Why Cloud-Based Solutions Are so Important to Field Service

As companies look to trim costs on information technology (IT), many are gravitating to cloud computing as a way to increase IT efficiency and economics. The field service profession, in particular, benefits from the cloud since it requires employees to work beyond the confines of an office, and often beyond the typical 9-to-5 hour workday. And, like many professions sending its employees to the field, it’s critical that they use technology that’s reliable, secure and accessible.

To meet these demands, field service professionals are looking to cloud computing as a way of helping remote workers stay connected to company data and applications from anywhere at any time.

The primary benefit of cloud computing is that it lets you increase your computing capabilities while reducing the cost of ownership associated with equipment, licenses, storage, and IT personnel. For medium to large entities, these costs of ownership include not only the hardware and software, but also the space, power, and technical support to store, run, and maintain a high-capacity cloud environment. In-house IT systems have become extremely complex and expensive to maintain, with users operating different versions of software and support across the applications.

Cloud computing reduces this complexity; it leverages a combination of on-demand and self-managed virtual infrastructure as a service. The cloud also offers the flexibility to add and remove services and users as needed. For companies without the budget to regularly upgrade hardware and software, moving to the cloud can help keep those services updated without additional costs.

What is the “cloud”?

In very general terms, cloud computing is hardware and software pooled in a hosted infrastructure provided by a vendor that can be accessed over the Internet somewhere beyond your business’s firewall (security). Typically a cloud service provider runs the Internet-based service and sells its use on a pay-per-use basis or as a subscription. These vendors offer application services or computing power to consumers, businesses or public entities.

You can access the cloud in the same way you access the Internet: via a computer, a tablet, or a handheld device that connects to the Internet. For example, if you use Web-based e-mail such as Google Mail, you are already accessing the cloud.

Cloud computing services

You can select different options when choosing a cloud service. Depending on your needs, you can choose from the following:

Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) — the cloud service provider owns and houses the infrastructure — servers, storage devices, networking components — and provides the appropriate services to users. The computing resources typically are located in large data centers owned and operated by the cloud service providers. Customers are billed based on usage.

Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) — which delivers development environments as a service. This includes all of the components required to support the life cycle of building and delivering Web applications: programming languages, testing, and debugging capabilities. Developers can build their applications, run them on the provider’s infrastructure, and then deliver the applications to their users over the Internet.

Google Apps and VMWare are examples of platform services providers.

Organizations with customized Web applications, i.e., managing payroll, can leverage PaaS so applications are run on a provider’s infrastructure, giving the organization more robust support.

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) — a central hosting service for specialized application software and its associated data, which is accessed through a Web browser. Using multitenant architecture, SaaS provides a single application to thousands of customers through their browsers.

The software runs on a cloud server, not on your local machine. This approach is extremely flexible to meet changing work demands; the load can also be shared over multiple virtual machines using load balancers to distribute the work. Examples of this type of service are customer relationship management associated with sales activities (i.e. Salesforce.com) and mobile solutions for managing fleets and mobile workforces

Trimble has found the SaaS form of cloud computing well suited to organizations with field operations such as Utilities, Telecommunications, HVAC or Fire and Security. Trimble’s cloud based services, developed for the Field Service market, allow our customers to access their account and information at any time from any computer and manage their mobile workforce in real time.

One example of a “software as a service” cloud-based application is Trimble GeoManager, which offers visibility into day-to-day fleet operations to identify, manage, and improve areas such as driver safety, customer service, back office administration, fuel use, and fleet efficiency. Companies using GeoManager have increased productivity by up to 30%, dispatch efficiency up to 60%, and cut overtime expenses up to 70% — all without a significant initial investment in their in-house computing capabilities

Getting into the Cloud

Field service companies looking to leverage the cloud to expand their services and reduce technology costs and complexity should research and select the best options, or combination of options, for their needs. Detailed suggestions and checklists for selecting a service can be found on the websites of most providers.

Points to consider are:

Type of Cloud

Generally speaking, individual users access a cloud that’s available to the general public. A business that has already invested in computing resources might create a private cloud within their own data center to use existing resources, retain system flexibility, and control security policies.

The drawback of a private cloud is that the burden of management and support stays with your company. A more logical approach may be a hybrid cloud, which is a combination of both a public and private cloud. Prices can vary among cloud types, so be sure to look into costs based on the cloud model you need.

Data Security

If you choose to outsource, it is critical that you trust your supplier. Know your organization’s security requirements and make sure the service provider can meet them. Also find out if the cloud provider is in compliance with industry standards for data security. Determine who will have access to the data and on which devices it will be stored. Will it be archived? Look at the provider’s server capability and uptime record. How does it manage and back up data, and what is its strategy for redundancy so you have round-the-clock access to your data if a cloud server goes down?

Since cloud services are accessed via Web browsers, be sure and check browser compatibility for proper display, function, and interaction among the various devices in use. Don’t forget wireless coverage and dead zones.

Using cloud computing in the field service industry — whether in-house or through a provider — allows for flexibility, security, ease of use and a lower TCO (total cost of ownership) all of which can be considerations when wanting to deploy technology. With mobile workers out in the field and the utilization of temporary or contractor workforces increasing, a dynamic cloud solution could mean a significant improvement in technology capabilities and customer service at a very attractive cost.

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