The Role of Cloud Computing in Commercial Property

Last Thursday I went to the London HQ of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors for the breakfast-time launch of a new RICS report on cloud computing (download; see also RICS news release) written by Andrew Waller and Bob Thompson of Remit Consulting.

Having been working in and writing about Software-as-a-Service for more than a decade, there was little about the concept that was new to me, but it was interesting nonetheless to hear some of the commercial property case studies discussed, and the RICS perspective on what cloud computing might mean for property professionals (eg: impacts on space requirements, IT costs and increased flexibility through remote working). Andrew Waller said:

“Organisations that choose to adopt these virtual IT systems will be able to reduce their running costs and smaller businesses will be able to access systems which would, otherwise, have been beyond their financial means. Furthermore, by using virtual IT systems businesses will require less floor space, as large servers are dispensed with and the smooth, reliable remote access allows a greater number of employees to work away from the office on a more regular basis.”

To explain the concept of cloud computing, Andrew used examples including Tungle, Google Docs, Expensify and Vaultium, and then mentioned some property-specific applications: Yardi, Salesforce (used by CBRE, we heard), Qube, Aperio, and Propsnap. While the industry forecasts of cloud adoption from people like Gartner were impressive (“the global market for Cloud products and services is expected to more than triple from £30 billion in 2009 to £100 billion in 2013”),* Bob sounded a note of caution, particularly in respect of bandwidth availability – this, for example, made Microsoft Office Live a disappointing experience, he said. The report also underlines the need for clarity with service level agreements with cloud service providers (something that collaboration providers in the architecture, engineering and construction space have been doing for 10 years and more, of course), and care regarding the legal jurisdictions within which data is held.

The main industry case study came from Broadgate Estates who have been using cloud computing to reduce their IT overheads and to offer a cloud-based property management service,, to its customers. There was also a contribution from the floor from The Local Data Company who use cloud services to capture, analyse, visualise and publish data on retail and leisure outlets across thousands of UK towns.

Other attendees at the event included Annie Lennox-Martin who has since written about the event for FM World‘s blog (see The dying days of IT?), suggesting the experience of facilities managers in managing outsourced services might be useful.

[* I recently read of a report from analysts TechMarketReview that suggested that Cloud computing in the UK will be worth £2.4bn this year, and is projected to be worth £10.4bn in 2014. There are also forecasts that emphasise the ‘green’ aspect, eg Pike Research’s prediction: “the adoption of Cloud computing could lead to a 38 percent reduction in energy usage in the world’s data centers by 2020”.]

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