Information Technology Forecast for Construction

Engineering News Record, 12/28/2011, in an article by discusses the growing use of information technology in construction. Here are excerpts with my comments about what this means for building product manufacturers:
The new year will be the year of mobility... when the constraints on the flow of data into and out of the field, and the use of mobile devices to collect, share and present it, give way for good.
Almost everyone on construction jobsites carries a smart phone or other computerized device. This offers great new avenues for building product manufacturers to communicate with customers.
Watch for wireless networks, technology kiosks and pads, and tablets to sprout on more and more jobsites...
Your shop drawings, installation instructions, training videos, and other information has to be accessible.
The value chain has been joined from one end of the project delivery process to the other...
Consider the impact on your distribution strategy, sales management, and customer service.
...relatively inexpensive Tablet PCs running Android and the forthcoming Windows 8, challenge Apple's iPad and iPhone for business use in the field.  
Your field reps will have to be similarly equipped.
...independently created and relatively inexpensive apps will continue to compete with, and sometimes challenge the capabilities of more expensive, old-school, licensed software.
 "Independently created" means "provided by building product manufacturers." Move beyond providing materials to offering tools the contractor can use to run his or her business.
Three-dimensional printing of models and components will become commonly used tools. Imagineers will design, model, and print in 3-D to test and communicate ideas, and then build for real.
This will first happen in design offices. Some manufacturers use this for rapid prototyping of parts. In other cases, actual parts are now "printed."
The "Internet of Things" will grow exponentially and have a direct impact on design, engineering, construction and facilities management, as embedded sensors, cloud-based analysis and rapid data exchange turns our deaf, dumb and blind structures into introspective communicators. 
How will you build intelligence into your product? 
...expect the challenge of capturing, storing, sharing, managing, analyzing, interpreting and presenting the "big data"—that vast collection of information piling up as a product of all of that sensor data collection and analysis, to grow as well.
Intelligent machines are great at capturing, storing, sharing, and managing data, but human beings are still best for analyzing and interpreting a problem and presenting solutions. This means your sales reps must still earn the trust of customers.
In response, look for a drive to simplify data delivery through browser-based interfaces, neutral file formats and innovative visualization.
Don't leave this to your IT guy. Make sure your marketing communications team leads the charge.
In short, look for an exciting year ahead.
I agree.

iPad Apps

A year since its release, the iPad platform continues to gain broad appeal in the design and building product community.  That big, bright, highly portable screen is replacing both the clipboard and the laptop in many meetings and site visits. Businesses in all corners of industry and commerce have found it advantageous to create apps for the iPhone.

As an electronic catalogue, or purchasing device, its big screen can display architectural materials at a pleasant scale, and explain design problems and concepts with readily accessible illustrations.  The iPad-based catalog not only weighs nothing, so it can be carried anywhere, but it can go conceptually where a hardcopy catalog cannot: interactivity, video displays, and far more.

A thoughtfully designed app can be an effective means of interacting with your customers. We believe that developing such apps, is a great opportunity for building products marketers, and we are working with our clients to take advantage of it.

Yometa: 3-D glasses for search engine results

An oft forgotten piece of search engine marketing is that every engine uses a different algorithm, which produces significantly different results. Getting an accurate view of your standing in the search rankings means visiting all the major engines - from someone else's computer so search history does not skew the results - and seeing where you are in each. Many companies choose to focus on a single engine, as SEO is already difficult enough, but getting the full view can be useful.

Yometa is a new web application that gives a more realistic view of search engine results. It shows the top results from the three biggest search engines (Yahoo, Google, and Bing), and generates a Venn Diagram that shows if a given site is on one, two, or all three engines. 

The company's blog points out that typically only 3% of search results overlap. For example, entering "concrete" generates only three pages in the center: WikipediaACI, and Concrete Network's concrete calculator.

