe.
For more information on how emerging technologies can benefit your construction company’s bottom line, contact us at (800) 238-2621. We can help you build an IT solution that’s crafted to support your BIM software and protect your IP.
“America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018.” U.S. Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works. Accessed 14 Dec 2018. https://www.epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/addressing-americas-infrastructure-needs
Baker, Kermit. “Despite emerging economic concerns, construction spending projected to grow.” AIA.com, The American Institute of Architects, 20 July 2018. https://www.aia.org/articles/205181-despite-emerging-economic-concerns-construc
Brown, Kathleen. “Two years of Trump: Where are we and what’s next for construction?” Construction Dive, 20 Nov 2018. https://www.constructiondive.com/news/two-years-of-trump-where-are-we-and-whats-next-for-construction/542578/
D., Jamie. “3D Printing: The Future of Construction.” 3dnatives.com, 3Dnatives, 31 Jan 2018. https://www.3dnatives.com/en/3d-printing-construction-310120184/
“Forecast for new construction put in place in the U.S. from 2011 to 2022 (in billion U.S. dollars)*.” Statista.com, The Statistics Portal. Accessed 14 Dec 2018. https://www.statista.com/statistics/226368/projected-value-of-total-us-construction/
Higgins, Adam. “New FAA Regulations Allow Construction Drones to Fly Freely.” Connect&Construct, Autodesk, 21 Sept 2016. https://connect.bim360.autodesk.com/construction-drones-fly-freely
“Reference List of Software Products with Potential Application for Off-Site Construction.” Off-Site Construction Council, National Institute of Building Sciences. https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.nibs.org/resource/resmgr/OSCC/OSCC_Software_list.pdf
Shaping the Future of Construction: A Breakthrough in Mindset and Technology. World Economic Forum, May 2016. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Shaping_the_Future_of_Construction_full_report__.pdf
Simonson, Ken. “US Construction Spending, Labor and Materials Outlook.” Agc.org, AGC of America, 4 Dec 2018. https://www.agc.org/sites/default/files/Files/Communications/Construction%20trends%20%26%20outlook.pdf
Slowey, Kim. “DOT awards $1.5B for 91 projects across 49 states and DC.” Construction Dive, 13 Dec 2018. https://www.constructiondive.com/news/dot-awards-15b-for-91-projects-across-49-states-and-dc/544268/
Smith, Ryan E. “Off-Site and Modular Construction Explained.” Off-Site Construction Council, National Institute of Building Sciences. https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.nibs.org/resource/resmgr/OSCC/OSMC_Explained.pdf
Ward, Adam. “Intelligent Design.” AEC Magazine, Vol. 92, Sept/Oct 2017. Pp. 13-15.
The needs of the modern AEC firm are ever-evolving. As technology continues to become more sophisticated, it increasingly lends itself well to the collaborative and often geographically dispersed teams of the AEC industry.
I have the unique opportunity to work for a company that has over 75 clients ranging from just two employees to 1,000 solely within this unique industry. Because of this, I have had the privilege to assist in solving the technology challenges that firms face on a day-to-day basis. Whether it’s DR and backup, data archiving, collaboration or BIM — my team and I have helped our valued AEC firms come up with the best IT solutions possible.
With that said, I have a unique perspective on technology as it relates to the AEC firm. From experience, I categorize technology for AEC into three main categories: Infrastructure, Design, and Knowledge Management.
Let’s take a look at what each category entails:
Infrastructure technology keeps you running day-to-day. This is the behind-the-scenes technology, the “plumbing” that supports daily operations. You never notice it (until it fails), but it is very important to the stability of your operations. Infrastructure technology supports system stability, remote access, mobility, collaboration, facility support, and sustainability. Infrastructure technologies RUN the business.
Examples of Infrastructure Technology:
- Desktops / Workstations
- Networking (Local Area and Wide Area)
- Remote access
- Video conferencing
- Mobile Devices
Design technologies are the tools used to manage and administer projects. BIM is the essential design technology.
Design technologies support mobility and collaboration. This includes the ability to work outside the office, the ability to connect to the network from anywhere, and the ability to collaborate and work with both internal and external project teams.
