How useful are the CITB's online discussion forum and the Building Information Warehouse portal?
We asked an industry IT director to take a tour …

We don't want to talk about it …
Bconstructive is part of the Construction Industry Training Board network and is the site of its discussion forum.
The homepage welcomes you and invites you to register, but relays little of what the website has to offer and why one should take the trouble to sign up. Although the registration process is relatively painless, it requires the user to provide more information than many other sites require to gain access. With the lack of information provided at the outset, it is possible that many people would not bother to proceed any further – particularly as many companies' internet and email policies ban employees from registering email addresses at websites for fear of spamming (receiving "junk" email).
The site ultimately focuses on discussion forums revolving around the four main themes of the CITB conference held in July: new ways of contracting; new ways of constructing; new ways of learning; and new ways of qualifying. There is also a forum on health and safety launched in support of Health and Safety Week.
Unfortunately, unless you attended the CITB conference and heard the speeches that the pages refer to, you will be unlikely to learn much here about the topics covered. Transcripts of the speeches should be here, but are not; rather, you are given a brief synopsis that, in many cases, is shorter than the biographical details provided on the speaker. This is a lost opportunity to educate a wider audience, particularly as the reason for the site's creation was to encourage participation through discussion and debate.
Of the discussion to be found on the site, the page with by far the most entries is, ironically, the one page unrelated to the July conference – the health and safety page. Of the other pages, at the time of this review, new ways of contracting had two entries, both from late summer, one from the keynote speaker, one from the CITB; learning was no more active, also with two entries; while constructing and qualifying had three and four entries respectively. Qualifying was particularly impressive, since it had four new proposals for discussion topics but not one response.
This is not a well thought out or well designed site. To view individual messages, each page has to be redisplayed, which is tedious and may well be why the discussion forums are far from active.
For a site owned and run by the CITB, an organisation that oversees training for the construction industry, the content was very disappointing. The listed topics have the potential to reach a wide and varied audience with relevance far beyond training alone.
As it is, however, bconstructive is not a site worth bookmarking.

Is this the portal for you?
The Building Information Warehouse is one of the new portals now being pushed on the construction industry. The BIW was, in fact, one of the first portals, and its longer pedigree and UK origin clearly show. It offers a combination of free and subscription services carrying construction information. Subject areas covered by the site were useful and largely relevant.
The BIW uses cookies to customise the information presented to registered users, so each time you return to the site, your areas of interest are always presented. This is easy to set up and categories can be chosen to display the sections and themes most appropriate to the user.
Information available at the BIW includes a good range of construction news, press releases, events, share prices, a searchable directory of construction suppliers and organisations and even a selection of recommended books.
At the lowest level, registration is free and the details requested are not very intrusive; only an email address and password are required. The privacy policy is well thought out, with inclusion in mailshots and advertising on an "opt-in" basis.
The fee-based subscription service that the BIW offers is in the form of a "project information channel". This channel is a secure, online, project-based information repository aimed at providing an electronic design collaboration environment that gives team members access to project data via a browser. While this product is not wholly unique, it is definitely fighting for supremacy in this important emerging market.
Unfortunately, demonstration access to this service is not available to casual visitors. There is a good level of descriptive information about what this part of the site does, however, and it is well worth a visit – if only to understand where this new technology is heading.
The site design is generally well executed and implemented with judicious use of frames and Javascript. The search function is less successful. Information returned from some searches appeared unreliable, with many of the details showing that they had last been updated in mid-1998. That said, the BIW does provide a link to a page where incorrect search results can be entered, whereupon the website manager will be notified.
BIW encourages user feedback and links are available to allow users to notify others of forthcoming events and even recommend books to be featured on the site.
This site is technically competent, the underlying concept is good and user interactivity is very satisfying. The let-downs are the poor search engine on the directory pages and, as is true of so many websites, the relevance of some content could be improved. Nevertheless, it is one of the best general construction portals around.

The CITB replies

Bconstructive was launched to support the CITB conference. It was designed purely to provide a forum for continuing discussion started at the conference. Regarding “spamming”, an opt-out box gives users the opportunity to refuse any email contact by the CITB – providing your email address alongside your message is optional. Those who are particularly interested in continuing discussion outside of bconstructive can click to add their email address and other contact information alongside their comment. The site is going to adapt to suit the needs of the target audience – those most interested in discussing industry training matters. It is not aimed at a general industry audience.

The BIW replies

The Project Information Channel is a very sophisticated supply chain communications product and an online demonstration would not do it justice. Any construction-related business or organisation can obtain a free listing (including website and email links, and brochure and sales call-request facilities) and can update their entries online whenever they like, as often as they like. Yes, some information does need updating; we rely on those submitting their details to keep them up-to-date. We email users periodically, reminding them to update their entries, and notifying them of new site facilities. For example, registered users can now publish their latest news on the site without charge.