Cloud computing explained.

In this blog we simplify the jargon often used in the technology industry and help you to understand where Chalkstring software lives and how it is accessed.

At Chalkstring, we want you to have complete confidence when it comes to security, privacy and the handling of your confidential data. We use the latest industry-standard encryption technology to ensure we maintain the integrity of your information.

1. What is cloud computing?

The term ‘cloud computing’ simply refers to the means by which computing power, computing infrastructure and software applications can be used by you as a service, wherever and whenever required.

The ‘cloud’ itself is an array of connected hardware, networks, storage, services and interfaces that enable the delivery of computing as a service. Cloud services include the delivery of software, infrastructure, and storage over the internet, based on user demand. You’ll already know of (and may well use) many cloud services, such as Dropbox, Netflix, Spotify, Amazon Prime, online banking and, of course, Chalkstring.

2. Cloud computing vs on-premise solutions

Cloud-based software, like Chalkstring, is hosted on cloud servers and accessed through a web browser. By comparison, on-premise software is installed locally on a company’s own computers and servers. Traditionally, it’s quite common for construction contractors to have on-premise software, where staff access software programs locally, however the hardware and maintenance required for this setup can be costly and it’s not easy to access the software on the move or share data. Cloud solutions offer complete flexibility to access software and data, via the internet, from any device, at any time, from any location.

3. How cloud computing works

A cloud services platform, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) – which Chalkstring uses – owns and maintains the network-connected hardware required for these application services, while you use what you need via a web browser. In simple terms, AWS provides the hardware infrastructure enabling your team to access your Chalkstring account from computers, laptops, tablets or phones.

4. Where your data is stored

We understand that you will store and manage commercially sensitive data in Chalkstring. That’s why we use industry-standard servers and data centres provided by AWS to store your data reliably. AWS chooses their sites carefully to avoid risk, and they implement controls, build automated systems, and undergo third-party audits to confirm security and compliance. They also deploy server redundancy with fail-over solutions – meaning that the Chalkstring application is stored and deployed from multiple servers across different data centres at any one time to provide continuity. Database backups are performed nightly.

5. Data security & confidentiality

Security is of utmost importance to Chalkstring and to our clients. AWS provides numerous security capabilities and services to manage privacy and control network access. These include firewalls and full encryption in transit with SSL/TLS 128-bit encryption and other industry standard privacy protection technologies to secure all data. We continually review and develop our security protocols and infrastructure to ensure the security and privacy of our clients’ information.

We operate with the principle of least privilege, where we restrict access between services to the minimum required. As good practice, we apply these access principles to Chalkstring staff; access to data is only given to those who absolutely require it and from a small selection of trusted IP addresses.

As stated in our standard Term & Conditions of business, we will treat your personal and confidential information strictly in accordance with our Privacy Policy which can be viewed  here.

Source: Cloud Computing for Dummies & Amazon Web Services

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How you can replace monthly cost reports with real-time reporting

Forget compiling Cost Value Reconciliations (CVRs) manually – live project commercials are only ever a few clicks away.

Check out our short video and see how Chalkstring enables you to always know your projections & cost-to-complete. Confidently predict how much margin you will make, at any time in the contract, including all variation orders and amendments.

Stu-SoMe-feature

Meet Stuart Friend

Learn more about Stuart, our Product Director. Hear about his role at Chalkstring and why being a Manchester United fan, as a Yorkshireman, turned out to be a win.

What does your average day look like?
A typical day involves scoping new features in response to client feedback, testing Chalkstring as new features are developed, providing consultancy to customers and supporting our staff from a product perspective.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I really love releasing new features for our clients and seeing the benefit Chalkstring offers to real-life projects. It’s satisfying each time we deploy a new feature, as I know we’re adding value to our customers.

Previous role / experience 
I graduated as solicitor specialising in projects & international construction at Pinsent Masons. On reflection, I didn’t feel the legal profession was for me, so I joined my family construction business in a commercial and operational management role for over 10 years. It was during this time that I formed the idea for Chalkstring and developed the software.

Describe yourself in 3 words
Daddy, I want….

Who is your icon and why?
Sir Alex Fergusson. Growing up in Yorkshire as a Manchester United fan was hard enough but it was great that Fergie gave me over a decade of bragging rights to hit back with.

Memorable life moment
Asking my wife to marry me in Machu Picchu, Peru.

Meet Joni Lewis

We’ve asked Joni, our Consultant Quantity Surveyor to share all about her role supporting Chalkstring clients. And hear about her scary avalanche story.

