Extranet providers add too many bells and whistles without enough long-term technical support, according to critics such as Jim Bedrick, AEC information services director at Webcor Technologies, a general contractor in Hayward, Calif. "Providers have added functionality that has compromised ease of use," he said in a May 22 speech in San Francisco to the local Building Industry Conference Board.

Contractors want something reliable yet "we have not yet seen something that 'just works,'" he added. He complained that the complexity hinders the industry from becoming extranet-enabled despite the increasing use of design-build, which encourages electronic collaboration.

When working well, extranets even benefit traditional project delivery by putting pressure on designers to respond promptly to contractors’ requests for information, since everyone knows the RFI log-in dates. Bedrick called on facilities owners to insist on the use of extranets since "the compensation models that are out there don’t really reward collaboration."

But some extranets limit collaboration, letting only owners, not contractors, close out RFIs. Loosening such restrictions might create more complexity. Webcor plans to find a happy medium. "Eventually, we’ll figure it out and make it work," Bedrick said.