Design technologies author and document your projects. These tools also communicate design solutions to your clients. Design technologies GROW the business.
Examples of Design Technology:
- Authoring (Revit / AutoCAD)
- Project Information Management (PIM)
- Collaboration tools
- Analysis tools
- Visualization software
- QA / QC / risk management
- Quantity take-offs / estimating / commissioning
- Construction administration
Knowledge Management (KM) is a key business support technology for AEC. It defines what you do, how you work, how you stay productive, and how you promote innovation and creativity at your firm. Knowledge Management is recording, storing, and retrieving knowledge and information, and documenting and sharing best practices.
Knowledge Management technologies provide access to information. Web technologies such as blogs, intranets, wikis, and social media help build and market the collective knowledge of your firm. In addition, training is a key part of Knowledge Management. Your staff needs adequate training and more importantly the ability to save, seek, and find information.
Examples of Knowledge Management:
- Network folder organization
- Project information access
- Design and technical libraries
- Best practices and procedures
- Historical project data
- Business intelligence
- Collaboration and communication software
- Digital asset management
- Project process documentation
All of these KM technologies contribute to team and organizational knowledge flow, which is essentially the transition of the managed knowledge from where it’s stored, to where it needs to be applied. Naturally, knowledge must and does flow through the design process.
Here’s a look at the basic knowledge flow for collaborative AEC teams:
Knowledge Management technology can make your firm more competitive in the marketplace by increasing your expertise and providing better service to your clients. It’s safe to say that KM Technologies TRANSFORM the business and ensure every team member has the information, education, and overall knowledge to perform optimally.
The Technology Life-Cycle
Any of these technologies can provide a competitive advantage for your firm, but you must weigh each against the technology life-cycle (TLC).
Within each of these categories of technology there are new solutions and products that initially provide a competitive advantage. Early adopters and more tech-savvy firms take advantage of new technologies to gain a competitive edge over their peers. But they also accept the learning curve and higher costs associated with new technology adoption. Right now, AR and VR technologies are examples of competitive advantage technologies.
As technologies become generally accepted and widespread, their use instead becomes a competitive necessity. By this time, most firms have heard of or are already using these technologies and they are required if you intend to keep up with the competition. These technologies don’t provide a competitive advantage, but if you don’t use them you run the risk of falling behind the competition. CAD and BIM authoring tools are good examples of competitive necessity technology.
Finally, as technology ages and is replaced, it becomes a competitive disadvantage. If you continue to use older, outdated technologies, your company falls behind the mainstream, and you actually lose productivity by not replacing old technology. Are you still using AutoCAD 2004 on 10-year-old workstations and CRT monitors? Sure, you can, but you are paying a steep price in productivity and are at a competitive disadvantage to your peers.
In today’s technologically-driven world, it’s no secret that technology adds value to your products, provides additional marketable services, supports decision making, increases productivity, and provides timely financial data. This demonstrates to your clients a leadership role in the use of technology applied in the design profession.
The three categories of technologies featured in this article — infrastructure, design, and knowledge management — form the basis for understanding the IT needs of an AEC firm. Any experienced IT firm, like Advance2000, will work with you within this framework to build a comprehensive IT strategy to run your IT operations, and, in turn, keep your entire business operating efficiently.
With over 75 AEC clients ranging in size from 2 to 1,200, Advance2000 understands the unique technology needs of AEC. Whether it’s backup, DR, data archiving, collaboration, or BIM, we have experience solving the technology challenges facing your firm. We work with Autodesk, Bentley, Dassault, Deltek, Newforma, Primavera and many other AEC-specific vendors.
Ready to explore how we can help you strategically run, grow, and transform your practice?
Last year, in October of 2017, Chris France, Regional President of Advance2000, presented some useful Revit collaboration strategies to the Orange County Revit User Group. In his presentation, Chris discussed the four aspects of the Revit Collaboration Matrix (App Local, Data Local, App Remote, and Data Remote), and the pros and cons of each strategy.
Below is Chris France’s full presentation, or you can view it on our YouTube channel here. We hope you find it as interesting and helpful as we did!
