How planners can work with the cloud in this environment

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Written by Robin Barber, Product Owner, Built Environment at Arcus Global

The current extraordinary situation we find ourselves in has overtly demonstrated the need for those in procurement to rethink the questions that get asked about business continuity. It’s normally a dry and dull subject tucked away at the back of the tender documents, which is replied to with a stock answer detailing data centre availability and the like. Until now, no-one has ever asked: “How will your solution assist our business continuity in the case of an emergency?”. It’s a different type of question, but the answer may have more of an impact on a business process than you’d think. Right now, this question is something that anyone involved in planning and procurement must consider a priority.

Now, any supplier who replies saying it will be ‘business as normal’ is perhaps not quite telling the truth. We know that online submission accounts for a large number of planning applications, but we also need to look at those that still come over the counter. Typically, during a crisis, we will see numbers of applications drop, but we’ll still need to provide some services and we may see some demand increase.

So how do you reflect this with your choice of software? It can be pretty easy. First of all, cloud computing can be of great help. If the software is ‘true cloud’, you should be able to pick up your work anywhere, with only your browser to access the internet and the products which you need. Security can become an issue, but there are ways of dealing with that in two-factor authentication and IP restrictions. But after they are dealt with you should be on your way and able to access the systems and data in the same way in which you can in the office.

Last year a client did request, during a demonstration, that the software could be accessed (not installed) on a device of their choice. For us, this was easy. We navigated to a website and logged in, a verification email was sent, and they were up and working in minutes. Since then, I’ve worked closely with the site. Recently the office was empty when I went to see them; the head of planning casually explained that the staff could all now work from home after implementing our software, and because some had had a dusting of snow, they’d taken the choice to work at home instead of driving in. It was, as far as staff and citizens were concerned, business as normal.

Another client once contacted us after a flood in their office. Most services and departments were impacted. The planning and building control team were issued with laptops and sent to work where convenient for them. Yes, they might have taken a hit on performance during a short period, but compare that to an authority I heard about whose system had been down for a week. Unable to provide a statutory service, they were at the mercy of their tech supplier and relying on the IT department.

So, to summarise, let’s pull some of these questions which are often tucked away at the back to the forefront of the process. Work with your supplier to understand how easily you can access the solutions when it all goes wrong, and how a crisis can mean conducting business as normal, but in a different way. The day that it does go wrong is the day that you don’t want to find out just how challenging it is to get your staff back online.

Originally published here.

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Originally published at on April 21, 2020.

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