Taking Some of the Sting out of Bytes

Jan. 1, 2000
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At first glance, this issue might seem a bit biased in the direction of computers, software, and the Internet-and in a sense it is. For those who feel this way, we beg your patience, asking as a favor that, rather than offering it up to a landfill, you set it aside for a couple of months and then riffle through it again. We feel that it is a valuable addition to your professional library.

What we’re not doing is advocating the position that you need to be at the leading edge of technology to do your job. Instead, we think it is our job-and ultimately to your advantage-that we gauge the state of electronics in the industry to see what’s available and what’s moving and shaking out there.

I know of few people who wouldn’t much rather be taking giant bites of a pile of dirt than twiddling with a bunch of wimpy bytes doing lord-knows-what in the dim recesses of a little brown box. In this less-than-perfect world, however, the choice might no longer be ours to make. Face it, you can make some fairly substantial mistakes out in the field and find ways to recover. But in today’s litigious and regulation-driven society, you can lose everything you’ve worked for in a heartbeat by what is or isn’t on a little piece of paper or flopping around in a hard drive somewhere.

Negative examples of the situation abound, but it’s also important to weigh the positive contributions of the computer and connectivity. I don’t know about you, but one look at my desk and the stacks of books, papers, brochures, photographs, maps, charts, and magazines that surround it, and you’ll realize that, without the computer to keep things organized, I’d be in deep kimchee. One of the best things that has happened to me in the past few years is the spectacular rise of the Internet, along with the growing use of e-mail by nearly everyone with whom I have routine contact. It’s my paper trail-electronic to be sure-but one that is tidy, transportable, immanently searchable, and a stickler for honesty. While it is possible for e-mails to get lost in cyberspace, in reality their delivery is quite certain, and with it the ability to track activities and respond to others immediately.

While editing a magazine has its complexities, the challenges are relatively simple compared to keeping a handle on all the activities pertaining to a construction project. The need to track every task as close to real time as possible predates the Pharaohs, and systems for doing so are a reflection of the technological leading edge of the time. Today that leading edge lies in connectivity, where project information can flow seamlessly to and from every task element on a job site and beyond. Unforeseen circumstances can be assessed immediately by those who control the resources to deal with such situations, limiting the amount of disruption and work stoppage. Just as important, the entire area of “responsibility” has been given a makeover since the opportunity for near real-time decision-making means that decision-makers will no longer have the luxury of sitting on problems. Connectivity will bring increasing visibility to all aspects of projects-from bidding to bill collecting-reducing the turnaround time in each task as well as highlighting problem areas and substandard performance.

Sure there are some “Big Brother” aspects that this increased visibility into project performance introduces, but discounting the actions of an occasional paranoid, it seems likely that the biggest complaints are likely to come from those who count on mystery and confusion to protect their jobs. In all likelihood it will be excellent employees and skillful supervisors who benefit most from the increased visibility-worthy goals for any business owner with a strong desire for success.