Revit Collaboration Strategies:
Created by Autodesk, Revit is building information modeling (BIM) software that allows users to create buildings, structures, components, etc. in both 2D and 3D. Architects, engineers, and designers often use Revit to collaborate on projects — even when members of the team are working in different locations. While collaborating in real-time, across geographical boundaries can be very challenging, there are plenty of Revit collaboration strategies you can follow to make your work easier to manage for all team members.
With the AEC industry’s emphasis on real-time work and collaboration, it’s no surprise that more and more firms are choosing to move their IT environments to high-performance private clouds.
However, not all AEC firms have made the big move. Change is scary, we know – especially when dealing with the efficiency and longevity of your business. Of course it’s important to consider what solution and IT scenario is right for your particular needs and processes, but to help give you some insight, here are some of the top reasons other AEC firms like yours have chosen to make the big move (as well as some top considerations you might have when deciding if this is the right move for your firm).
To Support Growth
Key benefits of the cloud:
- Support rapid growth
- Scale up as well as down
- Address short-term needs
Imagine that you just won that HUGE project and it’s time to start hiring and buy more computers. Or maybe you are growing by acquisition or merger. How do you join two companies’ networks? Are you moving in together or keeping separate offices? If you have a rapidly growing business, how do you support growth? In addition to needing more space for your new staff, how do you supply them with the right technology to get the work done?
One of our largest clients have asked us to add 500 additional seats to their project cloud in 30 days. We were only able to do this because we were working in a virtual environment. If you had to handle this type of growth in a physical environment, how would you do it? First, you order the hardware, then wait two weeks for it to arrive. At that point you stare at 500+ boxes of computer equipment. Where do you store that many boxes, how long will it take you to unbox them? Once you’ve opened the boxes and set up the computers, how long will it take you to configure each one – 20 minutes, 60 minutes? Once the computers are configured, they need to be placed at a desk, this might take 20 to 30 minutes per computer. And where do you put 500 more people? This would be an enormous task. Could you do it in a month?
There’s also the flip side to growth: what about downsizing? Now that you’ve added 500 additional computers to your environment, what if the project goes on hold? In 2008, did any of your projects go on hold? But now you’ve got 500 extra computers that are either leased or purchased, what do you do with them? Sell them? Store them? In the virtual world we just erase the virtual desktop and it’s gone – and so is the monthly charge for using it.
How do you handle short-term growth? Do you hire summer interns? Summer interns need a computer and it’s got to be high-powered and capable of running all of the applications they need. And at the end of summer what do you do with that computer? Do you give it to someone else? Or did you give the interns older equipment and reduce their productivity (and opinion of your firm) all summer?
Hardware / Software Refresh
Key benefits of the cloud:
- No more trickle-down
- Easy upgrades
- Save labor hours / no staff disruption
As you know, AEC software requires high-powered hardware, and firms constantly upgrade their computers. Each time a computer is upgraded, the new (more powerful) computer is given to the best users and their computers are trickled down to the next best users, and their computers are trickled down to the third best users, and so on. Generally, for each new computer put into service you need to touch three computers in the “trickle down”. This takes a lot of time and also disrupts the staff (productivity hit).
In addition, a new version of software often has increased hardware requirements. Two years ago, 8GB of RAM was fairly standard on a high-powered workstation. Today, 16 or 32GB is the standard. You could do in-place upgrades on all of your computers, but that requires a lot of manpower. You need to order the replacement parts, schedule a time to disrupt users, open the machine, install the upgrade, close the machine and let the user get back to work. This might take one to two hours per machine – replacing a hard drive takes even longer. Contrast that with the cloud where a memory upgrade can be done in minutes. With the cloud, it’s possible to upgrade the memory and hard drives on every computer in a firm in less than a day.
Growing Data Storage Needs
Key benefits of the cloud:
- Data needs grow 10-20% per year
- Huge files
- Buy only what you need today
AEC firms have growing data storage needs. In fact, each year a firm’s data grows by 10 to 20%. Graphical programs create huge files, often in excess of several gigabytes. Animation and rendering files are huge and each one might generate hundreds of files.
