In a major step forward for common e-business standards, builders, suppliers and software developers are to test an electronic order system based on the Internet data exchange standard XML.
Analysts hailed the industry initiative - called eBuild-XML - as a turning point for the XML data standard, which has been seen as the future backbone for exchanging information over the Web.
House building giants including Alfred McAlpine, suppliers such as Jewson and software suppliers including SAP are all members of the XML standards project. A pilot scheme is due to begin over the next few months.
The new order standard will handle millions of pounds worth of orders every month and replace the existing purchasing system, which is largely paper-based. EBuild-XML will be based on an existing message standard from accountancy software suppliers association Basda and written into procurement packages.
The new standard should also mean that suppliers do not have to re-key data into their back-office systems when they receive an order from a building company.
John Miller, IT director for house builder Redrow, said, "We are likely to save costs and reduce unnecessary administration for work that needs to be carried out.
'To build a house we have to purchase very many items in the standard paper-based way."
A raft of XML-based systems are emerging in the building industry. But the sector lacks a common standard for all companies to buy into, which can cause confusion for suppliers.
"You would have an incompatible set of standards and hubs between suppliers [without the new XML initiative]," Miller added. "To make any progress you need to get a critical mass involved."
IT analysts welcomed the industry standards drive.
"It's a terrific idea and a step forward," said Mark Simmons, a senior analyst at Bloor Research. "A lot of software companies are providing XML as a base line and using XML messaging but the thing that is missing is a standard for different applications."
This was first published in March 2001