Driving Cloud Collaboration

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There’s never been a time when so many people have needed to work remotely as during the COVID-19 pandemic. But even once lockdown restrictions are lifted, many executives plan to continue support for remote work in many business areas. But before these changes can happen for AEC firms, they must find the right combination of tools and culture to truly embrace remote collaboration and ensure ongoing employee productivity—wherever they work.

The workplace shutdown happened so suddenly that it initially made sense for IT teams to try to leverage their existing technologies like VPNs, on-premises VDI, or sending laptops and workstations home to provide access to additional users. But these technologies were designed to address specific workloads and they don’t scale effectively, resulting in poor performance for end users. Increasing investment to expand these technologies doesn’t make sense in the long term, when it’s likely some percentage of the workforce will return to the office. IT leaders are also reevaluating remote work in the context of serious IP security concerns and data management challenges.

The Pandemic Exposes Legacy Weaknesses

In the AEC industry in particular, it’s critical and yet extremely difficult to collaborate in real time across disparate teams. Whether employees and contractors work from home, the firm’s headquarters location, a branch office, or a project site, the reality is that people are more mobile. They need to be able to work anywhere and collaborate effectively with project teams. The old-school way of replicating multi-terabytes of data across multiple branch offices for geographically dispersed teams is prohibitively expensive and unsustainable.

But all is not lost. Organizations can create a common data environment that will enable new levels of collaboration, productivity, and agility. Below are some key best practices that organizations can implement toward this end.

A Transformation, Not Just a New Tool

Cloud desktops and GPU workstations have the potential to transform AEC firms. They empower users to access their Windows 10 desktop, files, and business apps in the cloud, from a variety of devices. Cloud desktops drive the kind of transformation that creates new possibilities for growth. They can give companies greater agility to respond to new opportunities while providing exceptional performance—sometimes better than a physical desktop.

Cloud desktops make remote work easy, and they can be activated in minutes and used during a business disruption to ensure continuity. They also improve collaboration within enterprises and across joint venture project teams, improving time to market, product quality, and customer outcomes. This all adds up to a powerful transformation that creates the potential for new opportunities, competitive advantage, and business growth.

One of the factors in favor of cloud desktops is the fact that deploying them now is more than just a short-term strategy to get you through the pandemic. Some DIY approaches to remote desktops can be less reliable, and the performance can be dissatisfying for users, so it’s wise to choose carefully and take a long-term view. The most important thing for IT teams to learn as you navigate your way through this current crisis is that cloud desktops represent a new and better way to manage your “everyday” desktops and workstations.

Another plus for cloud desktops is their ability to make your business continuity and disaster recovery execution better, today and for whatever lies ahead. Organizations can create pools of “standby” cloud desktops that are always kept up to date but are not activated until the IT team deems it necessary.

Case Study 1: No Business Disruption

The engineering firm Wood Rodgers was growing quickly and was looking for a way to accommodate the firm’s rapid expansion. They needed greater flexibility to onboard new people without having to incur the expense of adding IT infrastructure and resources for remote offices. The team was also forward-thinking about their need to provide remote working capabilities to their geographically dispersed engineering and field technician groups for improved workflow processes.

Wood Rogers soon realized as they began evaluating virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solutions that the biggest challenge to providing remote workspaces for their users was their use of extremely demanding software applications, such as AutoCAD, Civil 3D, ArcGIS and BST Global. Critical to success would be uncompromising application performance, regardless of where work was being conducted. They considered an on-premises VDI solution as well as a third-party managed service provider (MSP) approach, but high costs ruled out those options.

Wood Rodgers underwent a proof of concept before rolling out production cloud workstations to engineers in six of their eight offices. This initial deployment was their original plan, but it would quickly change direction due to COVID-19.

When the pandemic struck, due to Wood Rodgers’ foresight, they found themselves in an enviable position of immediately ensuring that their employees could stay safe by working remotely. This involved simply increasing the number of cloud workstations and cloud desktops to cover the rest of their staff, company-wide, and sending them home to work from any device. The result is that the firm is able to continue business operations without disruption while continuing to deliver customer projects on time or sooner.

Case Study 2: Accelerating Response and Project Deliverables

Southland Industries is one of the nation's largest mechanical, engineering, and plumbing (MEP) building systems experts. After struggling to replicate and maintain massive amounts of project data across 17 locations, Southland’s IT team realized their current approach was no longer sustainable. They had reached a crossroads: either invest more in data center infrastructure or completely change their approach.

While this was the most urgent problem to be solved, significant business challenges, including the rising cost of pursuing new opportunities where they did not already have an office location, as well as the complexity of joint venture operations, also demanded attention and action.

Southland conducted intensive engineer acceptance testing of cloud workstations before rolling out the solution to designers and BIM managers. They replaced their physical GPU workstations with cloud GPU workstations and also introduced cloud workstations into joint venture projects for simplicity and scalability.

Once this solution was deployed, multiple companies were able to work on the same data set. And, Southland was able to share data with the various partners it was working with on any given project, including subcontractors.

As a result of implementing cloud desktops, Southland was able to rapidly respond to changing business and project dynamics. The company’s employees could be productive anywhere, with improved performance, and project teams could now collaborate in real time on complex designs. This also simplified disaster recovery planning and reduced the associated costs.

Agility for Whatever Lies Ahead

Many business insights have come about as a result of the pandemic. For instance, organizations that were worried that working remotely would decrease employee productivity found out that’s not the case. In fact, productivity has increased in many instances. Another insight results from the first one: to maintain the same or greater productivity, organizations—and especially AEC firms—must support and expand collaborative capabilities.

Traditional VDI was a good idea that could never quite deliver on its promise. It was too expensive and complex for too little return in terms of performance. Today’s AEC firms need a virtual desktop experience that is available 24/7 and enables greater efficiency and collaboration while still being affordable and manageable. Cloud desktops deliver on this need with performance that is sometimes better than a desktop PC, and greater agility, too. If they are configured properly, they also offer better security and disaster recovery to assist with business continuity.

These benefits all add up to competitive advantage. You will be able to continue working on projects and collaborating with joint ventures while your competitors scramble for solutions when the next emergency strikes. Cloud desktops offer much more than a short-term fix for crises. They have proven themselves to be a business enabler in bad times and in good.

Brad leads marketing strategy and operations for the company’s vision of securely delivering desktops, workstations, and apps from 50 regions of Microsoft Azure around the world. Previously, Brad was vice president of Marketing at DocuSign (IPO), the global leader in eSignature and Digital Transaction Management. Before DocuSign, Brad worked with Citrix for almost a decade where he built the global EBC program, produced solutions videos driving millions in pipeline, and was a regular keynote speaker for Citrix and partner events globally.