There are no IT laggards among the Construction Industry Computing Association, which celebrates its 30th birthday this month with a major convention in Cambridge. On the contrary, said its leader, managing director Ian Hamilton, the construction sector is well up with the game.
"The construction industry is often accused of being behind [on the use of IT] but, compared to many industries, it is much more complex," he said. "We have known how to do things like parametric geometry, for example, since the 1960s and can produce 3D models, but we usually lack the business case and additional cost to do it," he said.
Issues facing the three main fields of construction will be highlighted at the conference on integration, co-ordination and delivery, with a keynote presentation from Stuart Doughty, chief executive of the Costain Group.
The current IT headache for international consulting engineering firms is global networks and communications, and the issues surrounding a reliable comms infrastructure, said Hamilton.
These firms are more likely to go it alone and rely on local agreements, for example, for comms links, routers, or dealing with local telephone companies to ensure reliable comms networks, rather than approaching international consolidators.
The way consulting engineers work demands more sophisticated business models than most software companies can provide. For example, core software has to meet sector-specific requirements such as time-based fee recovery.
Construction industry contractor companies are trying to get a more integrated approach to the information they hold.
There are typically three sets of financial relationships, such as monthly "valuations of measurement" which need linking to compare actual costs with the price tendered. Many firms have these as three separate systems, and switching to an ERP system - at a cost of about £3m - has, in the short term, come straight from the bottom line.
The core IT issues for architects revolve around transmitting complex drawings electronically. This is increasingly feasible but ensuring that what goes in one end comes out the other remains a challenge, especially when transmitting layered drawings.
Legal issues are also important - especially relating to central document management systems on large projects.
What is Cica?
The Construction Industry Computing Association, a not-for-profit organisation, was founded 30 years ago. Its 200 member organisations include the leading players in the construction sector.
Its aim is to encourage the effective use of IT in the context of business benefits and to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas. Fees range from £500 to £2,000 a year, depending on the size of the organisation.
22-23 September, Cambridge. 30th Cica Annual Convention www.cica.org.uk