Entering "construction" finds no sites common to all three: 

Even powerhouses like Wikipedia are not always in the center; entering "Microsoft" finds their customer support and download center, but not the company's homepage or Wikipedia entry. "President Obama" only found one page on all three sites, and it's not the White House

Now the good news is that even though we're talking about the "three biggest search engines", #2 and 3 combined get about 1/10 as much traffic as Google, so single-engine optimization is not leaving too much on the table. 

Signs of Change: Apps 6 times more popular than web on phones

A recent report found that for smartphone users apps are 6 times more popular than web browsers; for tablet (such as the iPad) the difference is less extreme - only a 60/40 split - but still prevalent:
The study, conducted in April 2011, found that on smartphones, apps were used 85% of the time, but the Web browser was used just 15% of the time. On tablets, apps were still popular, but were used just 61% of the time as compared with Web browsing, which was used 39% of the time.
There are two key takeaways on this:

  1. There is a difference in the way smartphones and tablets are used. Not a surprising conclusion, but an important one to bear in mind when developing your mobile strategy.
  2. People prefer dedicated apps for specific, common tasks. Many of the apps that are "more popular" than web surfing and email are, essentially, just narrowly-focused versions of web surfing and email. For example, people prefer using the LinkedIn app to accessing LinkedIn via the web browser, even though both offer ostensibly the same capabilities. 
I can verify the second point through my own experiences. There are several online resources I use very frequently, that currently do not have an app. Accessing them via browser is becoming problematic because it interferes with other, non-reoccurring web use; it is hard to save my in-progress work, for example, because every time I open a new link I loose my place.

This is important to bear in mind when deciding whether to create an app or a mobile website. If you expect customers to use your tools on a regular basis it may be worth creating a dedicated app, even if it is just a specialized web browser. 

Facebook for Building Product Sales

CSI Product Representative Practice Group Meeting
These online meetings are a great way for sales reps to stay in touch with evolving practice concerns.

May 4, 2-3 pm ET

Topic: Facebook: How to plan for and develop a successful business page
Presenters: Matthew Fochs and Stirling Morris, CSI, CDT
Group Leader: Alana Sunness Griffith, FCSI, CCPR

Since it's infancy in 2004, Facebook has grown to become one of (if not the) largest networks of people across the globe. Over the past seven years, many iterations of Facebook have come and gone and with each change, businesses have tried to find a way to connect with the nearly 615,000,000 users that visit the site. From profiles to groups to pages, navigating the different ways that Facebook can connect with people can be both confusing and time consuming. Looking specifically at Facebook pages as a platform for promoting, marketing and sharing your products with users across the globe, this month's presentation will not only show you the step-by-step process for getting started but also walk you through some of the tricks and pitfalls of Facebook marketing.

Learning Objectives:
- Learn the Who, What, Where, Why and How of Facebook Pages
- Investigate the import question that many companies forget to ask, "Why Facebook and Why Now?"
- Understand the resources (money, personnel, and content) needed to develop and maintain a Facebook Page - Come away with the knowledge to start your own Facebook Page in one afternoon, but get the knowledge to keep it going for years.

System Requirements
PC-based attendees
Required: Windows® 7, Vista, XP or 2003 Server

Macintosh®-based attendees
Required: Mac OS® X 10.4.11 (Tiger®) or newer

Click to Register

How to make a great iPhone app: Bradley ColorSpec

Bathroom fixture manufacturer Bradley recently released the Bradley ColorSpec iPhone app, and it is impressively well done. Be sure to check it out as an example of what can - and should - be done with building product apps.

Guided Tour

The home page is very pretty and eye-catching. I was expecting a standard digital catalog, so this was a pleasant surprise. You can select a product line, get more information about Bradley, or choose from the bottom menu: Materials, Color, Gallery, Favorites, and Locator.

Selecting one of the product lines brings you to a page with tiles of the various options within that line.
You can then view a color in closer detail

Get information on complimentary colors and the relevant partitions.

