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Stone firms coming round to multimedia

IT/Law Report: Applications

UK STONE producers are winning export orders and improving efficiency following an 18-month multimedia drive by the suppliers' marketing alliance, British Stone.

When its £200,000 project started in February 1998, none of the 18 participating firms were using computers for anything more than basic tasks. Now all have web sites which are hot-linked to British Stone's site, most have installed ISDN lines and can video-conference, and some are using a combination of digital cameras, lap-tops and mobile phones to transmit quarry pictures to an architect's desk.

One firm has just secured a contract on the basis that it can operate in a multimedia environment; while others are shipping stone to the US and Japan after customers found them through the website.

British Stone director Ray Symons said that there was a lot of resistance to multimedia initially, with many people unable to see potential business benefits. Lots of hands-on training and large-scale demonstrations have overcome these problems.

He explained: 'It's getting over that embarrassment threshold where people say 'I haven't got any keyboard skills...'. Once they see you do not have to be a computer nerd, they are more prepared to go ahead.'

Video-conferencing was one of the first technologies adopted by British Stone. Mr Symons cited the economies: a PC with video conferencing software and a camera costs around £1,400 whereas each executive committee meeting for the alliance was costing at least £4,000.

Member companies have found other applications for the technology such as using ISDN links to transfer information between remote sites, and diagnosing problems with plant through transmitting digital pictures to maintenance engineers.

British Stone's project is sponsored through the DTI's Information Society Initiative Multimedia Demonstrator Programme.

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