A common IT problem in the construction industry is to provide fast and secure access to project files for staff working in the field.

The Current Strategy

Typically, we find the company has set up a Projects drive on their file server (say the P drive) and that remote access is provided by a VPN connection. The advantages of this approach are:

  • The data is centralised so all staff – both in the office and out - can access it;
  • The data is backed up regularly;
  • VPN access means the data access and transfer process is secure; and
  • The solution is cost-effective, easy to control and in place already

The big problem with this solution is that it doesn’t work very well for the staff that need it most – the staff in the field. Access is fast for internal staff accessing the files directly from the file server that’s on the same network. But they rarely need to access it – it’s the staff in the field that need to open, change and save multiple files all day every day. This includes CAD files, PDFs, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and Project files.

Often, they’re accessing the files over a 4G connection, and even if the project is large enough to justify a site office with a dedicated Internet connection, the Internet speeds end up being variable during the working day, or just not fast enough for the job – despite what the ISP promised!

The Modern Strategy

The modern way to solve this problem is to use the applications provided as part of your Office 365 Business Premium subscription. Office 365 is so much more than the Office suite and an email server. We strongly recommend the use of SharePoint – the document management platform that is included with Office 365 Business Premium – in conjunction with the OneDrive sync client.

There are some great features of these applications to store the project files securely in the Office 365 cloud and to access them from any location on any device – on your smartphone, on your tablet, on your laptop, on your desktop, or even on your home computer if there’s something to be urgently actioned after hours. For staff who are regularly accessing these folders, we strongly recommend you use a Windows 10 computer as your primary device, because of the “selective sync” options that are then available to you.

Updating to the Modern Strategy

Migrating existing project folder structures across to SharePoint is a reasonably straight forward process. We recommend the best way is to start all new projects on SharePoint and then at some point down the track, decide whether it’s worthwhile moving existing projects across or not.

One critical requirement is to ensure that data is still being backed up, given its no longer being stored on the fileserver. Whilst Microsoft is looking after backups from a disaster recovery viewpoint, it’s also important to use a third-party cloud backup solution to protect against user error and malicious activity (for example deletion of folders or files that go un-noticed for weeks or even months).

NetCare has the SharePoint Skills and Industry Experience

NetCare have significant experience in working with construction and trades industry customers to move their project folders and files to the Office 365 cloud. There are many factors to consider - for example, there are some restrictions on the characters that can be used in filenames – so we recommend a block purchase of professional services hours so that one of our Office 365 experts can guide you through the process.