Sept/Oct 2014

You have heard the term; now create a plan for the cloud in your business.

Back in late 2008, Gartner, www.gartner.com, Stamford, Conn., made a pretty bold prediction when it identified the top 10 strategic technologies for 2009. The analyst firm suggested cloud computing—which wasn’t as widely known at the time—could have a significant impact on the enterprise in the next three years. While the term quickly became one of the most popular buzzwords around the IT office cooler, understanding the cloud and its role in an organization quickly became one of the chief challenges in the years that followed.

At that time, Gartner defined the cloud as a style of computing that characterizes a model in which providers deliver a variety of IT-enabled capabilities to customers. Characteristics include: delivery of capabilities “as a service;” delivery of services in a highly scalable and elastic fashion; using Internet technologies to deliver services; and designing for delivery to customers.

What came next was a slew of software providers coming to market with technology that was offered in the “cloud,” allowing construction companies the ability to access traditional software applications in new ways. The challenge is software providers used the term “cloud” to describe different capabilities. Some used the term to indicate the software could be purchased ‘as a service’—rather than hosting within a construction company’s own four walls. Other tech providers use the term as a way of saying the software could now simply be accessed via the Web.

What’s more, consultants, analysts, and industry professionals added to the ambiguity by developing their own definition and interpretations of the cloud. The result in the years to follow was confusion on the part of construction companies, as to what the cloud is and what it really means for business.

Jump to 2014 and the cloud is a widely used term, but not widely understood, which could cause some hesitancy to adopt. The recent Workflow Optimization Study by Canon U.S.A, www.usa.canon.com, Melville, N.Y., shows IT professionals and other executives have widely different views on cloud. In the survey, a majority of IT decision makers believe the cloud is a very important investment for running business more effectively, while non-IT executives are less likely to view operational importance. Overall, 59% of those surveyed say employees access documents stored in the cloud.

While this particular study shows there is a disconnect between IT and other executives when it comes to initiatives such as cloud, mobile, and document workflow, the underlying challenge is the ambiguity surrounding the cloud.

Jeremy Sibert, director of technology, Hensel Phelps, www.henselphelps.com, Greeley, Colo., agrees, saying there is a gap between IT and others when it comes to the cloud. “Most of our business users, cloud to them is marketing. For the most part it is a buzzword. Everybody has to do it. Everybody has to say it,” he says. “We try to funnel all that branding into this thing called Mio. That was really a way to try to better communicate a concept to our partners as well as our employees.”

What is needed, according to Sibert, is a standard definition of the cloud that can be understood by all parties involved within a business. Enter NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology), www.nist.gov, Gaithersburg, Md. With cloud computing being an evolving paradigm, the organization created a definition of cloud computing in an effort to help all parties involved understand the cloud. The definition characterizes aspects of the cloud and is intended to serve as a means for comparisons of cloud services and deployment strategies.

“The whole NIST standard is something that we talk about a lot more internally and even driving just a better framework of understanding, what it means, and what it means to us delivering the cloud,” says Sibert.

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