Why the Cloud Works for Workflow
Most of the jobs we do require discrete steps, accomplished incrementally over a period, veering from time to time based on input, changes in the environment, and the whims of human nature. (I hate when that human nature thing kicks in.)
We receive information and data from various sources while we do our work and hopefully the information is correct, timely, understandable and in a usable form. Without “good data” we may not be able to complete our tasks, or perhaps we accomplish our work but with erroneous or sub-optimal conclusions or production.
The Source of the Information
So, the quality of our work is highly correlated to the quality of the information we receive in terms of accuracy and timing. Access to better, more timely, more usable data are, in general, better, and, in general, improves our performance. Over time our access to information has substantially improved from basic paper files, to digital files, to analytics, and now to big data and artificial intelligence. But some of this information is still delayed or not readily available simply because of our location. This is where the cloud comes in.
The Cloud, the Perfect Facilitator
Discussions by sales professionals, by quality assurers or by technicians, not at their desks have been hampered by the lack of instant information (from here on out referred to as real-time information or data). Whether getting to the files, finding the right files, or having confidence you’re working with the most current files, or experiencing long download periods, there has been hurdles to having the right information at-hand at the right time.
Given the ubiquity of the internet and highly improved connection speeds, the use of cloud applications can now overcome these hurdles, making real-time information not only a reality but an expectation. This also means there are no physical barriers anymore; getting access anytime, from anywhere is now available. So, for example, completing forms or reviewing drawings and documents while in the field or on the production floor no longer a) requires you to return to the office and enter information, and b) allows for real-time conversations using real-time images, audio and even virtual presentations.
The cloud now allows for participants in many daily workflows to share information, collaborate and approve/revise in real time as opposed to moving forms, having meetings, or entering data into legacy systems to process. The use of video, audio, and still pictures at the time of a conversation or review can add considerable additional understanding and improves the outcomes, as well as increases overall productivity. As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
Because the cloud is omnipresent we gain the capability of interacting in real time, whether across locations or even between floors within a building, giving us visibility into task assignments and completion, on a minute-by-minute basis.
Security in the Cloud
One of the biggest objections to using cloud-based applications is the seemingly inherent security vulnerability perceived by many organizations. Though there is certainly a lot of news of “bad guys” doing “bad things” on the internet, the perception is actually uncalled for. Much like people who feel flying is less safe than being in a car, most malicious activity in businesses happens within the company’s network and servers. The benefits of improved information distribution and collaboration far outweighs the potential security risks.
Using cloud-based workflow solutions adds the ability to manage access control by user role, location and project. Not that this could not be done with an on-premise application, but many of the existing home-grown systems were built before much of the security intrusion efforts started and are not as secure as more modern-day cloud infrastructure.
Consumer-based Cloud Systems
Unfortunately, several workflow applications are using consumer-based Cloud systems to store their documents and drawings given they are low cost or no cost. But for workflow solutions, ensuring the correct versions are clearly available and back versions are restricted is not only a necessity but an imperative. Using wrong versions of documents or drawings often cost “real” money. Consumer based systems only provide rudimentary access control (e.g., defining what folders a user has access to), and version control. Especially for drawing management, where minor versioning, major versioning, markup and redlining, real-time collaboration, and viewing of native CAD files is needed, only commercial-based systems are adequate.
Commercial document-centric workflow systems in the Cloud are a great way to improve information distribution, collaboration, accuracy and even security. Getting real-time data, including video and audio, improves the velocity and outcomes of decision making using the very data sets your organization already maintain. Add improved security and productivity and the combination provides “a better way” of doing business. For organizations with legacy systems based on existing on-premise solutions it’s time to create a plan to slowly phase-in cloud-based workflow systems and start gaining these benefits.
Scott Brandt is President and CEO of eQuorum, provider of one of the first engineering workflow SaaS systems.