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Get your business online at the show

Preview; One of the highlights of this year's Interbuild exhibition will be the launch the first e-commerce initiative for the UK construction industry, writes Aaron Morby

CONSTRUCTION is undergoing an e-revolution. For months the industry has been buzzing with talk about e-commerce and the huge savings in cost and transaction time it offers.

Even last year, e-commerce still seemed a long way off for most companies. But that is changing now with a whole host of opportunities for small and large companies to start trading over the Internet.

In recent weeks there has been a flurry of activity in the construction sector to kickstart e-commerce sites.

And at Interbuild, Construction News is joining the e-revolution by unveiling a product specification and purchasing site for the construction industry.

An on-line product-sourcing program called Construction Intelligence has been developed to offer a huge, detailed database of products allowing users to quickly select the right product for the job.

It offers designers a fast, comprehensive and easy-to-use specification tool, allowing them to make specification choices in a fraction of the time, without moving away from their computer screen.

For builders, it is a straightforward way of locating all the products that match a specification, comparing them, selecting and purchasing the chosen item, and then having them delivered to the site within 24 hours.

The time Construction Intelligence can save in specification and purchasing has been estimated at a minimum of 30 million man hours a year, or around £600 million - 1 per cent of the total annual spend on construction in this country.

The site should play a pivotal role in the development of e-commerce in construction, which is set to explode over the next 12 months.

According to studies of the whole supply side by the Construction Products Association, just 5 per cent of business activity is currently conducted by e-commerce.

This varies from 9 per cent for manufacturers to just 2 per cent for contractors and merchants. At the moment most orders placed on-line have been predominantly through e-mails.

But all that is a about to change. The CPA study found that the volume of e-commerce was set to triple in the next three years, and in five years time about half the industry's business will be undertaken in this way.

Construction Intelligence, which can be accessed through the Construction News website at www.CNplus.co.uk, will help the industry achieve the promise of greater efficiency. Project manager Lindsey Sutherland, who works for e-commerce developer Net Decisions and developed Construction Intelligence, said: 'Until now, the largest available construction database for products consisted of about 30,000 products.

'When Construction Intelligence launches there will be information on 90,000 products available and that figure is set to rise to one million. It is an incredibly large and detailed database.'

Crucially for the purchaser, this powerful specification tool also enables purchase and delivery.

Through a deal with the country's biggest builders' merchant, Wolseley, users will be able to buy online, by credit card or on account, products at trade prices and have them delivered the next day, anywhere in the UK. This is an on-line 'first' in the construction industry.

For any companies looking to develop e-commerce strategies and a web presence, Interbuild will also see the launch of the Construction Plus Network. This offers users the opportunity to build an impressive web presence with quality content at a fraction of the usual cost.

Cost has long been seen as the main constraint on developing e-commerce. That will change at Interbuild.

A bespoke website can typically cost some £20,000 to develop. But the Construction Plus Network initiative will bring this cost down to as little as £3,000.

Working with technology partner Correctnet, the Construction Plus Network offers a professional design service, proven technology, plus quality content in the form of a news feed and a choice of material from the archives of Construction News, New Civil Engineer and The Architects' Journal.

Websites set up on the Construction Plus Network can be easily updated using a standard web browser with little technical knowledge. See us on stand 5327 or visit our website at www.CNplus.co.uk.