Cloud computing, which allows businesses to avoid infrastructure costs through storing and accessing data and programs via the internet, has become a natural fit for many waste and recycling companies.
They are often complex operations with transport, treatment and administration taking place simultaneously in multiple locations. While traditional systems can connect them, cloud computing controls and co-ordinates them far more effectively with greater speed, flexibility and security.
The ‘cloud’ name, unfortunately, suggests something fluffy and unsubstantial so was not taken seriously at first by many businesses. It is understandable that people found it difficult to trust the idea that their business data was stored who knows where, on who knows what, by who knows who. The world has changed. The price, service, scale and security of global cloud services from the likes of Amazon, Microsoft and Google has made cloud computing affordable and attractive to our industry across the board. Most of the major environmental companies are embracing it already and many larger regional companies are following suit. They are doing this because it takes away a lot of the cost, risk, hassle and staffing needed to run IT operations. Along with mobile communications, it can significantly improve efficiency and create commercial opportunities.
The basic advantages of cloud computing are that it can hold, access and manage the increasing volumes of data and programs needed to run our companies in a much more efficient way (see box). In addition to these basic benefits, there are less obvious advantages that can be more important to waste management organisations in the long term:
- Cloud computing offers the ability to scale up a business without having to replace local servers and disks. You just dial up (or down) the amount of space and processing power you need.
- If customers are altering their habits, legislation forces change or competitors threaten, the cloud enables rapid response.
- It also helps with innovation. The combination of cloud computing with mobile and the next step of the ‘Internet of Things’ will create new ways to do business. We see these already with data collected directly from vehicles and bins being used to optimise performance and support customer service applications.
But moving on to the cloud is not without its challenges. The historical gap in waste and recycling software means that many companies today have software developed in-house specifically for their business. Moving these applications to exploit fully the benefits of cloud computing can be expensive, requiring substantial investment in people, tools and time.
One approach favoured by cost-conscious waste management companies is to introduce cloud-based applications in a phased manner where they can add most value. This provides the dual benefit of access to the cloud coupled with the latest and most powerful software and applications. Mobile is here to stay and the cloud is on the horizon, if not already overhead. For those businesses looking to improve performance and control future costs against what continues to be a challenging economic backdrop, putting your head in the cloud can make sound commercial sense.
Key advantages of the cloud
- Cost – replace capital investment in ever-changing hardware with a monthly charge for your entire system. It is also eliminates the waste of under-used servers. On the cloud you pay only for what you use.
- Risk – holding business-critical data on premises is open to loss from theft, fire, damage or hardware failure. Data loss or corruption from human error is also eliminated; the cloud holds multiple copies but only one version of the truth.
- Access – combined with the mobile internet, the cloud allows business to be done just about anywhere, anytime. This means faster issue resolution, better route management and driver control plus improved marketing and sales.
- People – less IT infrastructure means fewer such personnel as your business grows. And cloud-based systems and mobile internet mean every employee, wherever they are located, can generate more value for the business.
- Conformance – keeping up to date on recording requirements, financial reporting and other legislation is a lot easier on the cloud. Your application software supplier can do it without local office updates and upgrades.
Allan Davies is the chief marketing officer for AMCS