SaaS and construction collaboration in 2008 (2)

Continuing my thinking about some trends for 2008 (see yesterday’s post), here’s my next prediction….

3. Collaboration vendors to push SaaS and sustainability

Vendors of construction collaboration technologies have generally been pretty upbeat about the contribution their systems can make to helping construction project teams work more sustainably (see my first IT and sustainable construction post). The usual examples relate to:

  • reducing use of paper (printing, copying)
  • cutting transport of said paper (also paper management and storage), and
  • reducing the requirement to travel to meetings (also supporting home working).

Given the various systems’ abilities to count how many drawings and other documents they manage, it doesn’t take much to produce some impressive statistics about the potential paper savings – sometimes illustrated by reference to piles of paper X times the height of London’s Nelson’s Column or enough to cover a football pitch X times over (see this post too) – or to quantify the reduced number of drawing deliveries and the consequent impact on petrol consumption and air quality, etc.

Paper savings

For example, in my submission to the government’s consultation paper on sustainable construction, I wrote:

From January 2000 to October 2007, BIW users published 3 million original construction drawings, which were potentially distributed via 24 million copies. Similarly, 1.7 million original documents, plus 13.6 million copies, were also published.

Electronic publication and dissemination does not eliminate paper altogether; some items will still be printed out – but around 60% will not. So far as the BIW user community alone is concerned, this equates to a paper saving of around 16 million drawings and 9 million other documents – equivalent to a pile of paper 4.3km high, weighing 1700 tonnes.

Note: this is just the paper saving arising from the paper items themselves. It does not include associated transmittal notes, printing cover sheets, packaging, etc.

Insofar as I may be able to influence this trend, I will be urging fellow members of the vendors body NCCTP to collate figures for their users to improve understanding of the potential paper savings arising from employing such technologies.

SaaS and sustainability

However, as I went on to write, we could also exploit some interesting technological dimensions on sustainability that relate to SaaS provision:

Externally-hosted, web-based solutions mean no, low or lower in-house IT hosting, support and storage requirements – widespread use of SaaS applications could dramatically reduce the scale of in-house ICT resources, with a corresponding reduction in hardware, data storage, personnel, energy use and other overheads.

Of course, some may argue that out-sourcing application and data-hosting to a SaaS provider simply moves overheads elsewhere. However, SaaS providers tend to manage customers’ software and data on a multi-tenant basis (ie: sharing a common but scalable infrastructure, usually in a dedicated, secure, purpose-built facility, with multiple back-up systems). Rather than project team members running several separate hosting environments and all consuming power even when the systems are not fully utilised, the SaaS approach concentrates all the hardware and software in facilities that makes optimum use of energy to power the hardware, provide cooling, etc – “economies of scale”. Thus, while such server-farm facilities are demanding in their use of power, they will consume less energy than the end-users trying to maintain their own separate ICT infrastructures.

It is also worth considering the potential impact of web-delivered applications and data on what type of devices are used by end-users. With software and associated data sitting ‘in the cloud’ (ie: hosted on a remote server and accessed via the internet), there is less requirement for users to have large numbers of applications and related files sitting on their hard-drives. Assuming the availability and capacity of broadband connections – especially wireless (3G, GPRS, WiMax) – continues to grow, then users may start to employ simpler, smaller, lighter and more portable devices requiring less power and maintenance and which become obsolete less quickly. Such ‘thin-client’ alternatives are already less material-intensive and more energy-efficient (even allowing for the power to run the remote central servers) than conventional PCs.

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