Davis Langdon & Everest has been trying to separate fact from fiction and here takes look at different types of technology providers, the specific services on offer and the advantages – and disadvantages – of e-business solutions.
Two principal areas of business activity stand to benefit: business process – the sharing and management of information through the supply chain – and business transactions – the buying and selling of products and services. Six elements of varying complexity are on offer under the e-business banner:
Who will benefit from these sites?
Project teams should benefit immensely from project extranets. Designers, quantity surveyors, contractors and subcontractors are able to view, review and redline comments on updated information as soon as it is available online. Project managers are able to monitor the production of information and responses to information requests via the project diary, task lists or performance reports. The information is accessible 24 hours a day and the knowledge base is constantly updated so all members of the team are aware of changes. This should help make decision-making faster and more efficient. An audit trail is maintained so that "who did what and when" can be monitored. The single electronic environment could create a project standard for all documentation in place of the paper chase that exists now.
The supply chain as a whole could benefit from collaboration and tender extranets. Clients can obtain improved project transparency when all activity is recorded electronically, providing an audit trail. Contractors will be able to reduce tender administration costs. The cost of materials could come down as manufacturers and suppliers are able to view project demand using online procurement and delivery programmes, potentially allowing better use of resources.
Do they have any disadvantages?
There is a downside to this brave new world of electronic collaboration. There will be short-term costs before the long-term benefits can be realised. For example, additional telephone capacity will be required to allow on-demand access to project extranets. Training will also be needed in order to extract the maximum benefit from the investment, as is the case with most software applications. User protocols and implementation plans will be necessary to administer and manage information and because of the large number of extranet suppliers, users are likely to be exposed to different suppliers on different projects. Consequently, they will require training or retraining in the use of different technology; a similar situation, say, to using Excel or Lotus spreadsheets.
In addition, when designers stop posting hard copies of drawings, non-design consultants and suppliers will have to print out their own copies. These additional printing and administration costs may outweigh any reduced design costs.
High-speed internet access is also expensive and as a result extranets have become associated with slow upload and download times, particularly when users access project information at remote third-party locations.
Are companies using the sites?
The e-business market has been in a constant state of flux since last year and further consolidation is likely as collaboration and tender extranet technologies converge. Because of the lack of an agreed and adopted construction industry technology standard, potential users have been slow in adopting the new technology. Remember those early adopters of video technology in the 1980s who were left with redundant Betamax video machines when the inferior VHS standard won the day? Many people are choosing to wait and see what happens, which ultimately could prove the biggest barrier to take-up.