Business Survival: Working on the Cloud

Bad weather is what finally convinced Allyn Harth, CR, CKBR, and co-owner of Harth Builders in Spring House, Pa., to switch from paper documentation of everything business-related to the cloud. “We used to have physical copies, but we were flooded out of here a couple years ago and we lost data for a while,” he recalls. “Some of our data hadn’t been backed up because it hadn’t been entered yet, so we got into a real dilemma at that point.”

Although the weather may have convinced Harth and his son, Gregory, who co-owns the company, to go digital, the convenience and efficiency of working on the cloud have convinced him that it was the right move. “No question that it’s much more efficient. And yes, there’s a cost involved but you’ve got to look at the time it has saved,” Harth says. “It helps us keep up with people who don’t want things tomorrow — they want it yesterday.”

The cloud, for those who might not be familiar, is a term used to describe digital storage provided by an internet service. Some of the best-known companies that have such storage services are Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Flickr and Apple. The cloud was devised to eliminate the need for physical pieces of hardware that store information, like a floppy disk or hard drive. Another main feature of cloud services is that anyone can access the information stored on it anytime, anywhere, which is one of the leading conveniences for his company, Harth says.

“We use our calendar, which everyone has access to, for all our appointments. This way we don’t make an appointment for the conference room or with somebody else without seeing if they’re available,” he explains. “Whether it’s a designer meeting somebody in a showroom or an architect meeting a client, everyone is color-coded so you can see just by looking at the colors who has an appointment.”

Harth Builders provides all its employees with smartphones so they can always be reached by email or have access to office information in the palm of their hands. The smartphones also have the dual purpose of being used for punching a time clock and tracking data for time spent on jobsites and different types of work, which provides better accuracy for estimating purposes.

Of course, Harth says, there’s a learning curve involved. “Probably the biggest concern is cost and also the learning curve. Older generations probably have a bigger learning curve than the younger ones who adapt to [a digital lifestyle] pretty quickly. Younger generations just kind of grew up with [technology]. Me? I had to catch up with it,” he says.

The company is still working out a few minor kinks with the cloud, like finding software that would allow subcontractors limited access to the server. Harth explains that the company is always looking for new uses for the cloud. Company designers use the cloud on iPads during client meetings, but Harth and his son are looking into applying these same tools to sales portfolio presentations.

The only trouble Harth recalls was a problem with the server the company initially used. The local server company did not have enough capacity for a growing business such as Harth Builders, which left father and son flustered. “Who do you switch to? How do you know who’s a good server? And what are their rates?” Harth asked. “We had to make some phone calls and network with other contractors to get the answer.”

Since the server problem was resolved, working on the cloud has been a fairly painless transition for Harth and his company. “The cloud is the cloud, and we’re beaming up to it instead of being tucked away in some server on land,” he says. “It’s probably much more trouble-free and, in many ways, the cloud is a better system.”