By some accounts, moving your construction communication and collaboration to the cloud is more secure than locking it behind a server on premises. At least that’s how Derrick Martin, technology architecture consultant for Slalom Consulting describes it. The company supports the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite, a SaaS offering that includes hosted Exchange 2010, Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 and Windows SharePoint Services 3.0.

“Microsoft put a fantastic amount of time and resources into attaining federal security certifications so the hosted Exchange environment that allows you to have Outlook and Exchange means your company’s data is sitting in an environment that can have multiple federal certification standards,” explained Martin in an exclusive interview. “So increasing security by leveraging the cloud is one of the very first things that we talk to clients about because it is absolutely the case that when you are able to hand a customer federal certification saying (their data) is secure, not only do they know where their data is but they also know who has access.”

Beyond the security though, Martin also points out some significant savings companies may find from SaaS, claiming the total cost of ownership inside the cloud is 60 to 70 percent less than having the same software and data storage on site. He says that even a modest on-premises collaboration environment can cost anywhere from $20 to $30 per month, per user in total cost of ownership. However, by harnessing the cloud, companies can reduce those expenses to $5 to $10 per month, per user. That’s significant even for small companies. The move also increases return on investment (ROI) because the expense moves from capital expenditures to operational expenditures.

“Now it’s just an operational expense so your ROI has gone up and you also have increased your security footprint giving you a much more robust, secure environment from which to operate,” Martin said. “It cuts legal costs, overhead, hardware expense, software expense, staff, and down time – if email is not available, money is being lost.”

Many small construction shops don’t have the expertise to maintain an Exchange environment. Maintaining an Exchange server, maintaining all the availability, the firewalls, the Internet connections, provisioning, storage, handling the backups –  all require significant amounts of time and training, Meanwhile, email is a critical function in any industry, and it must be available. Martin maintains these server environments are not only difficult to maintain, but costly as well.

“It doesn’t matter of you’re a five person shop or a five-million person shop those environments are very complicated to maintain,” he said. “Gartner released a study showing that on average, the maintenance of an on-premises collaboration environment costs around $33 per user, per month. That takes into account the power, the time it takes to patch the servers, the licensing fees and the backups.” He also points out the cloud is much simpler and in most cases it’s a matter of pointing, clicking and provisioning.

By leveraging things like the experience and capacity and redundancy of the cloud, small to medium sized AEC businesses, without great expense, can have all of the same tools and high value infrastructure that the big players have.

Leveraging the cloud as a data repository also increases the opportunities for collaborating with partners, subs, owners and vendors.

“By leveraging the cloud to be the data repository you then enable a federation model where vendors and customers and suppliers can gain access to data without being routed through your firewall,” said Martin. “So you can make your information available in a targeted way to others who may need access to it, and in a way that will allow them to maintain a very high degree of security.”

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