Digital technology promises to integrate sites and people

THE CONSTRUCTION industry in India is only at the initial stages of integrating digital technology. Automated building estimates, documentation and project management are some of the early steps. Elsewhere, continuous investments are made to facilitate better use of information technology. Mobile computing promises to integrate sites and people and thus improve the quality of services. A construction site has varied requirements. It needs effective information management and communication. Different kinds of documents are regularly exchanged and managed. Specifications and workflow documents need to be often consulted and if need be, revised. Updated drawings from different sources need to be shared by the concerned at the site. Coordinated information flow helps streamline the construction process and improve services.The design information is now communicated in the form of physical drawings or sent through emails. According to an estimate, the construction industry in the U.S spends more than $500 million per year in courier, and over a $1 billion in reprographic expenses.

Limitations with emails

Emails are not so useful when it comes to immediate and on site reference. It involves break or shift from work place. Instructions that are conveyed through mobile phones are not well documented and need not be necessarily shared. Mobile phones and PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) are commonplace. Integrating them to receive drawings and documents in real time is the challenge. Mobile computing seems to be a solution.Mobile computing involves mobile devices like mobile phones, PDAs and mobile network. Efficient mobile service is also necessary to make mobile computing effective. Transferring text messages to mobile phones and PDAs is known. Now special software and solutions are developed to receive drawings just in time and view them at site. A couple of companies have come out with products that are usable by contractors and engineers to view blueprints online. Daito Trust Construction Company in Japan has developed its own mobile computing network and reports that this has improved its construction services.

Hands freed

Wearable computers are now supplementing hand held computers. These devices are worn or kept as a part of the human body leaving the hands free. Video Eyewear, wristPC keyboard and one-handed keyboard are some of the products.Xybernaut is one of the leading manufacturers of wearable computers. Some of its products like mobile assistant and wireless web tablet can be effectively used at construction site. This allows the construction worker to communicate and view documents without compromising safety standards. Some of these technologies are still pricey and also await patronage. The case of Redladder is a sober reminder. Redladder, a U.S. based company offered online contract bidding services. In spite of increasing user base, the company closed in 2000 because the investment flow reduced. The overnight closure upset the operations of those who were using these facilities. In spite of these teething problems, the potential of this technology is acknowledged and the industry is pursuing it.There are no fixed solutions available for the Indian construction industry. Choices have to be made to suit their work profile and assets. The questions that are implicitly raised here are whether the Indian construction industry is harnessing the digital opportunities that are available? Is it investing enough to improve its quality and upgrade the skills of its work force? A. SRIVATHSAN

in Chennai