2006 – a strange year for extranets

As a PR professional, I always read Rachael Dalton-Taggart’s observations (on her blog PR, Marketing and the Business of CAD) with interest. While she writes from a US perspective and is mainly focused on the CAD sector, her views sometimes coincide with mine (UK-based, mainly concerned with web-based AEC collaboration tools).

In her latest post, 2006 – a strange year for CAD, for example, Rachael says she is “stricken by the feeling that CAD news is getting, well, simply boring”, adding her fear “that the CAD industry is in danger of being marginalized … [and] commoditized into a ‘check box'”.

‘Simply boring’

I have held a similar view for some months now, but regarding UK PR and marketing of collaboration technologies.

Thinking back four or five years, it seemed that ‘project extranets’ (as they were then popularly named) were rarely out of the trade media and industry seminars and conferences on the topic were always well attended. Today it seems extranets are no longer a novelty; it isn’t a question of ‘Should we use an extranet?’, but ‘which system should we use?’ (I have regularly covered the responses to just such a standard question asked by UK trade paper Contract Journal – see example posts here and here), and vendor news releases regarding new project wins, new corporate deals or new product features rarely rate column inches in the main industry magazines such as Building, Construction News, and CJ.

The leading UK vendors noticed this, of course, and in addition to their own individual efforts (see UK extranet vendor PR update), the NCCTP at least tried to raise their collective profile – most notably by commissioning some independent market research. This achieved significant coverage in both Building (post) and Contract Journal (post), plus QS News and some of the more dedicated UK construction computing publications (for example, I was recently quoted in a feature in the new InSite magazine from the IT Construction Forum). Without this campaign, UK trade media interest in collaboration technologies would have been almost non-existent during 2006.

The answer?

What does Rachael suggest as a solution to such “boredom”? She writes:

“… everyone in the industry – users, press, vendors and the like – have a responsibility for keeping this industry vital and up-to-the-minute. How? By welcoming new innovation, working out how to exploit it, finding ways to keep the industry vibrant and current. Bringing new, maybe risky, technologies on board that attract the ‘MySpace” generation, and then the ‘SecondLife” generation. Let’s move away from the standard ‘product upgrade’ and start looking at how current technologies can make engineering better – and more attractive too.”

Perhaps the same remedies can be applied, individually and/or collectively, by the collaboration vendors? Let’s build awareness of the genuine (as opposed to potential) project benefits of the technologies via strong case studies. We could talk about the different business models (eg: on-demand or Software-as-a-Service provision versus in-house hosting), and draw on customers’ experiences of real business benefits achieved via long-term strategic relationships with vendors. And let’s look forward to address new challenges/opportunities such as building information modelling (BIM), mobile devices, and tools such as wikis.

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