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technical & practice

This CPD article examines the cost-efficiency benefits of project extranets over conventional paper-based communications Stephen King's claims that his pay-per-view online publication The Plant would shake the foundations of mainstream publishing were reported in the media as an embarrassing overstatement, as it seemed that not many people had taken him up on the offer. As one of the most popular authors of airport horror and suspense stories, it was widely reported that King had come a cropper. Ordinary people, it seems, are reticent about abandoning good old-fashioned paper-based reading matter.

Less well known is that, in fact, the adventure turned King a handsome profit of US$464,000 (£313,000). So even though there does not seem to be a great deal of support for online communications, there is more than enough to make a profit, and in this case, subscribers received a six-chapter original story for just US$6 (£4).

A clear case of win-win. And things, as they say, can only get better.

Improvements in online connectivity, reductions in telephony charges, a wider technology skillsbase and the normalisation of computer usage, among other things, have meant that there has been a dramatic increase in electronic liaison in recent years.

It is true that we have not yet witnessed a truly paperless world, but is this because people reject the technology or because the technology has not yet met our expectations?

If it is the latter, then it may well be that our expectations have risen as we become more blase about communication capabilities. Whatever our viewpoint, it is undoubtedly true that electronic mailing and virtual document transfers are beginning to have real impact on personal and business-to-business communications.

B2B or not to be Far from being the death of the English language and the end of writing skills, people are writing more and more and demanding speedier forms of communication. As extranet transfers become commonplace in the dissemination of business-related documents, legislation is providing more detailed safeguards to this type of transaction (see box below). Similarly, manufacturers are incorporating high-security encryption as a secure method for information transfers.

For architects, online management system providers have come on in leaps and bounds. But a key concern is efficiency. Systems such as Cadwebnet can be used in conjunction with any pre-existing computer system - so no new hardware or software is required. Reducing expenditure on hardware is one thing, but for those concerned with the bottom line, it is important to see this as saving money, rather than simply not adding cost.

Stamp of approval Analysis has been made of a range of schemes of varying complexity, to assess the actual costs of standard 'snail mail' correspondence over the course of a given project. Given that drawings and letters are often sent to more than one party, the overall cost of printing and distributing documentation can result in immense costs to the sender. Incredibly, on a scheme of £10 million, approximately 20,000 individual document transactions will have taken place, including labour, printing, copying and postage charges, resulting in a cost of £100,000 plus. And this includes only a basic assessment of administrative costs.

It is fair to say that the adoption of project extranets tends to be economically viable only on major schemes, say, of between £1million and £2 million. Once above this figure, the benefits rise exponentially. On the Portman House project (see box, right), it has been estimated that more than £300,000 would have been spent on traditional printing and postage costs alone had not e-document management been used.

Below we list some of the general expenditures which would accrue to a £1 million new build scheme over the course of a year, from planning to completion. These figures are based on actual case-studies although the rates have been kept low for illustrative purposes.


Cadweb: www. cadweb. co. uk ISO/IEC 17799: 2000 (previously BS 7799) Information technology Part 1: Code of practice for information security management BS 7799: Information security management Part 2: Specification for information security management systems (AMD 13087) 'Order online, for your project', Austin Williams, The Architects' Journal (17.8.00) 'There's no gain without pain', Phil Mullan, The Architects' Journal (22.2.01) EA7/03 provides guidance to National Accreditation Bodies for the accreditation of Certification BRITISH STANDARDS INSTITUTE (BSI) INFORMATION Provisional Document (PD)3004: Guide to BS7799 Auditing PD3005: Selecting BS7799 Controls.

PD3003: Are you ready for a BS7799 Audit?

PD3002: Guide to BS7799 Risk Assessment and Risk Management PD3001: Preparing for BS7799 Certification PD3000: Information Security Management: An Introduction

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