How a successful architect uses the cloud to run his business – with architect Ron Kwaske
Everyone says “the cloud” is awesome, it’s the future, there’s no other way forward, businesses are changing and you are throwing away money and time if your business is not yet operating in the cloud. But is this really the case? A lot of architects ask us exactly HOW the cloud can help them run their business.
In this post, we want to show you how a small to mid sized architecture office can really benefit from cloud-based tools. And the best way to do so is by examining a best practice. That’s why this week we had an interview with Ron Kwaske.
About Ron’s firm
Ron is founder of a successful Chicago based architecture firm, http://www.kwaske.com/. His firm staffs about 5-7 people and although they are active in a broad range of projects (residential, commercial projects, interior, food business ..) they are selective when it comes down to the type of customers they work with.
“We like to be regarded as consultants and prefer to work with customers that are open-minded, share our values, and seek our advice. That’s also why we don’t often work as a subcontractor. We like to be in charge and work directly for/with the client. Acquiring new customers occurs about 90% of the time via referral. Happy customers and colleagues in different lines of work talking about you is probably the most effective source for new deals”.
Cloud based tools that streamline Ron’s business
Ron believes in innovation and in the cloud. By taking advantage of the right tools, and working smarter, your business can grow without working harder or by putting more hours into it. Nothing is gained by working more if efficiency can be improved by working different. Therefore, Ron implements a set of cloud-based tools that streamline the workflow within his office. This allows him to focus more on value-adding tasks (architecture, finding the right kind of clients, reviewing his business cashflow and numbers, …) and less on time consuming but necessary administration and overhead (a crashing server, reinstalling a new software, paperwork, comparing duplicate versions of the same excel file, restoring a backup…). Here are some of the tools Ron uses in his firm:
Vectorworks Cloud – Drawings and Building Information Models. “Once a model is uploaded in this cloud version of Vectorworks, a set of PDF’s are available for annotating (via mobile, tablet, or desktop). It allows us to have all project drawings available on site (or anywhere via mobile), ready for annotating.”
Dropbox – Storing documents and files. “We work with Dropbox on a daily basis. All documents are up-to date all the time, for everyone from anywhere (on site via tablet, or at the office via desktop). The advantages of Dropbox for an architect are obvious.”
“By using Vectorworks Cloud and Dropbox we managed to turn our office into a paperless office, with all files, documents, drawings available for everyone at any time, at any place … all synched and managed via the cloud.”
Basecamp – Project management. “We use this tool very heavily for keeping track of all kinds of project-related data: posting ideas and discussions, tracking and assigning to-do lists, archiving documents, …”
Tick – Time tracking. “This tool is integrated with Basecamp and also accessible on mobile. Tracking who has spent what time on which project is crucial for project costing, budgeting and billing. One should spend less time tracking and more time doing.”
JotNot Pro – Scanning software. “This tool uses the camera in your mobile device to scan a document on site and clean it up resulting in a very presentable scan. The integration with Dropbox allows all scans to be immediately available on our dropbox account as well. Again countless hours are saved here.”
How Ron’s business benefiets from the cloud
Now, the cloud is ‘cool’ and mentioned a lot, but what are the key advantages for a small to medium sized architecture business like Ron’s?
“There are really many advantages for an architecture firm working with cloud based tools compared to traditional softwares. One of them is efficiency and accessibility: No more lugging around paper documents, mailing documents to yourself for backups. All information is available via the cloud from anywhere. For an architect this is key!”
“Another crucial advantage for a small to medium sized business like ours is scalability. With a traditional server and software set-up, scaling up and down with the needs of my business was time consuming, expensive, and painful. I needed to pay someone (an IT guy) to manage and maintain everything … we had no flexible and cost efficient solution for scaling our IT along with our business. And I am not only refering to scaling up when my business grew. Even more important was surviving the recent recession. We, like many business, had less projects. With a traditional IT set up it would have cost us money to pay someone to downsize our infrastructure (and pay lower server rents, etc). With our web-based software, scaling up and down is enormously flexible, it’s only selecting a higher or lower plan. I can say that during the recession it was crucial for us that were able to scale down our software plans for those web-based tools with one click of a mouse.”
If we ask Ron if he thinks his data is safe in the cloud he argues cleverly. “Is my data safe when it’s on a server in my office? Obviously not. My computer can crash, it gets stolen, or we might have a fire in the office. These software companies are specialized in this field, staffing multiple people that are occupied with managing and securing servers every minute of the day. We (as a small business specialized in architecture) can never do as good as them. Let everyone do what they are best at, for us that’s designing and architecture! Every hour that I save on IT and administration is one I can spend on billing projects. If you do the math, a monthly fee of $50 dollar for a cloud software that saves you various hours a month is a no-brainer.”
Free extra tip – watch your cashflow!
“During the financial crisis, I realized how important it is for a small business to monitor cashflow. Not many people know how expensive it is to run a business is. Not only do we have the salaries, there are also insurances to pay, phone expenses, cars and fuel, software, office expenses … and many other costs that are not directly related to working for a customer. In order to stay alive you need to make sure that the weekly/monthly billings exceed the total costs of running a business. This seems obvious and normal, but you’d be surprised how few businesses know their real costs and hence how much money needs to come in to stay in the game.”
Thanks Ron for this interview!