And - best of all - email the color to a contact, or request more information from a rep.

You can also create a list of your favorites for later reference.
Or visit a project photo gallery.
These are not linked to the color samples, making it harder to find photos of your favorites, and there are very few images. I suspect they will expand this section in future revisions.

Other features help you select patterns using a color chart, and locate reps using Google maps. 

Bugs or features?

The front page is very attractive, but it was unclear until I played with it a bit which parts were clickable buttons, and what they would do. More importantly, when I tried to email a rep, nothing happened visibly. I can't tell if it sent an invisible message to a rep to contact me later, or if the button is broken. 

Other than that, the app works very well and was intuitive to learn. My only other comment - not a criticism, just an observation - is that it provides almost no functionality. In other words, it will be very useful to existing customers trying to select the right material, but does little to draw in new ones. Why should someone download an app that's little more than your - very nicely done - digital product literature? What's in it for them, and what would convince them, if they do, to make a purchase?

My observation is about how the program is used, though; not about its quality. It is important to start app design by deciding clearly what you are trying to accomplish, because it is impossible to make one app that does everything. Better to focus on doing one thing well than everything badly. 

The Bradley ColorSpec app does its one thing very well. It will be a useful tool for designers and installers in the field, or possibly even at their desks, that looks good and works reliably. 


App usage overtakes web & voice on smartphones

According to a report released last week by Zokem and GSMA, app usage is the second most common smartphone activity, trailing only messaging.

I have a few issues with these findings, but it still contains a useful message.

I take issue with two points of this report. First, they report usage in terms of "minutes", not "data transfered", "number of uses", or any measure of the utility of the medium. Considering how slowly most people type on smartphones, saying that I spend 30% more time on email than voice calls is not very meaningful.

Also, the dividing lines between these categories are very fuzzy. Many of the apps I use are essentially single-purpose web browsers, and many apps replace functionality I would normally get from a browser as well. So if I can check email using the iPhone's native capabilities (categorized as "Messaging"), from a dedicated app, or via my web browser, how does my time get labeled? What if I make a phone call using an app, such as Skype?

Despite these concerns, there is still an important message. When there are multiple tools available to accomplish a given task, people prefer to use a dedicated app -- especially for tasks they perform on a regular basis.

In other words, if I am looking for information on a company's product, and it is a one time only purchase, I will use my web browser. If I use that company's products regularly, I will use their app.

For marketers, this means there are two situations where you should look at developing an app:

1. There is a specific task related to your product for which you can create a tool (ie, a brick cost estimator app), or

2. You anticipate customers frequently accessing your catalog, guide specs, etc.

If either of those fit your needs, consider creating an app. If not, your app will probably be perceived more as a vanity/marketing project and is less likely to be downloaded or used.

New way to reach prospects.

Concept: Pay your prospects to read your email.

Description: Conventional methods of advertising may have a low response rate and go to many unqualified individuals, Instead, you can identify the prospects that interest you the most, and pay them to read your ad.

Background: A new website,, conducts what they call an "Attention Auction." Their site explains:
If you are a busy person? Receive too many messages? Forced to spend a lot of time reading crap but still lose useful information? Sell your attention at auction.

If you want to contact an important or busy person but never had chances to deserve his or her attention. Buy attention at auction. purports to provide a way to contact celebrities. For example, movie star Jim Carrey will read an email from a fan for $2.50. But for just $1.99, you can also bid to buy the attention of Jim Bonenfant whose profile says, "Designer/Architecture residential design/modern commercial design/Gourmet Kitchens and Baths/Real Estate investment." A manufacturer of gourmet kitchen appliances might find this a cost effective way to communicate with Jim, since the charge only occurs if Jim actually reads the email. is in a beta release and is very crude. For example, there is no way to search for an individual by trade or location. But I can imagine an the concept being developed further to provide deep coverage of the A/E/C field.
  • As the database of participants is enriched to indicate the types of projects and level of professional responsibility, the system could become being very targetable. 
  • By including various response options in the email, such as clicking through to your website, you could measure the effectiveness of various copy.
  • Advertisers could develop algorithms to determine which prospects to contact. If you need to reach a star architect, perhaps you would be willing to pay $50 to assure that Zaha Hadid reads your email. But if goal is to support a new sales rep in Peoria, Il, you could bid for professional specifiers in town for $1.50 each.
With current economic conditions, I suspect many designers and builders would be delighted to supplement their incomes by being paid to read your advertising. If the idea catches on, it would lead to the end of spam email blasts; prospects will start ignoring the junk mail once they realize their time is worth something to other advertisers.

