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Civil-Comp Proceedings
ISSN 1759-3433
CCP: 73
Edited by: B.H.V. Topping
Paper 3

The IT Concerns of Small and Medium Sized Construction Businesses in the Information Age

J.H.M. Tah+, V. Carr+ and S. Hoile*

+School of Construction, South Bank University, London, United Kingdom
*Construction Industry Council/TOPIC, London, United Kingdom

Full Bibliographic Reference for this paper
J.H.M. Tah, V. Carr, S. Hoile, "The IT Concerns of Small and Medium Sized Construction Businesses in the Information Age", in B.H.V. Topping, (Editor), "Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Civil and Structural Engineering Computing", Civil-Comp Press, Stirlingshire, UK, Paper 3, 2001. doi:10.4203/ccp.73.3
Keywords: information technology, small-medium enterprises, internet, E-commerce, construction industry.

Information technology (IT) is an extremely dynamic subject, and its rapid acceptance for common use in many areas of the construction industry mirrors that of many other industries. IT is very much an enabler, and there are many perceived benefits from its successful implementation within an organisation, including time savings, reduced waste, better information exchange, and even cost savings. However, the rapid changes taking place in this area are potentially problematic for the many small businesses involved in what is essentially a very fragmented industry. A series of recent workshops, held at South Bank University in collaboration with the Construction Industry Council, the Department of the Environment, Transport and Regions, and Information Technology Construction Best Practice, aimed to deal with this issue, and to solicit the opinions of those most closely involved.

Attendees were invited from a number of professions, including engineers, architects, building surveyors, quantity surveyors, and consultants, all of whom were involved in small-medium enterprises (SMEs) within the construction industry. IT knowledge of the attendees varied from novices who realised their computing skills were lacking, to IT managers and directors whose knowledge of systems and support issues was considerable. Presentations were made on the future of IT within the construction industry, and from professionals with considerable experience of implementing IT strategies in construction organisations. The ensuing discussions covered many areas of concern, including: the problems and difficulties associated with implementing a successful IT strategy within a construction SME; the merits and flaws of moving away from document-driven models to a data-repository-driven central project model; the potential for E-commerce and the use of the Internet within construction; the rise of construction web portals, and the use of web-based collaboration; problems and concerns associated with interoperability and standards within the construction software domain; and the role of other technologies, such as virtual reality, within the industry. Additionally, attendees were introduced to the Topic online self-assessment toolkit, a web-based tool designed for SMEs within the construction industry. Topic enables organisations, via a series of targeted questions, to determine where they currently stand with respect to IT implementation, and also enables them to see what changes they must make to reach their ideal level of IT implementation. Opinions were solicited on the tool, and for its widespread use and dissemination.

There were many concerns from the attendees regarding the current use of IT in construction. It was generally seen as something which was necessary even vital to the success of organisations, but many felt that, as a consequence, they were being forced to deal with issues which shouldn't exist ideally (such as the lack of computer-aided drawing (CAD) standards, and the multiple vendors in the CAD software market.) Also, some felt that they were being pushed down IT routes they wouldn't have previously considered due to the requirements of clients. Indeed, a number of attendees felt that something which was sold as being greatly beneficial to many organisations seemed to consume vast quantities of resources in some cases, yet there was still very much a feeling of a need to `be in there.'

Details of the demographics of the attendees are presented, and the subjects of greatest concern during the discussions are detailed thoroughly. The concept of the Topic self-assessment tool is also described, as are the attendees' opinions of it. The potential for formation of forums, both locally and nationally, to help realise some of the issues raised are also included. The paper aims to provide a snapshot of IT concerns in small-medium enterprises in the construction industry as it enters the 21st century.

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