Cloud computing breaks through as a useful data management tool

Manufacturers are turning to cloud computing to work more effectively while saving money in the process. The cloud has the power to change the way manufacturers conduct business.


As manufacturing continues to accelerate out of the economic downturn, manufacturers across America and around the globe are shifting from mere survival mode to a more competitive approach. Companies are attempting to increase the efficiency of their processes and people, find new ways to reduce costs, and improve collaboration amongst a geographically disperse workforce and distributed supply chain -- objectives that can in part be achieved through the application of innovative technologies.

Manufacturers are turning to cloud computing to work more effectively while saving money in the process. Cloud computing essentially refers to applications and services available through the Internet, rather than stored on internal servers. If the term seems confusing, don’t worry - many of us are already playing in the cloud without knowing it. Anyone with a Web-based e-mail account such as Hotmail is using the cloud to send messages and documents, and social networks are also hosted in the cloud.

The cloud provides most of the same capabilities that engineers and office workers have traditionally employed on their desktop computers – whether computer simulation software or office productivity applications – but the software and data are stored in the cloud so that they can be accessed from anywhere at any time. The cloud has the power to change the way manufacturers conduct business; collaboration sheds the boundaries of time and geography, speeding development cycles, lowering expenses associated with everything from travel to prototyping, and enabling a much more efficient development process.

Leading this strategic transformation toward the cloud are decision makers: those who manage the IT departments of manufacturing companies, along with top executives and plant engineers who understand the value of deploying information technology for improved efficiency, cost savings and collaboration.

What IT decision makers say about the cloud

Microsoft’s “Cloud Computing as an Engine of Growth Study” examined perceptions and attitudes towards cloud computing and surveyed more than 2,000 IT decision-makers across the U.S. From this research, 57% of manufacturing IT decision makers believe that investing in IT in the next five years will increase profitability. Furthermore, 49% agreed that investing in cloud computing is an opportunity for IT to be more strategic. Two-fifths of these decision makers also felt the cloud is a way to demonstrate that a company is innovative.

The survey clearly showed IT decision makers are turning toward technology to improve collaboration, as a third of them are already employing or planning to implement cloud-based collaboration tools.

Beyond efficiency, cloud-based services offer big cost advantages, because companies pay for only the amount of services they use. Instead of buying expensive software to install on hundreds of individual computers, even if it is used only sporadically, manufacturers now can call up an application they need from the cloud when they need it and pay for only what they consume.

Moreover, when a new version of an online application is released, the cloud-based service immediately makes it available to all users, saving companies the cost of buying an upgrade, installing it and maintaining it.

Despite all these benefits, security concerns have caused some manufacturers to hold back on reaching for the cloud. Companies that operate cloud-based services, however, are focused 24/7 on maintaining optimal security. These companies operate the latest, most sophisticated data security systems, which are usually far more advanced than those that most manufacturers could afford to maintain on their own premises.

Of equal importance regarding security is the fact that employees today will always take the easiest path to collaboration. Frequently this means they are meeting with colleagues via social media sites, like Facebook or YouTube. Implementing a corporate online collaboration tool can keep such conversations and transfer of data highly secure, avoiding the risks inherent in public social sites. Companies even can create their own social networks within applications like SharePoint Online and Microsoft’s instant message/voice/video communications system, called Lync, to enable employees to continue to collaborate and socialize safely.

In Microsoft’s recent survey, 42% of IT decision makers in manufacturing companies recognized the cloud as a technology revolution, and every day more manufacturers are joining the revolution to remain competitive.

The cloud, in fact, may prove to have been the silver lining that emerged from the recent recession. Manufacturers that fail to connect with the cloud are destined to fall behind as they work to keep their heads above water using yesterday’s solutions. Those that embrace the cloud, however, are much more likely to enjoy increased profitability and industry esteem.

Craig Hodges is Microsoft’s general manager for the manufacturing industry and gathers daily feedback on technology from manufacturers across America both in person and via cloud-based communications.For further information on how to reach for the cloud, visit

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