Architecture has always been a bit of a plodder where technology is concerned, despite the machinations of the hi-tech wizards. But while you've not been looking, design software companies have been busy making the process of architecture and multi-disciplinary practice an e-business. 'B2B' - 'business to business' direct commerce - is the new hot expression.
Among the companies striving to get involved is Bently Systems, the producer of MicroStation. Greg Bentley, president and chairman of Bentley, says: 'The world's smartest analysts are assessing the value of companies in the light of the potential rewards of B2B e-commerce.
They seek to identify domains and industries where supply chains can be made more efficient in a scalable way, through the Internet. In particular, they look for opportunities to minimise tangible transaction costs. Our own study of these same opportunities has led to the discovery of very intriguing new opportunities for us as a vendor and for our users. ' Every time we peruse a web catalogue, work with a consultant, send letters of intent, or change a design we make a transaction; these transactions can be charted and quantified in terms of time, money and efficiency.
Bentley believes its e-business system 'Viecon' will drastically alter the way software is sold to architects and engineers.
Viecon has three components: Viecon. com; Viecon licensing of Bentley software; and a platform which will allow companies to create their own extranets, as well as provide other firms with the technology to facilitate the implementation of private trading networks.
Viecon. com allows firms to lease and license Bentley software for short periods of time - the length of a project, the time it takes to cope with project rushes or even just a few days. This can be done by Bentley undertaking to provide all the software for a project and charging a portion of the fee that the design firm receives, which could be charged as a project expense.
Until recently, those who created design software and those who created project-management software were in different companies. The amalgam of these two software protocols creates the opportunity to produce highly dextrous software that can deal with design-team dynamics as well as the design data itself.
Viecon can create discussion groups, where participants not only see the current message but can follow the history of a particular position or viewpoint. Also, a user can search the database for certain evolved forms, or for certain layouts. This reduces the need to get latecomers to projects 'up to speed' as the whole dialogue is there for the reading. Other features allow job runners or project managers to divide projects into subprojects and allocate work packages and their status. Viecon also allows the origination, tracking and status of requests for information. In short, all the parameters of a job can be viewed at any point in its development and managed accordingly.
This approach has already won architectural fans. Iain Godwin, IT director of Foster and Partners, says: 'The Internetbased Viecon technology will be very important as a method of ensuring effective collaboration between our extended teams spread across Europe, Asia and the Americas. It will simplify and shorten the process of creating complex projects. It ties in well with the natural workflow of a design organisation and it's good that the interface is so simple because of the variety of people who need to use it. The aecXML underpinning of Viecon has enormous potential for permitting interoperability between different design firms. Over the medium to long term, Viecon will have a fundamental effect on collaboration, on the information workflows which underpin improvements in the design process. '
Gareth Gerner, information manager and associate with architect Damond Lock Grabowski, has similar views.
'Viecon is a lot more than just another project-hosting website. The construction sector is beginning a period of dramatic change. People who ignore the Internet and the latest generation of applications will seriously endanger the viability of their firms. If architects do not take a lead in the new ways of managing project information, others will impose blunt systems upon us which do not deal adequately with the design process or the range of human, spatial and life-cycle aspects of buildings which we been trained to understand. We see Viecon as a way for architects to quickly build their new role as managers of project information. It will also facilitate our approach to planning for the full life cycle of the building, from concept to demolition. '
For architects, it seems, there is nowhere to hide, no small 'porky pie' to cover one too many beers in the pub when something else needed to be done. With some project managers such software would have been used as a weapon. Such systems are obviously the way clients and the construction industry is going. But ducking and diving should not be taken out of practice - it's the fun bit. When the records become ubiquitous there might be even more need for a bit of what one might call, 'off- piste creative management practices'.
More information about Viecon can be found at www.Bentley.com