A former client of mine, construction industry software solutions provider COINS, recently acquired e-Xact Online, the product information service for building materials (reports BuildersMerchantsNews.com; see also COINS news release).
e-Xact Online was launched in 1999, originally by the Builders Merchants Federation, with the assistance of a DETR government grant that was aimed at removing costs from the supply chain. Its database includes details of over 165,000 products listed from around 130 major suppliers of building materials, including Travis Perkins, Jewson, Buildbase and many leading independent builders’ merchants. It provides a standardised and rapidly updated means to distribute cost information, images, data sheets and other product-specific information for trade counters, sales offices and web catalogues.
COINS business development director Nigel Cope said the aim was to create “the most comprehensive product information service for the construction sector.” COINS says its software is used by 31% of the top 100 UK construction companies and 33% of the top 30 Irish construction companies, so there is signficant potential demand for materials information from professionals within its contractor customers. And COINS also manages one of the industry’s main e-trading communities, COINS-etc, so there is scope for it to add a pre-purchase electronic information dimension to its existing procurement-to-payment capabilities.
e-commerce and e-collaboration back on the agenda?
Back in the late 1990s, there was a rush by various construction organisations to create e-commerce ventures, but many of these businesses disappeared when the dot.com bubble burst in 2000. I recall (post) how several major contractors clubbed together in competing UK and pan-European construction e-marketplaces such as Arrideo, AECVenture and Mercadium, while Asite and BuildOnline (now part of Sword-CTSPace) both dabbled with the e-commerce idea before focusing on construction collaboration technologies.
e-Xact Online emerged around the same time, but weathered the dot.com fall-out partly due to its focus on product information provision rather than providing a trading hub (in much the same way that collaboration vendors largely survived as they were focused on managing design information and not procurement). And this acquisition has set me thinking that the potential integration of design and procurement processes hypothesised by those early ventures may yet happen.
With growing interest in building information modelling (BIM), easy, early access to detailed materials information in electronic formats will become increasingly important as clients and project teams seek to comply with carbon reduction, legislative and economic requirements. And I think there is also scope for such information to be made available to project teams as they design and specify materials and products using construction collaboration platforms (I foresee architects and other designers perhaps being able to ‘pull’ in materials information and share it as part of their interaction with fellow project team members). Maybe, more than a decade after the “dot.com bust”, we may yet see the emergence of integrated design, procurement and e-commerce.