Additionally, AEC firms take a lot of photographs: photos of existing conditions, photos of field conditions, photos of work in progress, and finally, photos of completed work. Photographs (especially hi-res) use a lot of disk storage. Contrast this with an accounting or law firm that might have hundreds or thousands of Excel or Word documents. A large Excel file is probably no more than 25 megabytes. Compare that to a large animation project which might be terabytes in size.
The cloud can easily scale to accommodate a firm’s storage needs. In addition to being scalable to any size, you only need to purchase what you’re going to use today, plus a small amount for growth. When you buy physical hardware you need to anticipate your storage needs 3 to 5 years in advance or plan to upgrade along the way. You also have to make sure that your physical storage devices can physically accommodate the additional hardware. With the cloud you’re always right sized and you have nearly unlimited total capacity.
Oftentimes, projects need to be stored 7 to 11 years for legal reasons. Cheap storage in the cloud is pennies per gigabyte. In the cloud, you use expensive, fast storage for live projects and then move the completed projects to slower, cheap cloud storage for long-term archiving, thus eliminating the need to keep everything on expensive servers and disks.
Mobility / BYOD
Key benefits of the cloud:
- Easily work from home
- Software is available from anywhere
- Don’t need a high-powered laptop
Working in the cloud, you have complete mobility. You can work from home, a hotel, coffee shop, job site, or anywhere else that has a data connection. What’s better, your software programs are available from any location. You don’t need high-powered laptops loaded with all of the applications to do your work. Your software is loaded on your high-powered virtual desktop accessible from anywhere you have a broadband connection (which is almost everywhere).
You can also connect using any type of device (BYOD): you could use a tablet, a inexpensive laptop, or even a Mac to work on a Windows computer using Windows software.
AEC firms are deadline driven; you don’t work the standard 9 to 5. With the cloud, you can leave the office with your virtual desktop running, head home, have dinner with the family, then connect from home and pick up where you left off. No more late hours stuck at the office. You have access to your high-powered workstation and all your software and files no matter where you are and when you need them.
Hardware and Software Management
Key benefits of the cloud:
- Easy upgrades to software
- Patching and patch management
- Manage and maintain master images
- Easier cloning and configuring computers
- License tracking simplified
Managing hardware and software is a challenge for any firm. But for AEC, because of all of the different types of software and hardware, keeping track of everything is a management nightmare. Each year when a new version of software is released, everyone on the building design team needs to upgrade at the same time in order for your files to be compatible. Naturally, upgrading an entire office of computers is a challenge. Coordinating an upgrade across multiple firms with multiple offices working together is a bigger challenge. There are specialized tools for deploying applications across the network but many times that still requires that you touch each desktop to make sure it installs correctly.
Similarly, rolling out new computers is a difficult task for any AEC firm. You must manage and maintain each computer image so you can update and deploy new computers quickly and easily. Cloning a desktop in the cloud is is extremely easy and not much harder than copying a file. Any customization or configuration can be done remotely. When working in the cloud, there’s no need to walk around an office or to even be in the office in order to clone, customize, configure and roll out new computers. In addition, keeping track of licenses and software installations is much easier in the cloud using virtual desktops.
Disaster Recovery and Backup
Key benefits of the cloud:
- Loss of billable time
- Natural disaster
- Consultant risk
- Using the cloud for Backup and DR
Disaster recovery and backup are especially important for an AEC firm. AEC firms make their money by billing hours and keeping their staff productive. Any downtime is going to be very costly. If your staff is not billing their time, it adds to your overhead costs. What do you do if you have a real disaster? What if you lose your entire office or building? What if there’s a flood or other type of natural disaster like a hurricane or earthquake? You need a disaster recovery plan.
One thing that is often overlooked is the risk of working with consultants. Firms don’t think about what will happen if their consultants lose their files? You might have your firm protected but if you’re working with others and they lose their files because of some type of disaster or mishap, it can jeopardize delivery of the entire project. So you’re not only at risk because of your own exposure, but you are also responsible for all the consultants working on the project with you.
