Cloud computing for waste businesses

Geeta Thomas considers how the ‘cloud computing’ approach to software can help simplify systems used in the waste management sector.
This article originally appeard in Materials Recycling Week. 

The rise of cloud computing

Cloud computing is aimed at reducing the headache, hassle and cost of managing IT systems. High-speed Internet and a weak economy are accelerating cloud computing adoption as waste businesses embrace the benefits of: lower costs, better connectivity across multiple sites, easier access to new technologies and enterprise-level data storage, security and back-up.

Many waste companies lack the time, money and/or resources to deploy, manage or even update the increasingly complex array of IT applications and infrastructure. Here, cloud computing is a huge plus, especially in terms of cost as it operates on a pay-for-what-you-use model resembling electricity, fuel and water billing.

The most familiar type of cloud computing is software-as-a-service (SaaS), where a software provider hosts both the application and the data and the business user is free to use the service from anywhere.

For the waste management industry, the cloud approach to software simplifies dealing with new and revised regulations. For instance, SaaS providers have been the quickest to update their software to reflect the recent changes to a waste producer’s SIC code and the statement on waste hierarchy. Cloud providers can update their systems centrally and customers benefit from the updates immediately without having to install new ‘patches’ or versions. Enhancements based on customer feedback are also implemented quickly, and are pushed out to customers much more rapidly than updates to traditional packaged software.

As with all new technologies, customers may have reservations, so cloud service providers offer Service Level Agreements (SLAs), which commonly specify uptime guarantees, data protection, service levels and other policies and practices.

Traditional Software as a service
Large upfront investment Flexible licensing options including pay-as-you-go
Additional cost and time for support, upgrades and backups Support, software upgrades and backups included without the need for on-site visits or downtime
Comprehensive training required Basic training as easy-to-use
Only available in your office Available anytime, anywhere
In-house or external IT services required No new hardware necessary
Infrequent and slow updates Frequent and fast product updates
Sold as a product, focus on acquiring new customers Sold as a service, focus on retaining existing customers
Traditional packaged software versus software as a service delivered via the cloud

Cloud computing levels the playing field

During a recession, cloud computing allows waste businesses to scale resources up or down easily. Storage needs can be increased or decreased seamlessly without needing expensive changes to existing IT systems. Businesses do not have to worry about continually investing in software or other solutions which may be out of date within a year. This flexibility even allows SMEs to compete with larger businesses, effectively balancing the playing field while helping firms to better manage costs.

Case study: CH Middleton uses the cloud to keep customers in the loop anytime, anywhere

Waste businesses are already cutting costs on storage, back up and maintenance when hosting applications or software in the cloud. Indeed, the cost, time and management headaches associated with using manual records or traditional software (sitting on an on-site computer or server), have led to the increasing adoption of SaaS.

By running online, rather than on an on-site server, My Yard’s online waste management software (SaaS) offered Doncaster skip hire, waste disposal and recycling firm CH Middleton huge and immediate advantages: it was operational within days, rather than weeks and is maintained centrally, so updates and back-ups are carried out automatically. The simplicity of the Internet based software meant that there was no need for long training sessions since the interface is easy to use, enabling all team members to master the software quickly.

CH Middleton moved to cloud-based waste management software when its existing waste management software became expensive to run and keep up to date.

Guy Middleton describes his reasons for switching: "We used traditional software hosted on site for 10 years before switching to My Yard online waste management software. Their hosted service removes the headache and expense of backups and complicated software updates. We benefit from the cloud as we receive instant, free updates, which is a bonus for us, as we get the latest functionality immediately. Most cloud based systems have interfaces resembling the Internet, so they are really easy to understand and use.”

As cloud based software can be accessed anywhere, CH Middleton uses My Yard’s software to provide instant access to sophisticated online reporting which tracks information such as weight and grade of loads picked up or the recyclables recovered. CH Middleton is now providing its customers with a secure login to a bespoke dashboard, where they can check their reports immediately, without having to wait until the end of the month. Here they can also print their own weight reports, invoices and receive updates on current orders.

Employees can also access files using web-enabled devices such as smartphones, laptops and netbooks.