Efficiency pours in

The construction industry has been notoriously slow to adopt new technologies. Quite often, the reason given is because of that industry’s myriad unique requirements, and generic software packages require huge amounts of customization. At the same time, it’s expensive to build these systems from


A Concord, Ont.-based Web portal developer called iStark Inc., however, is hoping to become an exception to the rule. And in partnership with Dundee, Mich.-based Holcim Inc, it has developed a portal called Cement Online, which aspires to bring e-commerce to the concrete industry.

The Cement Online Web site sprang from a need to help customers streamline business by placing orders and having ready access to information, account statements, bills of lading and business management tools.

Barry Thornbury, manager of promotion, training and e-business at Holcim, says 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, users do not 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 and technical documents,”” Thornbury says.

External users might include general contractors, engineers or architects who want details about companies or general information about the environment. “”iSTARK can strategically target information that makes sense to them,”” says Dave Codack, CEO of iStark Inc.

Holcim provides extra personalization for customers based on their transactional information, Codack says. Cement Online allows the company to track an individuals’ 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 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,”” notes Scott Ringler, iSTARK’s director of marketing and communications. Cement Online also maintains an archive of 13 months’ worth of weather conditions in major North American and many global cities.

Holcim accelerated the rollout of the free application to meet customers’ growing demand for access. Townsend says one customer reported that using Cement Online cut in half the time he 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 pilot projects involving wireless applications, vendor-managed inventory — automatically replenishing products for customers without requiring them to order — third-party vendor interfaces and truck tracking using GPS (global positioning system).

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