In this article, we’ll look at some ways to get more productivity out of your calibration management software through cloud computing and other technologies.
Cloud and SaaS
Cloud computing has been a buzzword for several years and is now mainstream. Calibration management software is no exception in the trend to move business application software to the cloud.
Most people use cloud computing whether they realize it or not. If you are using Internet search engines, Web-based e-mail such as Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail, social networking systems such as Facebook and Twitter, or even online banking, then you are already using cloud computing.
Let’s take a closer look at cloud computing, how it applies to calibration management software and why it is relevant, as well as examine some of the benefits and risks of this technology.
The term cloud is just a metaphor for the Internet, which is typically drawn as a cloud shape on network diagrams. Cloud computing providers deliver various business software applications, which are most often accessed from a Web browser. The main distinction of cloud computing vs. traditional computing is that the software, data and computer processing reside on a service provider’s servers.
Much like the electric service, it can be scaled to accommodate whatever the user needs, and the provider uses whatever resources—such as coal, solar, nuclear or wind—to generate the electricity. The consumer does not need to know the technical details—he just wants his lights to go when he flicks the switch.
While there are only a handful of companies currently offering calibration management software systems that can be run through a Web-browser, there are still fewer that provide this software as a service (SaaS) through cloud computing. One of the reasons for the lack of choice is the lack of need. In a typical medium-sized manufacturing facility, there are perhaps only one or two technicians who use calibration management software. In a larger facility, there may be five to twenty users. It is not too difficult or costly to set up and maintain traditional desktop software for so few users.
With enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) software, which may have a hundred or more users in a medium-sized facility, the value proposition for cloud computing is significant since there are so many users. The effort and costs to deploy, manage and maintain desktop-based software for so many users are huge. As a result, there are many competitive choices now available for ERP and CRM cloud computing. Software giants such as IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP all have offerings for cloud computing. They know where this is trending.
As for calibration management software, a few vendors were early to market with Web-based software and have been offering solutions for more than a decade. Though market demand was initially low, there has been a slow, steady increase in demand over the years for calibration software that runs through a Web browser.
Cloud software users are happy since they can access their software from any computer that is convenient, receive automatic updates without IT involvement, and look up information while in the manufacturing plant or on the road.
Cloud computing also supports easy setup of remote-access accounts for calibration service providers to enter measurement data and calibration certificates for their clients.
There are many good reasons to go with a cloud computing software application, including:
- Cost: The service provider will host services for multiple companies. Sharing complex infrastructure is cost-efficient, and the user only pays for the services he actually uses.
- Deployment: Most basic cloud-based software deploys quickly and can be ready to use in just a few hours or a few days. For more complex software and database solutions, cloud computing allows for skipping the hardware procurement and capital expenditure phase; it is perfect for new facility start-ups, those with limited IT budgets, and organizations without in-house IT expertise. If roll-out to multiple facilities is needed, going with cloud solutions is a compelling option.
- Maintenance: Most providers constantly update their software offerings, adding new features and software patches as soon as they become available; end users and customer IT staff do not need to worry about database maintenance, backups and software updates and since the providers perform this task.
- Scalability: If a business is growing or has seasonal spikes, it can scale up quickly because cloud systems are built to cope with sharp increases in workload and in the number of users. It is just as easy to scale down when services are no longer needed.
- Mobility: Cloud services are designed to be used from a distance, so if a company has a mobile workforce, its staff will have on-the-go access to its systems.
Cloud computing also has raised some concerns. Examples of these concerns are usability, connectivity issues and security. Providers are well aware of these and continue to find ways to eliminate risks and reduce these concerns.
DaaS – Build Your Own
If you’re happy with current calibration software, but wish it could be converted to a cloud-based system, there are many Desktop as a Service (DaaS) hosting providers. DaaS allows your computer desktop and software applications to be accessed from anywhere. Your desktop becomes a virtual device that you can access securely anytime and anywhere from your tablet, laptop or smartphone.
If you just want to have mobile access to your existing calibration software from within your company’s network (wired or wireless), the easiest and free solution is to use Microsoft Remote Desktop. Once setup, you’ll be able to access your desktop computer with your smartphone, tablet or laptop. You can also setup access via the Internet, but this usually requires expertise and assistance from your company’s IT department.
While larger business software applications such as CRM and ERP already have moved to the cloud for reasons of cost efficiency, reduced maintenance costs, centralized management and easier deployment, smaller and more specialized software applications such as calibration management also are making the move for many of the same reasons. For organizations looking to upgrade or enhance their current calibration system, cloud computing is an option worth investigating for its potential benefits.
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