Last month, I attended NAHB’s midyear meeting in Miami and had the pleasure of sitting in on a presentation by Daniel Swift, president and CEO of Des Moines-based architecture group BSB Design.
When historians write about the last years of the 20th century and the early part of this millennium, I expect they will use terms like revolution.
|Heather McCune, Editor in Chief
When historians write about the last years of the 20th century and the early part of this millennium, I expect they will use terms like revolution. Most likely they will draw comparisons to other times when a single invention altered life as it was -- electricity, the automobile, the telephone. Like those who wrote about Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Alexander Graham Bell, these historians will write of the people who developed the systems and technology that harnessed the power of the Internet.
The potential of the Internet to revolutionize our lives -- professional and personal -- is just as profound. As in every revolution, winning won’t be easy, and there will be casualties. Our job -- yours and mine -- is to understand, evaluate and implement those tools that will make the greatest difference in our business. This requires serious work on our part studying the many options. It isn’t easy work, and right now, it’s a lot harder than it has to be.
Lately a lot of the e-mails finding their way into my inbox are announcements from the ever-expanding number of e-construction companies. Every sender promises an Internet-based solution that offers home builders more customers, greater efficiency and a bigger bottom line. I read every one of these e-mails, for I’m trying to do exactly what you’re trying to do -- separate the fact from the fiction and find out where the real opportunities lie in the Internet-enabled construction economy. We have another thing in common: After all my reading, I ended up exactly where you are -- excited about the potential and cynical about the actual value.
After a recent attempt at trying to read and sort out all of these e-promises, I figured out the reason we are all struggling to place value on the many Internet opportunities: meanings. In every release were the same words and phrases -- e-commerce, supply chain management, Internet-based purchasing, front-end communication systems, back-end information management systems, Web marketing, etc. You get the idea.
The value in processing all this information at one time was the realization that no two companies use these new-economy terms the same way. The use of e-commerce in one release bore no relation to the way the same term was used in another.
For example, one software company defined its Internet-based builder technology system as "a job management and purchasing tool that bypasses the conventional, paper-centric home building management process." Another presented its builder offering this way: "... uses Internet technology to link the building materials and construction supply channel, including manufacturers, distributors, dealers, retailers and builders. Members and suppliers can exchange transactions and business information directly between disparate back-office systems. Participants can leverage and extend their ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems to provide new Web-based services and participate in supply chain collaboration initiatives with their trading partners."
All the usual marketing questions were answered, but comparable features and benefits were nowhere. Each company was too invested in being "the only," "the best" or "the first."
In the past year, I’ve listened to builders eager to work through the technology haze. They want to make the right technology investment decision to grow their businesses, improve profitability and streamline processes. But comparing one system with another is a nearly impossible task. While this isn’t surprising in an industry as new as Web-based business, it does slow the technology absorption rate in an industry as fragmented as this one.
Fixing the situation -- defining the terms of the new economy -- to focus on users rather than technology must be the job of the solution providers. Let’s challenge those who believe they have the answer to look at their offering as "the competition," not as simply their own companies. It is not their customers who should be required to fund the standards, but they themselves.