Wi-fi cities

A BBC article Wi-fi cities spark hotspot debate talks about US cities which are planning to offer low-cost or even free wi-fi services to their citizens just like other utilities such as water or electricity – but big business is ganging up to prevent this threat to existing telecoms businesses. I like the notion of providing free access to low-income households (currently often excluded), to support new businesses, etc, but surely the major telecoms corporations will try to offer competing broadband solutions that offer higher bandwidth but at a cost – effectively maintaining a technology gap between rich and poor.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2005/10/wifi_cities/

4Projects revamps website

4Projects has launched a new corporate website, revealing a new brand identity.

The accompanying news release notes the site also includes "opportunities for … individuals who might be seeking a new challenge in our dynamic working environment", and – perhaps indicative of recent turnover within the 4Projects ranks – the recruitment page lists four posts to be filled.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2005/10/4projects_revam/

UK Broadband: no such thing?

Peter Cochrane’s blog at Silicon.com destroys the idea that the UK is a leader in broadband technology.

"… the UK fits into the world scene as follows: by households online: around 15th; by population served: around 18th; by growth rate last year: 14th; by lines added in 2004/5: fourth; by total lines per capita: sixth."

He also underlines the contention ratio issue (I touched on this briefly yesterday) quite succinctly:

"It is not unusual for between five and 15 (or more) UK customers to share a single port. Ergo, the actual rates presented can be one-fifth to one-fifteenth of the 128 to 512Kbps speed – and therefore a fraction of a typical dial-up connection. Indeed, some customers have complained that so-called broadband services have been so slow they have reverted to dial-up as their primary service."

Contrast this with the situation in Korea and Japan, where they started with a 10Mbps service as standard, then quickly moved up to 50Mbps, and are currently rolling out 100Mbps. And, by law, the advertised rate has to be supplied to every customer! As Peter says: "we don’t have any broadband to speak of…. The real online revolution has yet to hit the UK."

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2005/10/uk_broadband_no/

Autodesk Buzzsaw not ‘consistent’ market leader

"Since 1999, Autodesk® Buzzsaw® has consistently led the market for project collaboration and management solutions." What’s wrong with this assertion (made on the Autodesk website here)?

Well, ignoring the claim to market leadership (made, after all, by just about every construction collaboration technology vendor I know), it’s the word ‘consistently’. The statement – probably an oversight on Autodesk’s part – conveniently overlooks the troubled early years of the Buzzsaw project.

Buzzsaw.com was launched in November 1999 – near the peak of the dot.com bubble – by Autodesk Ventures, a specialist division established purely to invest in new web-based startups. Buzzsaw was spun off as a separate company with a substantial investment of both former Autodesk personnel and Autodesk money (read Casey Elston’s CADdigest article for the full story), with ProjectPoint as its online project collaboration service.

To cut a long story short, having burned its way through some $90 million (including an estimated $23.5 million from Autodesk), by early 2001 Buzzsaw.com was nowhere near profitability – having offered some of its services for free to establish a larger user-base; it then began closing down some of its operations – including its London office – and laying off its people. Autodesk acquired the business in July 2001, paying $15 million cash for the 60% shareholding that it didn’t own, and ProjectPoint was later re-branded as an Autodesk product: Buzzsaw.

But I somehow don’t think we’ll see a more historically correct assertion: "Since 1999, the Autodesk-backed spin-off Buzzsaw.com using ProjectPoint, which we then bought back in 2001, subsequently rebranding its application as Autodesk® Buzzsaw®, has led the market for project collaboration and management solutions." Doesn’t really have the same impact, does it?

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2005/10/autodesk_buzzsa-3/

Designers want CAD plus process support

Just found an AEC Weekly article from 26 September 2005 giving the results of a major European industry study “New Business Potentials for Architects and Engineers” completed for Nemetschek and described as "a thorough investigation of what potential and challenges lie ahead for architects and engineers in Europe and the UK".

When it came to information technology, unsurprisingly – given that the survey was focused on the design community – respondents placed most value on "construction/CAD functionality".

Primary concerns for a successful AEC software solution were ease of use and a good price/performance ratio, but other characteristics, included the provider’s reputation, and the amount of training required, were also important.

The article also noted:

"Interestingly, British respondents identified investment in human resources (38 percent) as a most important aspect of meeting specific challenges in today’s market, while on average only 20 percent of the European practices regarded this aspect as important."

I wondered why my countrymen focused on human issues more than their European mainland counterparts. Initially, I thought it was perhaps because we have a skills shortage in the AEC professions in the UK. But on reading the related press release, I learned the 100 British professionals surveyed were anxious about "tougher competition, more demanding customers, and new legal requirements".

What was expected from software vendors was also spelt out:

"Today, software vendors must offer tools for change and cost management, design management, and collaboration in order to actively support their customers in meeting market expectations….

