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This Cloud really does have a silver lining

By Gareth McAlister

As even a cursory glance at the business headlines will highlight, times are difficult in the manufacturing sector.

At a time when manufacturing is focusing on exporting, cutting costs and improving efficiency, it is essential that manufacturing companies do all that they can to make themselves as flexible as possible to work with from the point of view of their supply chain, distribution and customer services.

New processes, materials and software tools are helping manufacturers rebound from the economic downturn and few technologies hold more promise for supporting a prosperous manufacturing future than cloud computing services.

A recent survey on cloud computing and manufacturing found that 66% of respondents did not understand how hosted or cloud services could add benefit to the business, but found that most companies adopting the cloud grew 53% faster than peers.

Below are some questions and answers on the ways in which manufacturers can benefit from cloud computing:

What is the cloud?

In simple terms it means storing and accessing important company data and programs over the internet on a large network of servers that are held in secure data centre locations and maintained by trained IT administrators.

How can cloud computing help my manufacturing business?

I recently spoke to Daniel McCusker from BlueMAC Manufacturing in Dungannon on the benefits of cloud computing and here were his top three points:

1. Staff on the factory floor can access Microsoft Office on the web. This means you don't have to purchase, install or maintain on every single computer, thus saving the company money long term.

2. Accelerate the product development cycle by providing 24/7 access to data from anywhere in the world and ultimately get the product to market faster.

3. Personnel in different offices and plants can share information easily and instantly without having a large capital investment.

How much will it cost?

The advantage of cloud computing is scalability and you can adjust the cost based on that scale. In most cases, your technology scales as your need grows and then shrinks as your need shrinks. If you hire 20 temporary staff for a new product line that will last six months, you don't have to purchase new servers and software as you can just scale as you need to.

Can I have some onsite and offsite services?

This is known as a hybrid system. Just like electric cars, they can run both fuel and electric together.

The value of the cloud to manufacturers is its ability to empower business with the choice to mix on-premises tools with tools in the cloud to support efficient and cost effective decisions of the company. Cloud computing is almost limitless in its ability to streamline operations, open global communication, decrease overhead expenses save money for manufacturers.

We're finding that one of our main areas of growth is across the manufacturing sector.

Any business initiative which can help cut costs and improve productivity and efficiency is worth looking at in today's ultra-competitive market place.

Gareth McAlister is managing director of Belfast-based company Nimbus CS

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