Construction companies who have up to now been largely ignored by the high-tech sector can look forward to an online project management tool that will make their lives a lot easier, says one of Canada’s largest general contractors.

London, Ont, based EllisDon

Corp. and Bell Canada Monday announced plans for a construction industry portal scheduled for launch next January. Called e-Construction, the project has already been in the works for six month. The two partners said the stie will provide industry-driven workflow management tool for the construction industry.

Bruce Fleming, EllisDon’s vice-president and CIO, says that the idea for the e-Construction project grew out of industry interest in an EllisDon developed project management software application called EdgeBuilder. This allowed the construction company to move the extensive administrative process which comes part and parcel of any construction project online, reducing the sometimes staggering amounts of paperwork kept on file for each building, he says.

“”Most construction jobs involve several hundred people who mostly don’t work for the general contractor — which is what EllisDon is — they work for sub-contractors,”” he says. “”The challenge of construction for us and any general contractor is to keep tabs and get the right information into those sub-contractors’ hands in a timely fashion.””

The software has also proven to be a critical post-project tool, allowing for audits and investigations should a problem arise on a site, he says.

“”Six months down the road when something is in the wrong place how do we know who was right and how to address that issue?”” he says. “”We do that manually right now with lots of files and lots of records and lots of pieces of paper.””

When word started spreading in the construction industry about EdgeBuilder, Fleming says, EllisDon was approached by other general contractors about purchasing the software. The company had concerns, however, about selling a solution to a competitor. Since Bell Canada has worked extensively with EllisDon outside of the EdgeBuilder project, partnering with the company to deliver an EdgeBuilder-based solution seemed like a natural fit, says Doug McKenzie, Bell Canada senior director of e-business.

“”We kept hearing everyone in the company talk about how EdgeBuilder had transformed their entire business. Understanding that effective project management is critical in that industry, we started to look at this tool and whether we could build e-business offerings for the construction industry around it,”” McKenzie says.

Although the e-Construction project is only in preliminary development stages, McKenzie says Bell has substantial plans to expand EdgeBuilder capabilities by adding Bell e-business solutions to what he calls unique environments for each construction project.

“”We’d really like to have insurance and bonding purchased through this kind of service,”” adds Fleming. “”We’d also like to do building. And then you start to tie in municipalities.””

McKenzie says the initial response from the construction industry has been very good and the partners are working with several contractors towards e-Construction agreements. The specific tools that the Web site will offer are still in development because both Bell and EllisDon felt that the site should evolve in response to industry needs and not offer a heavy-handed solution that may in fact prove more frustrating for contractors.

“”The biggest challenge our initial research identified was that there were some solutions available for construction companies out there,”” McKenzie says, “” but they were typically software products developed by the software industry. So it was important for us to develop something that would be easy for the end user to relate to and would be user-friendly.””

“”I think it would be foolish to just build it and hope they come,”” agrees Fleming. “” So we’re going to gauge industry response and needs and develop the site from there.””


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