What does your average day look like?

I help clients maximise their use of Chalkstring. I do this by guiding them through the software and, because I have years of commercial experience, I provide support based on real-life examples of how they can run their projects. Ultimately, my role is to help our clients achieve their project goals with confidence.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

There is no dull day; every client is different and I enjoy building a rapport with their teams. I find it interesting that our clients often approach similar project activities in different ways and I enjoy helping them to use Chalkstring to simplify what are often a complex tasks with lots of moving parts. But most of all, I enjoy knowing I have helped them achieve their goals.

Previous role / experience

I have worked as a Quantity Surveyor for well over a decade. I have managed all aspects of the contractual and financial side of project delivery and I also have in-depth experience of construction procurement, in particular, buying materials.

Describe yourself in 3 words

Positive, hard-working, and fun .

Who is your icon and why?

Music is one of my biggest passions and I think the talent Adele has is amazing. She could sing the phone book and make it sound impressive.

Memorable life moment

I once travelled to Canada in winter, where the temperature was minus 40 degrees Celsius. Having never experienced cold like it (where your clothes freeze on you), I walked on the stunning frozen Lake Louise. After hearing an avalanche, the ice started to crack… so I ran! 😊

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Streamline your whole procurement process

Buying materials based on gut feel, rather than what you actually need? Is uncertainty over whether orders have been delivered or not making it difficult to reconcile invoices? Wasting profit through over ordering, over paying and unnecessary waste?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, you need to watch our 45 second video see why Chalkstring’s integrated project cost management software is your solution.

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Top tips for nailing software implementation

Hear from Sarah Crawford, Operations Director at Chalkstring, on how you can introduce new software into your business successfully.

Armed with practical experience, Sarah explains why businesses need to consider software implementation as more than just training, and she provides practical guidance on how a management team can help their staff to adopt new processes and technologies.

Are you set to reduce construction costs by 33%, in line with the UK Government’s report?

What measures are you putting in place to lower project costs? Given the current climate, many contractors are left scratching their heads, wondering how to achieve this. If that sounds like you, read on as we have 5 ideas for reducing costs without compromising project delivery.

Reducing construction costs by 33% sounds like a tall order for most construction contractors, especially when margins are already tight, we are living with labour shortages and, in some trades, suffering supply chain issues that have resulted in higher costs.

When considering how a contractor can lower costs, thoughts often point towards making significant project changes, such as changing material specifications, method of build or even the design of a structure. Or worse still for the average subcontractor, squeezing the supply chain even harder to deliver the same quality but for less money.

But the picture really needn’t look like this. There are multiple, more subtle ways you can reduce the costs associated with project delivery, simply by introducing the right technologies into your business.

Reduce costs without compromising project delivery.

Like our Chalkstring customers, you too can use project cost management software to:

1. Maintain complete control of project costs at all times.

Review all projects in real-time enabling you to identify over-budget projects and take corrective action before it’s too late to have an impact.

2. Reduce waste.

Eliminate over-ordering. Only order what’s needed and make more accurate waste allowances. Know what unused materials are onsite in real-time.

3. Ensure you’re always paying the best price.

Easily identify and select the most competitive supplier pricing to ensure you minimise your project costs and maximise margin.

4. Never overpay on labour again.

Manage incoming labour applications efficiently & easily identify if subcontractors are overbooking work.

5. Consolidate software costs.

Reduce the number of different software packages you’re paying for. Use one integrated, streamlined system instead.

Meet Barry Chapman

Learn more about Barry, our Managing Director. He shares titbits on what his role entails and what he really gets up to at the weekend.

What does your average day look like?

Defining the direction of the business and working closely with colleagues to ensure we achieve our goals in terms of robust product development, successful customer implementation and new business generation. I’m constantly looking for ways to refine and improve everything we’re doing. And finally, I have lots of interaction with existing and prospective clients.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

Working with a great team of guys who are all equally committed to what we’re doing. I also find spending time with customers to understand their challenges, and then seeing the impact we can have on their businesses very rewarding.

Previous role / experience

I was sponsored through university and initially trained as a Civil Engineer and Quantity Surveyor, working as a main contractor with Laing Civil Engineering on a number of high profile construction projects. I then transitioned into construction software 20 years ago and held various commercial roles with leading software developers, including Tekla and Trimble, before starting Chalkstring.

Describe yourself in 3 words

Hard working, fair & fun.

