Is Cloud-based Information Technology holding back progress for Architects?

That sounds a bit counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? There have already been great strides made by architects, engineers, and other related construction professionals to adopt cloud-based software such as Autodesk BIM360. Whilst these tools bring huge benefits, it still seems that it’s the domain of large practices and corporates. Why is that?

Well, the cost often has a lot to do with it, but that can’t be the only reason. Another factor is that these are generally very specialized applications and the whole solution only comes together when you buy in to all the separate modules like Document Management, Design, Build, Plan etc. It all adds up to a very proprietary eco-system.

A Typical Scenario

Through our work with architect practices, we often see the following scenario:

  1. Company size is often around 5-20 employees
  2. Usually, 1 or 2 lead architects that own the practice
  3. 1 head office location

As we’re all aware BIM and other industry regulations are top of mind and drive how the practice operates. There are standards to be adhered to and best practices to follow. But should this stop architects from embracing agile working and cloud solutions?

We all know that the information or data associated with a design project is vitally important and this tends to influence how a practice operates from an IT perspective. It’s often the case that a typical practice ends up using and relying on an on-premise, server-based, IT setup. This generally looks like this:

  1. 1 or 2 Central Servers located either in the office or hosted by their IT partner
  2. An office network comprising of routers, switches, infrastructure cabling etc.
  3. Server attached or Local Network-based data storage devices
  4. Expensive high-spec workstations
  5. Local printing

Is this type of setup dictated by the way a practice operates and because of the BIM standards and other regulations that need to be followed?  We would argue that it is.

Here’s what we’re often told by the Practice Manager:

  1. We’re quite tied to the office because we need to use these high-spec workstations.  It’s a bit frustrating because it means we can’t fully embrace remote or hybrid working.  Even if we do work from home or another location, we often find ourselves using a VPN or remote desktop connection so we can use the PC in the office. It adds complexity and it’s often cumbersome.
  2. Our complex data structures, which on a typical project can sometimes be 5 or 6 layers of folders and sub-folders, seems to be best suited to local storage. Because the files are usually quite large, and the naming conventions mean we have long file names, it just seems to make sense from a data access point of view.
  3. Nevertheless, this is often frustrating because searching for a specific file or trying to locate a historical piece of information can often take ages.  Furthermore, this type of structure means we must be on the ball when it comes to version control, which often leads to even more data being created.  We also struggle when more than one person wants to work on a file.
  4. We’re worried that moving to a cloud-based system would be counter-productive. We have literally tons of data. Questions will also be asked about whether we’re still adhering to standards and meeting requirements for client information retention.

Is there an alternative?

These are all very valid points and concerns. We often see practices using a setup the same or similar to the one described above.  However, at the same time they’re also using cloud-based tools such as Microsoft Office 365, because they also need to use Email and other Office applications. Is there a way to take advantage of Microsoft’s productivity suite and start adopting applications like SharePoint to address some of these issues?  After all, in most cases, the practice is already paying for this.

9 times out of 10 the main objection is the data structure and the lengthy file names. They just don’t work in SharePoint! Our partners would be reluctant to change the way we work to accommodate this. 

What if they didn’t have to? The key to solving this puzzle lies with something called Metadata.

Metadata is information about information. For example, a book’s title and author is metadata. Metadata can be many kinds of information – a location, a date, or a catalog item number. When you use SharePoint, you can manage the metadata centrally. You can organize the metadata in a way that makes sense in your practice and use the metadata to make it easier to find what you want.

So, what does this mean and how do we benefit?

By focusing on information management, its structure, and the correct use of Metadata, we can begin to see a way forward to adopting Cloud applications like SharePoint, that can add real benefit to architect practices. You can maintain the high standards of BIM and the data structures you’re used to. Even better, by utilizing SharePoint, you can now unleash additional search, and collaboration tools when working on projects. What’s more you can benefit from world-class information security within the Microsoft Azure Cloud.

Here’s just a few other bullet points that highlight the advantages of this type of approach:

  • SharePoint, Azure and the Microsoft 365 suite eliminate the need for on-premise servers and data storage.
  • New Microsoft 365 virtual PC’s and virtual desktop capabilities put an end to the high-spec PC Workstations. This means you can fully utilize this solution from any device and any location. In turn this allows you to embrace remote or hybrid working.
  • Cost saving – By adopting this type of approach you can expect future cost savings on IT hardware (procurement and maintenance), IT Support and potentially software and applications. Microsoft 365 is subscription based so you only pay for what you’re using, there are no up-front software license costs.
  • Business Productivity – We all know that architect practices are busy environments. Being able to save time through better collaboration and information management boosts productivity and stops the frustrations that can be felt when you can’t find that file you need instantly.

Does this sound like an approach that could work for you?

We’ll be upfront. This approach isn’t for everyone and it’s not as simple as transferring your data to Azure, subscribing to Microsoft 365 (if you don’t already have it) and Bob’s your uncle. To successfully implement this so a practice fully realizes all of the benefits, takes a dedicated methodical approach from both parties.

This normally can’t be achieved with your typical IT Support company because they’re too obsessed with fixing IT issues and keeping the lights on.

At Macnamara we take a different approach. We believe you deserve Information First Technology that compliments and enhances your business. We switched the focus to:

Information Management – Being able at any time to put your finger on exactly the information you need right there and then, confident everyone is working on the same versions and, even better, no worries about losing it by mistake.

Information Security – Protecting data and ensuring it’s safe from fraudsters. Too often the Information part of IT is overlooked, and security is an afterthought.

Compliant Systems & Support – Why focus on IT support and fixing issues you often didn’t even know about?  How about we just don’t have those issues in the first place.

Want to know more?

If what we’ve discussed in this blog sounds familiar and you want to know more, why not get in touch with us:

E: enquiries@macnamara-ict.co.uk

T: +44 203 4439 451

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