Instead of waiting for to attact a critical mass of construction industry people, some smart publisher will figure out how to do this. (If you are inspired, please contact Chusid Associates to help you roll out this new service.)

Watch for further developments.

App to Find People at Trade Shows

Nowadays, there seems to be a mobile phone app for everything.  The latest app I've come across seems to have a great implication for trade shows -- Fast Society.

Fast Society allows people at large chaotic events, such as trade shows, to communicate their exact locations and schedules with their team.  Of course you'd have to build your team first.  I'd suggest messaging a few contacts/prospects before a trade show, sending them your team information, and then connecting with them while you're there. describes Fast Society:
"Anyone who has attempted to organize a group outing knows how frustrating coordinating schedules can be, not to mention the difficulty of actually sticking together in a crowded public space once they’re hangin’. Enter Fast Society, a mobile chatroom-slash-friend locator that could change people’s (social) lives. The free app allows its users to group text, conference call, and share locations among groups of friends (known as “teams”) for specified time periods. (Mashable recommended it for concerts, but it can be used for any unruly excursion.) Although there are similar apps on the market, like GroupMe, Fast Society is emerging, um, fast as the category leader."

Signs of Change: Service Providers as App Providers

I have been predicting for a while now that apps would be as revolutionary to the internet as websites originally were.This week an article called "Why Consultants Need to Build Apps" shows we're one step closer to that point:
Services firms...are adapting in new ways to the fast-paced [application] development world. It's not simple but by no means is it as complex as it once was to develop applications. And from our estimations, it will become increasingly important as apps offer increasing business intelligence and the ability to provide self-serve tools any customer can use.
Bullseye. People are increasingly turning to smartphone or webapps as their primary tools for many of their daily activities, and building product manufacturers that understand this trend will have a strong advantage.

A quick definition: I define an app as a small, specialized, single-purpose program. Most apps are easier to download and install than traditional programs, allowing quick and easy ways to upgrade your phone's functionality. Webapps are the same basic idea, but benefit by being housed on a webpage so they will work across multiple operating systems. Disadvantage of webapps is you need an internet connection, and you may miss out on many of the unique features of the individual phones.

Full-scale software development is an expensive and resource-intensive process; many apps, by contrast, are made by individuals in their free time. Software has a high sticker price; many apps are free.

I was joking with a friend who works as a business coach that he needed an iPhone app; how great would it be for his clients to walk into negotiations with him literally in their pocket? We laughed, but he was intrigued by the possibility, and that possibility is exactly what this article taps into.

Many product manufacturers are finding that to stay competitive they have to think of themselves as service providers: we don't sell bricks, we help designers achieve their masonry construction goals, or I don't sell screws, I help my clients figure out why their old screws failed. If you provide a service to your clients, there is an app that can encapsulate and enhance the experience.

How will you find yours?

Signs of Change: Smartphones More Personal Than the PC?

For years my daily end-of-work-day routine was power off the laptop, pack it up, go home, unpack it and turn it back on. Now I do this so rarely that I can leave the laptop at the office (wouldn't that be a great marketing slogan?) most nights and never even miss it. And the 7-year-old desktop in our home library gets booted up so rarely I keep forgetting the password.

