Laiserin's Lemma—Greatly Exaggerated
(lemma: a short theorem used in proving a larger theorem)

Jerry Laiserin

Mistaking James Ross Clemens for his cousin, Samuel Langhorne Clemens—a/k/a Mark Twain—the New York Journal erroneously ran a Twain obituary in 1897, some 13 years before his actual death. Apprised of the "news," Twain famously replied, "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." Recently, many observers have mistaken moribund "dot-coms" for their thriving cousins in the web-enabled building enterprise. In light of the latest developments, it would be safe to say that reports of the death of AEC e-business are greatly exaggerated.

For example, the field of web-enabled project sourcing and procurement—which, in 1998-2000, was claimed to be the winner-takes-all province of now extinct "first movers" such as BidCom—has seen signs of solid progress toward really useful stuff. Long time cost estimating and project management systems vendor Timberline announced that it would become the exclusive distributor of the online contractor pre-qualification system developed by BuildPoint (BuildPoint, in turn, counts McGraw-Hill Construction, with its Sweets' catalogs and Dodge Reports, as an early investor). In a similar move, estimating vendor WinEst and sourcing directory The BlueBook announced a strategic linkage between their offerings.

Such connections make sense, as cost estimating software logically needs to interact with web-based sourcing (and vice versa), leveraging the respective strengths of both tools and both technology formats. The twentieth century notion that the web would instantly disintermediate all existing players and processes in design and construction seems hopelessly nave in hindsight. Now, we see companies capitalizing on second mover advantage (learning from the failures of more venturesome peers)—companies such as Seattle-based eBidSystems, which focuses exclusively on AEC and government procurement.

Other bright spots include:
> a renewed product focus on AEC projects from Framework Technologies, one of the market pioneers that had drifted away toward more lucrative decision support systems for product manufacturing;
> the entry of knowledge management heavyweights such as OpenText into AEC project collaboration (the AEC-specific core functionality of OpenText's LiveLink for Construction is derived from Integration, the web project solution developed by the uber-engineers at Arup for their own use); and
> the first-ever industry profits, reported by UK-based European project network BuildOnline—this in an industry that pooh-poohed profits in its fin-de-siecle boom times.

Lest we get carried away by the triumph of reality over hucksterism, the December 16 issue of InformationWeek magazine baldly trumpets "Autodesk, Inc.'s Buzzsaw service [as] a de facto industry standard." Besides coming as a surprise to other would-be de facto standard-setters in the USA, such as Constructware, e-Builder (another outfit partly backed by McGraw-Hill funding), Primavera's PrimeContract.Com, facility-linked ProjectEdge and Meridian Project Systems ProjectTalk, this sort of undocumented hype-making reportage does a grave disservice to a still-maturing industry.

A further sign of the industry's ongoing maturation process is the emergence and/or survival of niche players, especially the unheralded (and often regional) systems that go out of their way to be A/E friendly rather than contractor/owner-centric. Such systems include: the reprographics-linked, Indiana-based DocuNet; the delightfully puckish, Missouri-based EdWebb; New York-based ("howya dooin?") PlanDesk; and Texas sweetheart ProjectMates.

W. Brian Arthur, of the Santa Fe Institute, has written extensively about the business lifecycle of technological revolutions, most notably in a Business2.0 article earlier this year, in which he said:

"what interests me is the pattern of speculative exuberance, followed by crash, followed by a strong buildout period. we are not at the end of the information revolution. We are only partway into it, and the buildout—the golden age—has yet to come."

I tend to agree. With respect to building project collaboration, reports of the industry's death indeed are greatly exaggerated; we have just entered the industry's "buildout period," and the "golden age" is yet to come.

Let me know what you think.


Editor and Publisher, The LaiserinLetter
Analysis, Strategy and Opinion for Technology Leaders in Design Business



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