In early 1995, it was big news when Winter Park Construction, Maitland, Fla., launched a home page on the World Wide Web. E-mail already proliferated in most big companies but was primarily for internal communication in many firms. Otherwise, they used America Online, CompuServe or Prodigy for their business e-mail until about 1996. The dial-up connections were so slow—9600 bits per second was fairly standard; 14.4 kilobits per second was a luxury—that downloading files, even small ones, was painful and frustrating. Many people just stuck to fax machines, overnight delivery or floppy disks to transfer data.

Contrast that with today's broadband capabilities through T-1 lines, cable modems or DSL lines, which speed data along at 70 or more times faster than the current dial-up standard of 56 kilobits per second. Even with higher-speed connections available, San Diego is the only U.S. city where more than 50% of residents use broadband connections, according to a study by research firm ComScore Networks. Although more people each year are moving in that direction, many managers still say they would be happy to just reliably connect via dial-up to a network from each of their job trailers.

10 Electronic Technologies That Changed Construction
1. The Internet
Collaboration Is Evolving From Sharing to Managing
2. Computer Aided Design
CAD Pioneers Gave Desktop PCs A Full Range of Electronic Drafting
3. Lasers
Lasers Have Become Common Element in Industry’s Toolbox
4. Analysis Software
Speed and Power of Computation Opens Doors to New Possibilities
5. Personal Computers
Personal Computers Empowered Users and Launched a New Age
6. The Fax
Speeding the Pace of Business and Shrinking the Globe
7. Critical Path Method
Network Logic Was Aided By Mainframe Power
8. Calculators
Calculators Built on Microchips Doomed Slide Rules
9. Mobile Communications
Contractors Were Early Adopters of Mobile Comms
10. Global Positioning Systems
Location-Based Technologies Track Construction Operations
What's Next?
Innovations Are Ready for Trial and Adoption, But Great Gains Will Take Major Change

The concept of a construction company having a Website of at least a few pages didn't become common until after the mid-1990s. For years, the prevailing practice was for firms to have online "brochureware." The first big innovation occurred when companies put their job openings on line with an e-mail address so people could send resumes electronically.

The Internet has changed the world and that includes construction. Along with allowing people to browse the Web, send e-mail, upload and download files of all sorts, the Internet allows people to collaborate, even if their geographical location, hours, language or requirements are different.

Jonathan Antevy, co-founder of e-Builder, Boca Raton, Fla., introduced the first project Website in 1995. "The original intent was to put up progress information online—photos, mostly—for the owner," says Antevy. "It was really just putting up a static home page, a brochure online, but for your project instead of your company."

Antevy's first project was Harbor Island, a large planned community in Florida, whose participants could view still shots of their site, updated regularly. "That was like golly gee whiz wow!" says Antevy. (McGraw-Hill Construction, parent of ENR, became a minority investor in e-Builder in 2000.)

Complaints of difficulty in quickly processing change orders pushed Antevy to go from posting progress photos to developing a collaborative site for all project participants to share documents, photos and drawings and let people know when a task was assigned to them.

More collaboration software vendors popped up than dandelions after a rainstorm, each promising more than the one before. Superhype was the rule rather than the exception. “Everybody overpromised,” says Keith Bentley, co-chief technology officer of Bentley Systems Inc. “They felt like they had to get venture capital and it was cool to brag about all the millions they were putting into development. The real pace is much slower.” Many vendors promised end-to-end solutions, but no one yet has delivered that, due to the challenge of interoperability. Venture capitalists discovered the construction industry and shoveled nearly $1 billion into it during the dot-com boom. When it later went bust, only the smart and the lucky survived.

Gradually, software vendors added more features to the project Websites and evolved from simply sharing documents to attempting to manage the process and working with data. "If you look solely at documents, it's a more siloed approach," says Scott Unger, CEO of Constructware Inc., Alpharetta, Ga. Most collaboration solutions these days enable managers to retrieve, sort and manipulate data from multiple projects.

Adoption of collaborative Web solutions still is spotty. While some vendors claim adoption is ubiquitous, there is some evidence to the contrary. One major U.S. airport's chief architect still doesn't use CAD, doesn't browse the Web in any significant way and claims to be able to "send" and "reply" to e-mail but will not go so far as to attach files to e-mail. The Construction Specifications Institute still must send out CDs containing their MasterFormat 2004 classifications rather than rely solely on the Web because too many of their members are unable to view them on the Web, says Dominique Fernandez, CSI’s manager of technical programs.


“There is a danger” of concluding prematurely that online collaboration wasn’t a good idea, based on current adoption, says Bentley. “It’s still a generational and cultural thing,” adds Antevy.

The next step for online collaboration is to more fully manage the process of design and construction. It’s more of a lifecycle management approach. “Tying together a bunch of users, that's been done. Now that you have everybody in one spot with the data, you can coordinate their work,” says Amar Hanspal, senior director of Autodesk Collaboration Services in San Francisco. “In a couple of cases, our customers have used our environment and our tools to create functional templates that they believe will solve a broader industry problem,” says Howard Koenig, president and CEO of San Francisco-based Citadon.

In mid-1995, putting the word "construction" into the Yahoo! search engine netted a result of less than a half-dozen articles. Within a couple of years, there were many thousands of matches. Today, there are 84.4 million. Similarly, there are millions of possibilities of what construction can do on the Internet.