How is this possible? What changed so much that these once indispensable tools are becoming so peripheral to my life? 

According to Lifehacker editor Adam Pash, Your Smartphone Is a Better PC than Your PC Ever Was or Will Be. His premise is controversial and debatable, but has an undeniable nugget of truth to it. And it has huge ramifications for our industry.

Pash is not the first to make this argument. The core of his argument is that regardless of how good it is as a computer, the smartphone is far better at the "personal" part of "Personal Computer":
And from a computing perspective, what's more personal than a gadget that:
  • ...comes with you wherever you go
  • ...knows where you are
  • always connected to the internet
  • ...handles every form of electronic communication short of Morse code (oh wait)
  • ...recognizes your voice and reacts accordingly
  • ...doesn't just spellcheck, but corrects your typos

And he's right; that is a highly personal relationship to have with a computer. It beats out my laptop by being easier to bring with and access on the go, and being more specialized for the "personal" tasks. Much of the debate missed this point, though, saying things like:
If my iPhone is so much better, why does it need my PC in order to do something as simple as delete a song?
This commenter is confusing function with message, in a McLuhan sense, however. He wants something that can be achieved with a simple software tweak. What's more important is that of the over 15GB music library on my computer, less than 2%  makes it onto the "personal" playlist that goes in my pocket.

Another commenter makes the case for the laptop as a "BC" - business computer - instead of PC; I like that distinction, with the BC being the high-powered, high-performance machine I use for specific tasks, and the PC being the maybe not-as-powerful but more personal smartphone that is always within reach. Of course, as the same commenter pointed out, "...the line between business and personal is becoming blurred for a lot of people these days - my business is my business, and that is personal to me."  (My favorite part of this comment is that we often "forget that most people use their PCs for exactly the things that smartphones do well. Most people don't photoshop -- they just shop.")

The Problem - and Opportunity - For Marketers

The opportunity this presents us is what this commenter hinted at; there is not a clear distinction between "personal" and "business". Social media is blending them even further, because most people use a single Facebook account both for catching up with friends and making professional connections, but the key to selling to architects has always involved developing a personal connection; become their Go-To Guy and you're much more likely to get specced.

If both these points are true - that it takes personal connections to get specified, and the smartphone is more personal - then it stands to reason that reaching specifiers through their smartphones will help you get specified.

There are many ways to make these mobile connections, but how do you take advantage of this smartphone/PC issue?
  1. Optimize your website. There's a reason this goes first: it's the most basic and obvious way to start reaching mobile clients and prospects. If you have a smartphone-friendly website, or at least a useful landing page, they will go to your site. If not, they will go to whichever one of your competitors does.
  2. Live in the cloud. Lack of processing power is one of the biggest obstacles to smartphone use. Typing a short email is fine, but large-scale graphic design or data manipulation will overtax the smartphone's capabilities (or the user's patience). Cloud computing presents a way around this limit by moving the heavy lifting to a more robust server. What cloud-based utility can you offer your clients that they can access from their smartphone? There is a lot of fertile ground not just in developing new services, but making existing services more mobile.
  3. Know what belongs on the PC. One thing many of the commenters - and the author - agreed on is there are certain tasks that are still better on the full-sized keyboard-mouse-and-monitor machines (KMMM?). If the task involves heavy data entry, large graphics, frequent searches, or intense reading, it should still be on the KMMM. The mobile site should make it easy to transfer the experience to a PC, along with essential data. Don't make them fill out the same form twice.
  4. Be reachable via mobile. One advantage of smartphones is the ease with which they switch between communication media. A single interaction could start on Twitter before moving to a phone call, sent photos, streaming live video, file transfer, and back to Twitter. Know what communication tools your clients use, download the mobile versions, and become familiar with their capabilities. 
The desktop and laptop computer will be with us for a long time, even as our definition of "desktop" (or "computer") changes. But just as email once dethroned the telephone as the primary business communication tool, the smartphone is a disruptive technology that is changing the way we do business and form relationships. Taking advantage of the enhanced personal touch it provides can help your products get in - and stay in - your clients' specs. 

iPad in Construction

Can iPad help your sales presentation? Here's one example:

Second, check out the Construction Equipment Owner's Blogs podcast "Construction Uses for the iPad".

