The Cloud Computing Model in Field Service Management
Yan Zang
EZ Inspections & Preservation
Last Updated 2/24/14
The world-wide-web has been the center of our digital life for more than a decade. Now we have been hearing a lot about cloud computing. The late and great Steve Jobs, in his keynote speech introducing Apple's iCloud service, said 'We are going to demote the PC and the Mac to just a device, and we are going to move the digital hub, the center of your digital life, into the cloud.'
So what is the cloud? What is cloud computing? What advantages does cloud computing bring to you? Are there potential problems?
Let me start with a bit of history. Before 1980, computing was dominated by mainframes. People entered commands into green-texted terminals that transfer data to the mainframe. This model was shaken by the 'client-server' architecture in the 80s, when personal computer with mouse-and-click graphical user interface (the 'client') became popular, and less expensive but more robust 'servers' were created to replace the mainframes (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Client-Server Model
A client-server system typically runs a piece of software on your computer, and saves data in the computer's hard disk drive. Your local data needs to be synchronized with the data on the server, and possibly data on other clients.
In mid 1990s, the dawn of the internet again revolutionized the computing model. An internet or 'web-based' system still uses the client-server architecture, however, the client is the ubiquitous internet browser (Figure 2). As every computer comes with an internet browser, you generally don't need to install anything to start using a web system. Furthermore, no data is saved on your local computer, removing potential out-of-sync errors and time delays associated with data synchronization. The requirement, and some might say 'downside', of the web-based model is, obviously, the need of 'always-on' internet connection.

Figure 2. Web-based Model

For example, if you are an administrator of a field service company and you need to reassign orders from rep A to rep B, you'll need to wait till both A and B to have synchronized their client data with the server before reassignment is accomplished. If you use a web-based system, on the other hand, the job is done instantly; next time rep A or B accesses his account, he'll see that the jobs have been reassigned.

Entering 2011, the new buzz word is 'cloud computing'. Gartner, the influential IT-research firm, maintains that cloud-computing will be as influential as E-business1.  According to Gartner, cloud computing is a style of computing that is massively scalable and delivered 'as a service' through the internet. The cloud is usually used to describe the internet, and in 'cloud computing', also depicts the fact that the hardware infrastructure is at a remote location, often unknown to the user.

Traditional software vendors buy their own computing hardware, and put them in a data center. Typically vendors take care of their own network traffic routing, security setting and storage requirement. Cloud computing vendors, on the other hand, lease their hardware and utilize the networking, security and storage services provided by a vast cloud-computing infrastructure company (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Cloud-computing Model

The main advantage of cloud computing is that computing capacity can be expanded quickly to meet surging demand from increased number of users or transactions. In a cloud computing infrastructure, software vendors have access to unlimited computer processing power, network bandwidth and storage capacity. You pay as you go. If you host hardware yourself, when demand surges, you'll scramble to buy new hosting space, servers and storage, and have to spend time to set them up before extra capacity can be up and running.
For example, banks typically issue mortgage inspections around 15th of each month. Between 15th and 30th, order volume increases tremendously compared to the first half of the month. In addition, banks or inspection clients may issue large volume of orders on a single day of the month, the so called 'package download day'. Right after the download, system is heavily loaded as every user is either dispatching, printing, or downloading orders. Similarly, almost every field rep is entering results and uploading photos toward the due date of a large volume of orders. The vast scalability of cloud computing offers an ideal solution for handling this kind of situations. Computing resources can be deployed quickly when demand is surging, and decommissioned after transaction volume has subdued. To end users, this means speedy delivery of your results by a system while it experiences huge swings of processing load.
Besides scalability, cloud computing also provides industry leading security and geographically-distributed, redundant storage.
The pioneer of cloud computing infrastructure is Amazon AWS ('Amazon Web Services'). It is still the largest provider in the world. Other major providers include Google, Microsoft Azure and Rackspace.
Like all technologies, cloud computing also brings with it a set of potential problems. One major issue is that you rely on the cloud infrastructure provider for a reliable and secure platform. You lose a bit of control for the benefit of convenience. The key is to carefully design mechanism to support system redundancy and failover. As an end user selecting a software solution, make sure to ask the provider's security and system redundancy set up. No matter how good a system is, it is always just as good as the people who use it.
1. Gartner Press Release, June 26, 2008;
About the Author
Yan Zang is the founder and president of Harmonisoft Inc., which owns and operates EZ Inspections and Preservation, the leading cloud and mobile-based inspection and property preservation software system . EZ was launched in 2005 and grew to serve 40,000 users in multiple field service industries and process over 8 million work orders a year.
Before founding Harmonisoft, Yan spent eight years in Silicon Valley serving in engineering and management positions in multiple high-tech companies in the fields of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer software.
Yan graduated from Peking University in Beijing, China, and received his M.S. from Rutgers University in New Jersey, and his Ph. D. from Stanford University in California.
Contact Yan at For more related topics, check out articles on inspection software and property preservation management system .