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We continue with: Communication and Design with the Internet: A Guide for Architects, Planners, and Building Professionals.



Web Skills are Vital

If the Net is the future medium for all project information (and that is probably a nearer future than you think) then the most important new skill for AEC professionals is Web design and development. That assumption is a key takeoff point for much of the material in the first part of the book. But the real support of this point comes later in the chapters which focus on how firms today are transforming their practices and reaping the benefits of Net technology.


This new core skill is covered in subsequent chapters 2 through 6. We won't get into those chapters too much here. In the first of those chapters this book provides an excellent backgrounder on the creation of the Internet, its origins at the Pentagon laboratory DARPA, its value to scientist around the world, and its eventual rise to the World Wide Web (WWW). This chapter is very illuminating when you think about the actual diversity of players involved in masterminding and creating this incredible structure we call the Web.

The rest of the chapters covering Web skills actually go into a bit of detail in creating Web sites. Though this is where the book gets a tad weak, as it strikes a lukewarm middle ground between introducing these skills and actually teaching them. Those who are looking to learn about mastering the applications and technologies of producing Web sites should probably begin with online guides and books like those from Lynda Weinman.


An interesting side note about the diversity of players behind the creation of the Internet is that it demonstrates the true value of diverse players in collaboration and healthy competition. What this yields is far more powerful innovation then what can be expected by single-source providers of innovation -- no matter how large and powerful they may appear.


Expanding Your Practice with the Internet

The real meat and potatoes of this book begins with chapter 7, Expanding your Practice with the Internet. This chapter explores how some leading AEC firms are using the Internet for their competitive advantage. Topical treatment covers Programming and Problem Definition, Firm Marketing, Research on the Web, Trading Networks, Online Plan Checking and Permitting, Design Firm Administration, and Internet-enabled Project Management.

For example this book shows us how New York-based Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates uses their Web site to supplement live programming workshops with clients and user groups. The Web site helped prepare participants for programming workshops at a Northwestern University project. The value of this process is that stakeholders are allowed increased interaction with the design process and it allows for remote participation -- something very important to university clients. Additionally the information is retained in a format that is open to everyone throughout the consensus phase. As Jonathan remarks, "Information gathering and sharing become easier" with the Web.

In regards to marketing, this book brings to our attention the valuable use of QuickTimeVR (virtual reality) software and its use at Foster and Partners' Website (one of the best early architect sites on the Net). Multimedia becomes key in enhancing and differentiating the user experience when they investigate Foster's project experiences. Jonathan reminds us that the "free flow of information about producers and service providers is leading to a 'frictionless' economy in which buyers and sellers can find each other much more easily. That eventually means that long term relationships anchored mainly in inertia are doomed."

The question is then, will those seeking services which you provide be able to find you? And when they do, will you be affective in marketing your services? As our culture becomes grounded in this new process of obtaining product and services information on the Net, it becomes even more critical that your Web site be finely tuned to your particular audience's informational needs and can differentiate itself from the competition.

Chapter 7, Expanding your Practice with the Internet, continues with information on streamlining your practice. Both using the Net to do product research and being on the Net so that others can find you in the booming Web listings of architects are discussed. The book describes sites like the AIA's Commerce Business Daily and The Construction Market Data Early Planning Report offer detailed directories of architecture firms in the United States. These key resources are likely the first place potential clients, partners, prospective employees and institutions will find and learn about you. But you need to be on them, and you need to be on the Net to do that!

"MIT business professor Thomas W. Malone has postulated the emergence of an 'e-lance economy', in which the fundamental unit of business activity becomes the individual independent contractor whose work is largely self-directed and project-based, performed as part of a temporary network of professionals supported by advanced communication."

In the section on Design Firm Administration the concept of "virtual teaming" is elaborated on. This fascinating discussion involves ways in which offices borrow staff electronically from branch offices or even other firms when short term needs arise. The Web is facilitating the management structure for such activities to take place—and to solve common practice problems.

Jonathan brings up the important work of MIT business professor Thomas W. Malone who has "postulated the emergence of an 'e-lance economy', in which the fundamental unit of business activity becomes the individual independent contractor." This self-directed information worker of the future will likely make a living e-lancing within and for AEC firms.

Thomas believes that as the Internet evolves more and more networked organizations will grow into confederations of Web-linked entrepreneurs.

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