"… almost one third of the architects and engineers feel it is critical to upgrade CAD systems to solutions that enable an integrated end-to-end workflow. 21 percent are eager to invest in other software and education."

Plainly, simply sharing documents and drawings is no longer enough. For designers, it’s increasingly about managing design team processes and integrating the design function with other project team disciplines.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2005/10/designers_want_/

Retail shake-up

Late on Friday evening, a consortium led by property tycoon Robert Tchenguiz finally agreed a £1.1 billion deal to take over the Somerfield chain of supermarkets (the group has some 814 Somerfield stores and almost 500 Kwik Save outlets). Analysts appear to think the consortium is mainly interested in the group for its high-street properties. If the deal meets with shareholder approval, analysts expect most of Somerfield’s less valuable sites to be auctioned off, followed by a sale and leaseback of the better quality properties (though Tchenguiz was promising to "throw a lot more money" at improving the chain, the Sunday Telegraph reported yesterday – see BBC news item).

Why comment on this acquisition? Well, it may mean a little bit of a shake-up in the workload of two construction collaboration technology businesses. In April this year, Autodesk was celebrating the selection of its Buzzsaw product to manage the delivery of 300 Somerfield projects a year, a deal clinched by Autodesk reseller Excitech. They may well be a little uncertain about the future of that deal now.

Tchenguiz is the major shareholder in embattled rival UK extranet vendor Asite. Assuming he hasn’t got sick of its continued poor financial performance (see 28 September post: ‘Asite books more losses’), he might perhaps look for all those Somerfield projects to be managed using the Asite system instead. This would give Asite’s workload a much-needed boost, but would erase one of Buzzsaw’s few UK case studies.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2005/10/retail_shakeup/

Extranet defined by Wikipedia

The Wikipedia has a page about extranets. From a UK perspective, it helpfully lists all the members of the NCCTP, and includes links to all the NCCTP members, plus about a dozen other providers (some from the construction industry – such as Citadon and Constructware – some not, eg: ProjectFusion, Xerdict), and one or two other links.

However, there is probably still scope to improve the content and perhaps to collaborate on other pages linked to the topic. Last week, Ralph Grabowski was urging readers of WorldCADaccess to update the list of CAD suppliers. Perhaps there should be a similar Wikepedia list of project collaboration or extranet suppliers?

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2005/10/extranet_define/

8Mbps broadband – and more!

Earlier this summer my home broadband connection (from BT) was upgraded to a theoretical 2Mbps, offering me a download speed four times faster than previously (subject, of course, to contention ratio constraints, etc in south-east London). Today, I read that BT is planning to roll-out an 8Mbps service, starting next month – stimulated by competitors such as NTL, Wanadoo, Bulldog, Be and Easynet, some of whom are offering speeds of up to 24Mbps!

These days, more people in the UK go online via broadband than by dial-up – the latter was overtaken in May 2005 and now makes up 50.7% of net connections. According to the BBC, Jupiter Research predicts that by 2010, 80% of online households in Europe will have a broadband connection – a figure that is likely to be even higher in the UK.

There is certainly less and less room for construction project team members to complain about the cost or availability of fast internet connections, and to use this as an excuse not to use construction collaboration technologies. However, some organisations move slowly, and we do still occasionally learn of companies where staff sometimes prefer to work at home because their internet link there is faster than the one they use on-site or in the office.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2005/10/8mbps_broadband/

Wi-Max v 3G, etc

It’s perhaps only to be expected, but some of the major mobile telecoms are sometimes a bit dismissive about Wi-Max. According to Silicon.com, one Nokia executive thinks it is nice technology, but over-hyped; an Intel executive sees Wi-Max peacefully co-existing alongside 3G; and Siemens doubt that VOIP over Wi-Max will seriously threaten existing voice services. With Wi-Max standards still to be agreed, the article says we are unlikely to see Wi-Max laptops until about 2007, while low-end mobiles with Wi-Max are a further 3-4 years away.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2005/10/wimax_v_3g_etc/

Gorillas and minnows?

I occasionally dip into ‘Microscope’ IT magazine. This week’s edition has a piece about Salesforce.com and how its hosted CRM solution could be squeezed by the software "mammoths". The latter (including Oracle, Sage, Microsoft and SAP) are incentivising their resellers with bounties to take SME customers away from Salesforce.com – such a strategy appears to recognise that they cannot compete against Salesforce.com’s direct marketing.

By the end of the article, however, the ‘mammoths’ had been transformed; a CRM reseller described the market: "Salesforce.com is a new entrant and is a minnow in a market of gorillas. It will ultimately fail." As a metaphor, I am not sure this exactly persuades me. I am not sure you often find gorillas in water; even if you did, I don’t think they would have the speed or agility to crush a minnow (and, as we all know, mammoths became extinct thousands of years ago!).

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2005/10/gorillas_and_mi/

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