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Contractor Software in the Cloud: What are the Benefits?
by Sheldon Needle, CEO/Founder of CTSGuides.com

Since there is so much being published nowadays comparing cloud vs. on-premise for contractor software, I thought I would revisit some of the topics for clarification purposes. Here are some significant comparison points that many people miss due to misinformation by some vendors.

cloud computing Many folks assume that if software is delivered via the cloud, it is SaaS – Software as a Service – which means that you don’t own it; you subscribe to it. But cloud-based software need not be subscription-based software. You can own licenses to cloud software just like the software you buy in a box at a store.

So “SaaS” refers primarily to the way you pay for the software you use – renting versus owning. SaaS software is also associated with certain methods of deployment. With SaaS you do not have the option of hosting the software yourself on your own web server, and SaaS software is usually hosted for you in a “multi-tenant” environment. That means that you share computing resources – processors, memory, etc. – with some unknown number of other companies. For some applications that’s just fine. But for mission-critical enterprise software that’s running your business, you likely want to have more control over the computing resources at your disposal.

The good news is that you can still own cloud software licenses and even host and deploy your own cloud software on your own hardware if you don’t want to have it hosted for you remotely. Cloud software just means that the software applications and the hardware to run it are centrally located, and that users can access it from just about any device without worrying about the specifications of the device or loading any special software to access the cloud-based applications. Either way, it still delivers the “any device, anywhere” benefits of true cloud-based software.

And this is a key distinction. Some enterprise construction software systems are still fundamentally designed for the traditional model of having software loaded on both the server and all the client devices, and of using a proprietary (e.g., MS Windows) operating system to access the user interface. This allows for remote access to software but it means that the client devices need to have access software loaded and the user interface expects that the user is accessing the applications on a traditional PC.

The bottom line is that if you are interested in cloud-based software, then make sure the software vendor has actually designed (or re-designed) their software specifically to accommodate cloud computing. That means software that a user can access by picking up virtually any device, wherever they are working, launching a web browser, and going to work. No strings attached.

Drill downs and document management for contractor software

State of the art software should provide the ability to see summary data by job, phase and cost code from a dashboard, or any report, with drill downs to underlying transactions and associated documentation. The document management component also pertains to project management where documents that are created as digital image, such as change orders, submittals, POs, etc. can be assigned to jobs through drag and drop. The system will then concentrate all the documents for a job in one place for access, almost like an electronic file folder.

Some high end products, take a different approach to navigating through various functions. Traditional hierarchical menus are being replaced by the ability to directly access any function whether it be data entry, reporting/queries, managing or responding to workflow alerts and more through a grid. As an example, if you choose to do a custom query or report, you simply go to the grid with all the current job data and quickly sort, filter and select what you want to see. This is accomplished with a drag and drop of transactions grouped and sorted by any relevant piece of data. This could be job, phase, cost type and any related data for job activity – documentation, PO’s issued, inventory assigned and so on. You have instant access and the ability to create your custom query much faster than using traditional menus.

Mobility through integrated apps

Some construction software offer apps for specific transactions that lend themselves to abbreviated data entry. A good example is logging in field labor through a remote iPhone, Android, or tablet device. Each employee has his own dashboard and kiosk to track current and historical data for any job or activity in any format needed. This can be done online or offline and kick off workflow where data collected is routed for office approval.

Making menus obsolete

A big hurdle to making the most of enterprise software is often the sheer complexity and scope of the applications. And nowhere is this more evident than in trying to navigate through multiple hierarchies of menu structures to find that input screen, report, or form you need. Some vendors have added an ever-present intuitive and intelligent “Info-bar” with information and navigational choices that are relevant to the work they are doing. For example, if you pull up a subcontract, the Info-bar automatically pulls up information on the related vendor and presents you with task and navigational options that relate to subcontract management.

Work Flow

All transactions are subject to flowing through the system in a way that fits your business processes. A classic example, is to create a PO or an invoice, and then route it for approval by all required parties. The workflow appears as an alert in a special approval inbox. It can be approval or rejected as necessary.

Use of tabs

Following Windows conventions, once a function is selected, tabs for each transaction or app appear at the top of screen. This means, of course, that navigation from one functional item to another only requires one click instead of the usual two or more in most systems. An adjunct to this is the Intelligent Information Bar which anticipates what you might want to do based on the recent workflows and shows related options.

Summary

Larger construction enterprise software vendors and others are leveraging technology and their expertise in the construction industry to greatly advance the utility of their software for the benefit of contractors. Prospects can learn a lot about what can be done with a state of the art software solution by checking out high end mid-market solutions that offer capabilities through a browser-based or web-enabled solutions.


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