Construction will start to sense the obsolescence of paper as those unlovely magnolia photocopiers, printers and fax machines start vanishing from the offices of its clients. It was barely a decade ago that many of those clients were using typewriters and Rolodexes. You won't need to wait another 10 years before today's office looks just as anachronistic. To be fair to construction, it's not as technophobic as it's portrayed. In the 1980s, contractors were quick to spot the potential of mobiles, and CAD has enabled architects to revolutionise design. On the other hand, the industry has a dismal track record of implementing new technology. The latest figures from Atkins, due to be published yesterday, after Building went to press, were expected to show that it is still paying the price of mishandling the introduction of accounting software. And how many people know some crusty old traditionalist in the corner of their office who still defiantly refuses to touch email?
In many respects, accepting the need to embrace the digital age is the easy part. It will be much harder to manage the processes of implementing it. The first step is to recognise that the technology must be enslaved to the needs of the people, not the other way round. You may, like Arup's Tony Fitzpatrick, need a simultaneous computerised video link to four offices in the USA, and want to send site shots of your latest project from an aeroplane (page 38-40). Then again, you may not. Like the message of British Airways' recent TV advert, even Fitzpatrick recognises there's no substitute for face-to-face contact – you can't be a disembodied head on a screen all the time.
Once you accept that the main objective is harnessing technology, it's plain that the management of change is too important to be left to the geeks: it must be in the hands of the chief executive. And any strategy must be founded on the principle that construction, being a slow-moving industry, cannot embrace rapid technological upgrades overnight. People must be allowed to experiment with the new kit, in the expectation that productivity improvements will flow gradually. Even a technological wizard like Microsoft boss Neil Holloway doesn't expect construction to instantly embrace his new Tablet PCs – which allow the user to input data by handwriting (pages 30-32).
So, it's one click at a time. But, have no doubt, you will soon be binning all your filing cabinets, banning paper, and – figuratively – trashing your office.