When analysing BC, it is interesting to look at the ICT usage in SMEs. The total size of the largest BC companies is way smaller than the combined size of all the SMEs4.1. For analysis of BC as a whole, analysis of the SMEs is therefore more significant, especially when looking at the ICT usage: the shiny applications that can be used by the few biggest companies tend to obscure (or over-illuminate) the generally dim picture.
For the small companies, one can assume a basic level of ICT usage. An Internet connection is normally available; a recent year-long action in the Netherlands tried to raise the number of small construction companies that had an ADSL connection from 50% to 100%, with reasonable success. Word processing and spreadsheets are in place. For the large number of <5 person local constructors, the level of automation will be equal to that of the proverbial 15 year old nephew (without meaning this in any negative way).
For a higher level of automation, it is illustrative to look at the applications on display at BC ICT shows . Most common are: CAD packages; administrative software like order management, customer databases, financial packages; document management (including project extranets4.2); calculation packages for for instance strength calculation. The bigger the company, the more one can expect to see such packages. Of course, even one-man architectural offices will have CAD software; document management systems on the other hand need reasonably large companies before there is enough return on investment.
There are software packages for SMEs that are advertised as complete solutions for the entire BC process, mostly with a CAD system at the core. Within one such system, a level of cooperation and information re-use is feasible. Once you cross organisational boundaries--which happens often, as BC projects are normally done together with other companies--there is only a small chance of encountering the same system on the other side of the organisational boundary. Which means that such integrated packages are not a solution for improved information exchange in BC as a whole. Often, the limited technical basis of the Classification and Specification systems make it very hard to couple such data (see the beginning of chapter 3).
Concluding, the availability of computers, basic word processing and Internet connectivity is not a problem. The further level of automation leaves much to be desired, especially when looking at the meaningful exchange of information. Part of this is due, however, to the underlying technologies.Reinout van Rees 2006-12-13