I had the chance to view iPads in the wild, so to speak, recently and my opinions - both positive and negative - have been reinforced.

First the good.

At CONSTRUCT this Spring I saw one exhibitor using their iPad as part of the booth display. Mostly they showed videos and pictures of their product in the field. Was the video better than it would be on a desktop pc? No. But when he put the video into my hands, letting me view and control it, the impact was considerable. Most booths I would just walk past, catching the video out of the corner of my eye. In his booth I stayed to watch the entire clip, and then spent a few minutes playing around with his photo gallery.

Granted, that was as much about playing with the technology as about his product (ok, it was mostly about the technology), but this gets back to the concept of engagement; I spent 30 minutes playing with the iPad, but I was looking at his pictures, his videos, his product literature while I did it. That increases the amount of time eyeballs stay on your literature and builds a relationship with the brand. This effect may decrease as the novelty of the iPad (and slate or tablet computers in general) wears off, but transforming prospects into participants rather than viewers of your message will remain powerful.

A hotel I stayed at recently used iPads at the front desk for similar purpose. Instead of suggesting restaurants and scribbling directions on scrap paper, the concierge invited guests to "explore the neighborhood" themselves, pulling up restaurant reviews, showtimes, directions, and even booking tables. Again, the payoff was increased engagement with the guests; even if the actual utility and information gain remained the same - it didn't; it increased - the richer experience improved their perception of the interaction.

I believe this will be a very powerful feature for selling to architects. In addition to being very visual, architects tend to be very experiential. Giving them something they can manipulate - either a physical object or digital representation - will reach them more than static photography or videos. 

I also was struck again by the iPad's portability. It was smaller, but heavier than I expected. I would not hold it one-handed like I would a book I was reading. Still, its slim profile means it fits nicely into a briefcase, laptop bag, purse, or portfolio, making it incredibly convenient to carry it with me on sales calls.

Now the bad. The iPad has been called "the ideal device for multimedia consumption"; that title is both a compliment and a limitation. Its use has expanded to multimedia content creation, but it still seems somewhat limited to the "multimedia" part. Which means an iPad may be a wonderful addition to my gadget library, but it's just that; an addition. It will not replace anything I'm currently using.

I still need my camera (although I wouldn't be surprised if one gets put in the next generation), I still need my smartphone, and I still need my laptop. Granted, this could greatly reduce laptop usage, but Apple's insistence on maintaining a walled garden prevents some of the utility I need from my laptop as a business and productivity tool. Plus, for extended text writing (such as this blog post) I think I would need the wireless keyboard. And by the time I'm carrying the iPad, a keyboard, peripherals, and a power supply, I might as well be using my laptop.

In summary, I see great potential for the iPad as a new sales tool, but it will be an extension to your tool kit. This might change in future generations, and as competing tablet products reach the market, but for now the iPad remains a tool for the sales team and for personal entertainment.

nora Rubber Flooring's Blackberry App

Rubber flooring company nora is offering a free Blackberry app aimed at helping designers make color selections while on the road. Their page also offers an online color selector and, impressively, a QR code to download the app with instructions on how to use QR codes!  

I have not gotten to use the app yet, since I do not have a Blackberry, but I like what they have done. It shows they know their target market makes decisions in the field, and has a certain amount of tech-savvy. Presenting this with the online color selector is also a great idea because it expands the ways designers can use the tools and interact with the product.

Having the QR code is great; it skips the multi-step process of downloading the app to your computer and syncing to the phone, or the annoyance of typing a complex URL on a Blackberry. Providing links to instructions and a reader is very helpful and demonstrates, to me, attention to customer support.