Who is your icon and why?

Alex Thomson (single handed around the world yachtsman) due to his determination, perseverance & competitive spirit.

What do you do in your spare time?

I love nothing more than kite surfing down the beach, with good mates.

Memorable life moment

Shooting a hole-in-one on a 170 yard hole – my very first shot of the round.

Favourite quote

“Respect is how to treat everyone, not just those you want to impress.”

How data silos impact upon business efficiency and project delivery

If you’re like many construction contractors who use multiple systems and spreadsheets to manage all the financial aspects of their projects, you’ll understand that managing huge volumes of business-critical data efficiently can be a burden.

With inadequate cost and project management systems being cited in the top 5 contributing reasons as to why contractors fail, we examine how traditional systems and processes for managing vital cost data can leave a business and project open to risk, inefficiency and unnecessary cost. And more importantly, we  explore the solution.

“Multiple, unconnected systems are the norm”

The 2016 Construction Technology Report states that 76.8% of the construction industry uses 2 or more systems and 58% use 4 or more. Not only is there a cost associated with maintaining several systems, it means that business-critical cost information is held in isolation within different systems and spreadsheets.  And with 41% of companies surveyed stating that critical company data is trapped in legacy systems that cannot be accessed or linked to the cloud, it’s fair to say the construction industry suffers from multiple information silos that hinder the efficient sharing of real-time data.

So how does this impact on your projects?

Unnecessary & costly administration overhead

Information silos mean that data is fragmented and difficult to share. If the project team cannot access the information they require when needed, the administration bill goes up. A lack of data leads to many necessary but timing-consuming fact-finding conversations reconciling orders and invoices, lots of reworking of estimates and pricing iterations, and time spent cross-referencing project information such as rates, measures and progress.

According to the High Cost of Disconnected Data Report, the average business user spends 34 minutes each day moving data to other systems. Not only does this represent a huge waste of time, there is considerable risk associated with duplicating and rekeying information, from accidental data entry errors though to concerns over version control and what information in which system is the latest or most accurate. Also, when data is fragmented, it’s often the more expensive staff who spend time manually recreating and collating information for reporting purposes.

“The average business user spends 34 minutes each day moving data to other systems”

High Cost of Disconnected Data Report

Spreadsheets at risk of errors & corruption

Spreadsheets are often the default tool for managing construction projects, from estimating through to managing variations onsite and project reporting. However, according to Forbes spreadsheets carry great risk, as 88% of spreadsheets contain ‘significant’ errors and there are mistakes in over 1% of all formula cells.

Often the way in which the spreadsheet is set up is known only to the author, making it hard for others to understand, especially when transferring information cross-team from the tender stage to the live project. And because spreadsheets are typically not connected to each other, the sharing of information can be compromised.

There also is a major risk that spreadsheets containing financially sensitive information are vulnerable to costly data errors, file corruption, and data security breaches.

“88% of all spreadsheets have ‘significant’ errors in them.”

Forbes

Inability to make informed decisions using real-time data

Tracking project performance accurately and in real-time can be extremely difficult if information is held within silos and by multiple owners. Given how many systems are typically used in the construction industry, it’s not surprising that 36% of the survey respondents in the 2016 Construction Technology Report end up tracking performance using manual methods, and that 31% rely on spreadsheets for the same purpose. This means a whopping 67% of the industry is tracking performance manually and/or using multiple systems, which is both error-prone and an administrative burden.

Combine this with the constant and inevitable project changes, across multiple projects running simultaneously, and establishing the performance of any project, let alone the entire business, in real-time is problematic.  There is a serious risk that key business decisions will be made based on out-of-date and inaccurate information.

“67% of the industry is tracking performance manually and/or using multiple systems.”

2016 Construction Technology Report

Introducing the integrated solution

Developed specifically for contractors, Chalkstring offers a single platform through which the whole project team can manage the entire project from tender enquiry through to final account. It streamlines activities that have typically been spreadsheet based, like estimating, supplier management, value engineering and variation orders, and it automates manual processes, such as procurement, progress and valuations, applications for payment and subcontract labour payments.

Chalkstring’s integrated approach eliminates the need for multiple systems and complex spreadsheets, with all project data available from within a single cloud-based system.  This unique approach has been proven to increase margins, reduce waste and improve visibility of project performance. Integrated software provides the project team with everything they need to run the project efficiently, and management with the real-time insight into key financial metrics, at any stage of construction.