What is it with construction firms and IT? In the 1990s, many of the big players spent millions installing state-of-the-art systems only to find they had wasted their money. Staff didn't know how to use them, they quickly went out of date and were incompatible with their business partners' software. Not surprisingly, the promised efficiency gains never materialised.

Now it seems to have happened again. Superconsultant Atkins is in dire straits, partly because it tried to implement a bells-and-whistles IT system that has never worked properly (pages 60-63). But at least Atkins tried: construction is lagging way behind other industry sectors in its uptake of IT. As we keep being told, car-makers and aerospace companies are a decade further ahead. But having been savaged so badly in the past, it's no wonder construction firms are wary.

That's not to say the sector is full of Luddites. Back in the 1980s, builders were among the first to embrace mobile phones, and today, we are rapidly taking to PDAs – the new generation of pocket devices that combine phones and computers. Gadgets like these are popular because they are cheap, effective and a doddle to use. In short, they make our lives easier.

By contrast, Atkins' system was highly complex – and extremely expensive. It was introduced so quickly that staff didn't have time to get to grips with it. And by immediately scrapping the old system, there was no back-up when the new one went wrong. As if this wasn't enough, it's likely that the failed attempt to automate everything in one big bang distracted the firm from its business. This is, of course, precisely the opposite of what IT is supposed to do for an organisation. Technology is an enabler that allows you to continue doing what you do, but more efficiently and effectively. It's also worth remembering that the IT revolution is not about flashy gizmos but information – and information is made for sharing. Now, hands up all those firms who still haven't given all their employees access to email and the internet?

Prescott faces his demons
Attending a regeneration conference may come as a blessed relief for John Prescott after a week battling with stroppy firefighters. And if the strikes go ahead, the deputy prime minister is probably expecting to have a chance to relax when he attends next week's urban summit in Birmingham. One hopes, however, that the 1500 delegates are forceful in calling Prescott to account for the government's failure to realise its urban renaissance. As our news feature shows (see pages 24-27), Prescott has been short on delivery so far. The problematic redevelopment of Greenwich Peninsula has been well documented. Rochester Riverside in Kent, highlighted by urban taskforce chairman Richard Rogers as a key site back in 1998, is less well known, but in many ways even more disastrous. Four years and two attempts after it started, the council has yet to come up with a viable solution. No wonder Rogers last week turned his back on central government help for regeneration. Hmmm … perhaps manning a green goddesses might be a better idea after all, John.