Are you monitoring your backups? Do they run successfully every day? Do you test-restore files to make sure that your backups are really working? You should always have three copies of your data, the live original data, a copy on site, and an offsite or online copy. If your data and desktops reside in the cloud, your disaster recovery plan is built in. At Advance2000, all of our clients’ infrastructure is backed up to a second data center. Once your data is in the cloud, we can easily add virtual desktops and create a virtual office accessible from anywhere. You can recover from any downtime quickly and easily.
Internal Company Collaboration
Key benefits of the cloud:
- Work between offices in real time
- Support for home workers
- Always on a LAN no matter the location
- Moving the people to the data not the data to the people
One challenge AEC firms have, especially firms with several offices, is working between multiple locations. Especially when using software like Revit, you need to have the entire team working on a single local area network for best results. You also might not have IT support in each of your satellite offices. It is much more efficient to move the people to the data rather than move the data from office to office. In addition, every time you copy data from office to office you are duplicating it and using extra (expensive) storage space.
How can you support users not only in other offices – but on the road – at a job site or maybe working from a hotel or home? An IT project cloud hosted in a data center solves these issues. You can work as though your staff is sitting in a single location, working on a local area network no matter where they are physically located.
External Firm Collaboration – Project Cloud
Key benefits of the cloud:
- Collaborate in real time between separate companies
- Create a virtual collocation office
- Client-owner access to files and project information
- VPN access for others that don’t have virtual desktops
Closely related to internal collaboration is external collaboration, or collaborating with outside firms. In order to work between firms it’s always been necessary to bundle up your files on a Friday afternoon and upload them to some kind of sharing site like an FTP or or use some other file sharing technology like ShareFile, Box, or Dropbox. Then, Monday morning your team downloads those files, unpacks them, puts them on your network and re-links them and starts looking for changes.
With the project cloud and a shared project server everyone from any firm works on the same local area network, there is no sharing of files, everything is live on a single network, a single source of truth. It’s true that you need a virtual desktop or a VDI to be able to work in this shared collocation space, but even firms that don’t have VDIs can use VPN technology to connect to the project server and share files just as they would if they were not working in the cloud.
We can also provide access to the client or owner so that they can view project progress at any time. You can give them special access to specific folders containing PDF files showing progress on the project.
Key benefits of the cloud:
- Support for collaboration with any program
- A single source of truth
- No file swapping, no Friday uploads or Monday downloads
The ultimate goal is real-time collaboration for the entire project team. Using a project cloud you have the ability to collaborate using any program, not just Revit. You can share all types of project files, whether they’re Autodesk created or from any other software program. All your project files live on a single network, there are no more files being shared via email or FTP or uploaded to some strange network location in other firms’ offices. There are no online file sharing programs that need to be loaded and learned. There’s no file uploading on Fridays or downloading on Mondays and there’s no re-linking any files. The latest and greatest versions of all of your work are always accessible and up-to-date and in a single location. This greatly reduces project latency, the time it takes to share information between firms or between offices within a single firm. This is a huge win for an AEC firm. No learning curve either.
Support / Help Desk
Key benefits of the cloud:
- Support is 24 / 7 / 365
- AEC firms are deadline-driven
- IT Support for different time zones
- Great for small firms without IT staff
Finally, there’s getting help and support for technology problems. AEC firms work 24 / 7 / 365 and they need support anytime. If you are IT Staff for an AEC firm do you really want to get calls from users at 1:30 AM when they can’t plot?
AEC firms are deadline-driven, they need help at all hours of the night and on weekends. You might need to support users in different time zones. Your staff might be in the Pacific time zone and your IT support in the Eastern Time Zone. There are only a limited number of overlapping hours. A small firm might not even have an IT department or they might outsource their IT, how will they get IT support in the middle of the night, before a deadline?
At Advance2000 we understand that the AEC industry doesn’t keep normal hours. We have engineers working around the clock to address any technology issues that you might run into. We have expert support staff well versed in supporting AEC applications. We work round the clock so that you can too.
Please contact us for more information on how Advance2000 can help you transform your business.