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Get ahead in the cloud

20 December 2012

How will facilities management be affected by the rise of cloud computing? A new White Paper offers some insights

Cloud computing is one of the most widely used buzzwords in the technology market place 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 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 as it’s often abbreviated) before affordable, ubiquitous broadband wasn’t really a viable option. However, once the faster IT infrastructure was readily available, the business case was indisputable. Cost savings, specialist infrastructure management, scalability and the corresponding business benefits, have led to considerable success for the Cloud because it creates genuine commercial value.

FM has followed suit because the benefits are quantifiable. Here are a few top-line advantages:
First it moves server management from an in-house IT team to an outsourced specialist, which speeds up the procurement process for purchasing FM software as well as the implementation process.

A Cloud solution shifts the cost of FM software from capital to operational expenditure.

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 not just at their desk (i.e. walking around a building, or on their way home from work). People on the move can be alerted to issues and they can seamlessly look at details on a mobile device. The Cloud and mobile technologies complement each other to give facilities managers the best of both worlds. The reality is that, it’s a seamless user experience and the place of work is no longer important.

Many believe that Cloud computing will increase FM software use dramatically. Particularly for smaller organisations, where they have a need for FM software but can’t justify the capital expenditure; by moving to operational cost it can fall within an FM’s budgetary sign-off. So the procurement process becomes simpler.

Once the decision has been made, 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 for FM software should also boost an FM’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 FM software providers to fine tune, maintain and upgrade the software centrally so all adjustments and improvements are felt immediately. As a result, the Cloud model enhances the user’s experience overall.

In many instances the essential structure and functionality of the system will be the same as a premises-based FM system application but using Cloud technology most of the processing is handled offsite. 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. Previously, opening a new office or even moving desks would have involved moving connections and phone points. An entirely Cloud-based set-up using WiFi means other than the furniture, nothing has to change.

Risk management and security
Risk management is an important element of any new technology. If you move to the Cloud, it’s essential to understand that the physical safeguards businesses have had in place will no longer be there, and a new set of security precautions need to be replicated or replaced (or even improved upon) by the new Cloud provider.

Don’t forget also that your Cloud provider is a business in its own right and may one day be acquired or in the worst case go down completely. You need to know what happens to your information in these circumstances. Regulatory compliance remains your duty.

Security is one of the major concerns of people new to Cloud computing. It’s therefore essential to select the right Cloud partner, and that’s someone who can tell you what happens when something goes wrong.

One financial services company had an issue with its Cloud infrastructure when a workman broke through the main data cable. There was no resilience in the system and it resulted in an unacceptable down time. Another organisation found that its Cloud provider was in the Lake District and when there were issues with flooding found that its backups were inadequate.

The key questions to ask include:

? Are you aware of/compliant with current British data protection legislation?
? What industry ISO certifications do you have and how often are they renewed?
? What are the terms of your Service Level Agreement (SLA) – assuming no system can be running 100% of the time, how much time do we actually get?
? What support level is provided - 24/7, online, email, phone?
? What physical security measures do you have at the data centre?
? Are your data centres located in the UK? (Please note, data centres located in other countries will have to comply with the data regulations in those countries)
? Can we visit your premises to see where our data is being stored?
? How will you segregate our data from other organisations?
? What hardware redundancy do you offer? (i.e. servers, firewalls, network switches, etc.) – In other words, if our systems fail on your current servers can you turn some more on very quickly?
? Do you have backup miles away from your everyday systems (i.e. what is your disaster recovery offer?) – so if there were to be an earthquake, accident or fire at your premises would our business still work?
? Do you have multiple internet service providers (i.e. so there is not one single point of failure)
? Are there any penetration tests carried out and how often? (A penetration test, is a method of evaluating the security of a computer system by simulating a cyber attack or similar)

Paying for the Cloud
There are different models of payment for Cloud computing. One of the most common is charging on a utility basis which works like any other metered utility. Utility computing can be an advantageous method of managing the costs when less 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).

So far most of the focus of this article has been around the reduction in IT costs whilst sustaining the resource. There is also the boost that comes from any system upgrade happening externally and without the need for downtime.

The cost benefits and flexibility are likely to make compelling arguments for Cloud’s adoption by facilities management. This reflects a wider trend of organisations scaling up and scaling down on demand, which in turn has its implications for the FM community.

There are many major practicalities to consider before adopting Cloud technology. The key question is two-fold: firstly, is Cloud a good idea for your business in general; and secondly will it help facilities management in particular?

There are clear business benefits to Cloud technology, beyond the obvious cost savings. These include:

? Working where you need to – with a tablet or Smartphone where necessary
? Working in real time – your information is uploaded to a Cloud system immediately so your colleagues can start working on it in your absence
? Flexibility of location – open a new office, work remotely for a day, it won’t matter
There are practical considerations too. What sort of Cloud fits your organisation best – private, public, hybrid? Do you want to put the whole of your infrastructure or just some apps into the Cloud – should you pilot the idea first (in a substantial organisation this will be essential) and do you have to re-skill your IT workforce beforehand? These are not drawbacks but necessary steps. They will help ensure the rewards outlined above.

Cloud is making huge strides in the consumer market as individuals get used to working on a remote computer from their own, using a browser as a portal. The business case is clear and it’s catching up in both the enterprise and the smaller business – it’s time to make sure your business isn’t the last to gain the benefits.

This article is based on the White Paper ‘FM in the Cloud’, produced by Service Works Group. For a complimentary copy please email providing your full contact details.

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