I've Looked at Clouds From Both Sides Now ...

John Held , 9 April 2014

John Held considers the opportunities and costs of cloud computing in small practice.

Mostly we just want to be architects. But, to do so we need to understand and be able to use technology. So our practice has been on a journey for a long time now – buying software and servers and all the stuff needed to produce pretty good coordinated BIM models.

We are a small office but with inhouse expertise and really good technical support our system is predictable and reliable. Our ADSL connection is a bit creaky but it has survived until now. But the impact of cloud computing on architect’s offices like ours is both an opportunity and a threat.

The opportunities are becoming apparent. More functions and add-ins to our BIM package, which used to be sold separately, are now available on the cloud. We can do reasonable renders in the cloud during a client meeting. We can use cloud-based collaborative BIM tools see daily rather than weekly updates of the integrated model. We can catch errors more quickly and be more productive. Soon we think we will be able to license the major software on a short-term basis. Perhaps we can even recover some of the licensing costs from the client!

Then Rob, our amazing tech support person, tells us that when our server dies, we won’t be able to replace the Small Business Server software because it’s been discontinued. We will probably need to go to cloud-based email – good in theory, but is it reliable? Where will our files be? Will down-time be out of our control? (Don’t even think about the security issues around US-based servers). Our humble internet connection starts to look inadequate. NBN? Not likely in inner suburban Adelaide!  Extreme SDSL? Maybe, at ten times the cost of what we are paying.

I have always been in awe of farmers who think nothing of paying half-a-million dollars for a new combine harvester. Traditionally architects just needed a drawing board – we have never had to invest major capital and overheads in equipment. Maybe that’s about to change. The cloud has the potential to alter the way we do things. It could mean more meaningful collaboration and better designs and a happier client. But the silver lining? Someone will be paying for it.

John Held is a director of Russell & Yelland and President of ACA – SA.