They’re here. The mavens of technology have arrived to tell us that, once again, we must move on to the next great thing. According to them, web-based software is the path to the future. The “cloud” is where we now must compute, write, schedule, calculate and present.
The “cloud.” It sounds cool, mystical and reassuring. Some have called it metaphysical. The word makes me imagine elf-sized tech wizards flying around on huge clouds, collecting and guarding our data.
Back in the real world, it’s much more down to earth than that. Simply put, the cloud is composed of thousands of buildings all over the world, each housing thousands of computers that we can connect to through the Internet. So what’s the point? How does the cloud benefit us?
What does it do?
When the cloud is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is storage, and it seems like everyone is jumping on the cloud-storage bandwagon. Amazon, Apple, Dropbox, Google, Microsoft and many more offer cloud storage. Some of these services also offer features beyond file storage, including email, word processing and spreadsheets.
Why should I store files in the cloud when I have plenty of room on my own computer? One reason is sharing, both with myself and other people. For instance, I started this article on the computer in my office, using a cloud-based program. Right now I’m on the road, finishing this article on a tablet. Many cloud-storage services are free for moderate amounts of data, and more space is available for a fee.
The ability to run software in the cloud is perhaps more important than storage. Running programs in the cloud is also called software as a service (SaaS) or web-based software.
There are several reasons this is an attractive solution. First, when your software and its related data reside in the cloud, you can use it anywhere you have an Internet connection. This gives a whole new meaning to bringing your work with you. If you really want to take a vacation, make sure you go somewhere without Internet access. The flip side is that, if you do want to work, and you do not have access to the Internet, you can’t use your cloud-based software.
Another benefit of web-based software is that it enables multiple users in different locations to work on the same project simultaneously.
Cloud computing also relieves you of the responsibility to maintain and update your hardware and software. The cloud-based software administrator handles these tasks. All you need is a basic computer with Internet access.
There are other ways to accomplish remote access to your office estimating program, such as Windows’ Terminal Server. However, the use of these types of remote-access systems means you remain responsible for your hardware and software maintenance.
There are some concerns about the use of web-based systems. How secure is data in the cloud? Can it be lost? Who is looking at your data? Who owns your data? What can you do when the Internet goes down? These are important questions to be answered before you fully commit to a cloud-based system.
The electrical cloud
So when will cloud-based software be available for electrical estimating? It already is. Several companies offer web-based systems for takeoff and estimating, with more coming in the near future. One forward-thinking company made cloud-based electrical estimating a reality 10 years ago. I spoke to representatives from two of the cloud-based systems and found that these are full-featured offerings, each with their own set of tools designed to enhance your estimating experience. I also learned some systems create a database just for your company and allow you to customize it as needed for your requirements.
My conclusion? If you need to be able to estimate from multiple locations and want to keep your IT costs down, a cloud-based estimating system may work for you. As usual, ensure you perform a thorough examination of the systems you are interested in before committing.
About The Author
CARR has been in the electrical construction business since 1971. He started Carr Consulting Services—which provides electrical estimating and educational services—in 1994. Contact him at 805.523.1575 or [email protected], and read his blog at electricalestimator.wordpress.com.