Holcim (US) Inc. said Thursday it had partnered with a Canadian Web portal developer to create an e-business strategy for the cement and concrete industry.

The Cement Online Web site sprung from a need to help customers

improve their business — whether by placing orders or gaining quick access to information, account statements, bills of lading and business management tools, said Bill Townsend, deputy CEO of Dundee, Mich.-based Holcim.

Speaking at the World of Concrete conference in Florida, Dave Codack, president and CEO of iSTARK Inc., Holcim’s Concord, Ont.-based partner, noted there “”may be a lot of pieces of equipment”” on the trade show floor, but over the years “”electronics is starting to take over a lot of that,”” with the emergence of survey equipment guided by GPS technology, for example.

Cement Online will change the business of cement and concrete, “”one of the oldest industries in the world dating back to the 1500s,”” predicted Barry Thornbury, manager of promotion, training and e-business at Holcim.

Thornbury said discussions with customers and other cement and concrete providers convinced Holcim that other applications may have similar technologies but are not rolled into one offering like Cement Online.

Using Cement Online, no longer will customers “”have to wait for telephone calls and items to come via mail. The information’s available right at their fingertips in real-time, such as information like training documents, technical documents.””

Cement Online will target internal and outside users and try to get a better sense of the stakeholders in the cement and concrete industry, explained Codack. An external user may be a general contractor, an engineer or an architect who wants details about companies or general information about the environment. “”iSTARK can strategically target information that makes sense to them.””

Holcim provides extra personalization for customers based on their transactional information, Codack said. Cement Online enables the company to track an individual’s buying patterns and determine whether they might be interested in other applications that enable them to better perform certain activities, he said.

The site’s rich content features detailed weather forecasting tailored to the cement and concrete industry, such as drying factor and windchill calculations — “”anything, really, that’s going to affect the placement of concrete,”” noted Scott Ringler, iSTARK’s director of marketing and communications. Cement Online also has an archive of 13 months’ worth of weather conditions in major North American and many global cities.

Townsend said Holcim accelerated the rollout of the free application to meet customers’ growing demand for access. One customer reported that using Cement Online had reduced by as much as 50 per cent the time spent on the phone or scouring paperwork for specific information.

iSTARK is working on additional functionality that will add value to Holcim’s customers, including pilots involving wireless applications, vendor-managed inventory (replenishing products for customers without requiring them to order), third-party vendor interfaces and GPS truck tracing, said Codack.

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