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Internet for beginners

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Why should an architectural practice be on the web? There really is only one answer to this question. Forget about raising your profile, following competitors or doing it because you believe you should. The only valid reason for going on to the internet is to generate additional fee income for your practice. That should be the starting point for any architect thinking about the web.

This series of articles will take you through the process. Over the next few weeks, I'm going to give you some good practical advice, a vision of the future and what effect this new technology will have on your business. I'll highlight some of the best sites for architects on the web and I'll also point you in the direction of additional information, advice and inspiration.

But first make a promise to yourself - learn about the internet: get yourself an internet connection, read this series of articles and spend at least one hour a week on line. At the end of the series, you'll certainly be a net-savvy architect.

According to the research organisation nop, there are now 6.2 million people using the Internet in the uk - and one in ten claim to have shopped on-line in the last four weeks. nop predicts that by the year 2000 there will be 11 million internet users in the uk. Electronic commerce (mostly business-to-business rather than business-to-consumer) grew to a value of approximately£5 billion world-wide in 1997 and is estimated to reach £200 billion within a few years.

Now, the initial process of setting up internet access in your office is not easy - it's a lot more difficult than programming a video recorder, and very few of us can do even that. So the first step is to get some help and talk to your computer dealer - once you are up and running there will be few problems. You'll need a computer, a modem (about £100), a telephone line and an account with an internet service provider (about £10 per month). After that you pay for your time on line at local phone call rates.

So how can the internet help an architectural practice? Here are some ideas for starters.

Finding information - there are over 150 million pages of information on the internet, information on any subject you care to mention. Developing a little expertise with search engines will help you.

Improving communications - the cost savings and advantages of using e-mail over faxes and phones are staggering. For example, a 12-page proposal might take six minutes to fax from London to Newcastle at a cost of £1; to e-mail the same document would take seconds and cost perhaps 5p. Savings like this over a year will add up to a substantial sum.

Sourcing suppliers. Many suppliers of building materials will have placed their catalogues on line; these can be information-rich, graphic and very detailed. Rather than having to struggle through a library of old files, you can have immediate, up-to-date specifications and prices at your fingertips.

Promoting your practice. A presence on the internet will not immediately drive new enquiries to your practice, but you can invite clients and potential clients to visit your site or you can sit down and take them through your portfolio. Give your web address out at meetings, seminars and chance encounters - with the web you are only a click away from your company portfolio.

Creating impressive presentations. The days of the 35mm slide are numbered. Powerpoint-type presentations with sound animation and video can all be placed on the web. Download times are still slow but improving - the net- savvy architect will run such shows from the computer's hard disk or from a cd-rom disk - even a floppy can hold a detailed presentation.

Exploring vrml modelling and visualisation. Virtual Reality Mark-up Language allows 3D presentations, fly-throughs and visualisation. It is one of the most exciting areas of development on the web.

Remote working. New technology allows people to work anywhere and still be in regular contact with the office. Many professionals are finding working remotely from home to be an attractive option for at least a few days per week.

Attracting new staff. You can use your web site to advertise actively and recruit new staff. Any practice will want to attract good graduates or promising young architects. Most will be familiar with the internet so having a web site is a very good way of drawing attention to yourself.

You tell me. The true scope of the internet in the architectural world will not be driven by consultants like me, but by people like you getting to understand and then exploit the technology. Advances and new business models will come from the architectural industry itself.

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