Expanding your usage of Internet tools, like intranets, will bring your business new opportunities to work smarter, and in certain cases, generate new revenue streams.
Is it something that must be provided for and demanded from software providers?
Not necessarily. Software providers can pre-package solutions only within certain parameters. Three parameters that stand out are value, scope and time.
The first parameter, the perception of value, means if you can get Internet software for free that is developed for the masses, will a vertical market like the AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction) industry be willing to pay for AEC focused Internet tools? This is a tough question for software providers to answer as the perception in the AEC market is that Internet software should remain free, no matter what the added value. Large software vendors like are addressing this issue by integrating Internet technologies within their traditional software offerings. As for fully developed solutions that you can purchase off the shelf, they do not exist yet.
Internet technologies are not just about software. So software providers that claim total solutions are not telling the entire story. The second, and more important element, of integrating Internet technologies within your business is Cultural. The ease of use and low initial cost of implementation make the cultural shift into the Information Age (aka: Internet-enabled) an easier shift than any previous Information Technology phase we have gone through as an industry. But just because it’s easier, does not mean that it’s without its difficulties. Getting your business to adopt to performing their traditional jobs electronically can be a daunting task. Add into the issues that the majority of AEC work is performed remotely outside the office, and you have a huge challenge.
Another parameter is scope. The Internet and its associated technologies are best implemented when you combine business goals (ie: communicating more effectively to the field) with the proper level of technology (ie: an Internet connection to the field). This brings a difficult level of detail to the software vendors. If there is no one way that all businesses perform tasks, than how do you write computer code to handle all possible scenarios? The Internet allows you to quickly and easily perform functions of your job without the need for proprietary software. But it does make sense that certain tasks, like CAD production, become Internet-enabled by your existing software.
An additional parameter is time. If Internet technologies change on the average of every 12 weeks, how can an established software vendor react to the changing technologies in a timely manner. Getting AEC-specific Internet products to market is a major hurdle that our existing AEC software manufacturers are struggling with. One solution that is being considered is software distribution over the Internet as a download. The complex issues of traditional software and other software team members will have to be addressed before this means of getting tools to the AEC community can be addressed in earnest.
Are there different levels of Internet-enabled that a contractor should look for?
There are three distinct levels of Internet-enabled that a contractor can benchmark themselves to.
One: Computer-Aided Business
Our industry began its integration of Information technology by embracing computers to automate manual tasks. We began to use computers to write letters, compose specifications, electronically draft through Computer Assisted Drafting (CAD) and numerous other tasks that we used to do manually. This period of technology expansion has been known as Computer-Aided Business. While a necessary first period of evolution, the Computer-Aided Business model has limitations. During this period, individual’s create digital information available to only themselves on individual computers. This has lead to “Islands of Automation” within our business environment. In the Internet environment, this can be related to a company putting up a Website that acts as an electronic brochure.
Two: Computer Integrated Business
The next evolutionary step can be called connections. We bring our “Island’s of Automation” together by allowing computers to communicate with each other through computer networks. By connecting our different computer hardware, different software programs, and different locations, we pull together a collective knowledge that we could not have had using traditional methods. We are beginning to see computer integration’s infinite power and value by connecting different locations through the Internet. As we, and the technology, mature through time we ask the technology to perform tasks that can not be accomplished manually. Technology brings with it new ideas and thoughts on how we can perform our tasks more productively and efficiently. As we become more comfortable with technology, we allow it to integrate into our businesses. We begin to utilize the potential of technology beyond traditional methods. This period of growth is known as Computer Integrated Business. No longer are we held captive to traditional manual solutions to problems within our business. We begin to expect that the technology will provide a solution.
Three: Information Based Business
The final phase is when technology becomes transparent to the business. During this period, it’s no longer a strategic competitive advantage to have the latest and greatest computer hardware and software. It’s expected as a natural fact. The use of technology and information during this phase becomes as transparent and factual as the four walls that define the office. This final goal is known as the Information Based Business. The simplification of hardware, software and connectivity brings to you and your business the true power of information technology in a cost and time effective way. Applied technologies such as Intranets and Extranets are the forerunners of this concept. Web-enabled Construction Documents are an outgrowth of this concept. The implications of “live” specifications and drawings by linking information in your computer, on your network and on the Internet are already being utilized by firms worldwide. Implementation of Virtual Private Networks (VPN’s), Virtual Job Trailer’s and Electronic Plan Rooms are also the results of an Information Based Business.
What industry trends will make the use of Internet-like media critical to the majority of the construction profession?
The integration and coordination of distributed, digital project information is one of the great challenges to our industry. This has been exacerbated by the growing use of the design/build method of project delivery where timely information is critical to the overall success of the project and its team. The Internet brings a cost-effective and powerful solution to every person on the project team, no matter what level of computer-literacy one may have.
Competition is always a driver to adoption of concepts into action. Of course, if your main competition has found a competitive advantage by using Internet technologies, you will adopt these technologies yourself. But a more important driver is Internet usage as a requirement by owners and clients.
A remarkable trend that has come to the forefront in the past few years are the announcements from major corporate clients that knowledge of how to use the Internet is now considered a requirement to continue to do business with them.
The only team member that will directly benefit from implementing Internet technologies on a project is the owner. The time saved by using these technologies directly affects the overall production of the building. In other words, the quicker the owner can occupy the building, the more aggressively the solution will be implemented. The different ways you can implement Internet technologies within your own business will be the differentiating factor between you and your competition.
What are the limitations of the Internet today and how will those be resolved in the near future?
Two major limitations are perception of The Internet’s capabilities and bandwidth.
Too much hype and not enough AEC business adaptation have hurt the image of the Internet. Having a Website doe not guarantee business growth. Only through a carefully planned strategic Internet/Information Technology plan can a business hope to leverage the power of the Internet. It will not be leveraged by “Brochure-ware” Web sites, but by implementation into the everyday process of each AEC business. This problem is being addressed and led by owner/clients who are requiring these technologies, just to remain doing business with them. It’s remarkable how fast a technology will be adopted and cultural issues go away when a client requires a technology.
What are some other ideas regarding the implementation of the Internet?
There are 10 powerful emerging trends on our industry that the Internet is having a direct effect:
1. Client IT Demands/ Project Extranets
2. Value Migration
3. Construction Information Management (CIM): Systems Integration
4. Powerful Remote Devices
5. Paper Is Not Going Away
6. Virtual Private Networks
7. Architectural Information Systems (IS) as Profit Centers
8. IP Addressable Objects
9. Franchised AEC Service & Information Centers
10. Wireless access