There is no word on the site about upcoming iPhone or Droid versions; if these are not in the works it seems a surprising choice. Blackberry users are not the strongest app adopters. I wonder if nora's customer profile shows a strong preference for Blackberry, or if this is a choice that will prove limiting.

Based on my limited view of the program itself, it seems to be basically a digital catalog. It provides no tools for doing anything except choosing nora product colors and contacting a sales rep. This type of branded utility works great for loyal customers, but may not do much to bring in new customers or create a viral spread.

Still, creating this app makes nora one of the social media leaders and innovators in the flooring market and I applaud them for their commitment to innovation and customer support.

5 Uses For Location-Aware Technology

Location-aware technology is the current hot-topic in social media circles. As is the case with most new forms of technologies, the first crop of applications are essentially toys and games (Foursquare, Gowalla, Brightkite, CauseWorld, etc.). The most successful and useful location-aware programs (Yelp, Twitter, photo galleries) are primarily preexisting programs that added location features. Either way, the underlying technology has huge implications and potential. Here are five ways location-aware technology can be useful in building product marketing:

  1. Geo-tagging Photos: Using location-data from the other side, photos tagged with location data provide an extra layer of information about the featured projects. As Michael is fond of saying, all construction is local. Architects don’t just want to know your product was used, they want to know it was used in their neighborhood, or one similar to it. Increasingly, photo gallery programs feature built-in location filters that automatically create “albums”, meaning architects can both flip through projects near them, and find the location of their favorite ones.
  2. Create Project Tours: This is something Gowalla does well, demonstrating again that this year’s “toys” can become next year’s indispensable tools. Users can create tours, marking several of their favorite locations and linking to information about each. Use this feature to create a walking tour around towns where you have several notable projects; encourage your prospects to check-in at each (achieved by clicking an in-program button while at the location), and have a prize or coupon for those that visit all the sites. In addition to building engagement, this is a good way to advertise how much work you’ve done around town.
  3. Job Signs: Similar to QR codes, geo-tagging is a good way to publicize your involvement in a project. While QR codes require active participation (users must open the program and scan the image), location-based ads can be more passive, popping up on maps automatically within a defined range. This can also create a permanent digital signature on your work, especially as the precision of these programs increases. Imagine getting a message on your phone as you walk through a building: “Look up! The light fixture shining on you was made by Juno Lighting”, with a link for more information.
  4. Trade Show Ads: This is most similar to the typical retail uses of location-based ads. As show attendees approach your booth, a message pops up telling them about your new product and any special show offers you may have. Alternatively, you might list all the shows you are attending this year, and have special offers for people that check-in at more than one of them. This also works with allied products: attendees visiting a concrete polisher might receive ads informing them of near-by stain or cleaning product manufacturers.
  5. Architectural Location-Based Network: Eventually I hope one of the existing networks will create architecturally-focused addons, or someone will create a location-based network specifically for the construction industry. In this network, buildings’ location-tagged profiles could tell users about materials used, design team, energy savings, and similar important information. Architects would gladly participate, both creating and viewing profiles, because they would enjoy the meta-level experience of seeing a building on so many different levels. Meanwhile manufacturers and contractors capitalize on the architect’s experience by linking their name to the project.
These uses focus on the social media-aspect of location software; there is an entirely different range of applications within design programs, combining BIM with location-aware software to improve many aspects of design and construction. I will address those in a future post.

5 Uses for QR Codes in Construction

QR code for
I am giving a presentation today on QR Codes for the local AAF chapter. The question I get most, besides "What are QR Codes?", is "How can I use these in my industry?" With that in mind, we brainstormed a list of five ways QR codes could become useful in construction.

First, a word of explanation. QR codes are two-dimensional bar codes that are readable using smartphones or webcams. The essentially operate as a hyperlink that connects printed media to the digital world; scanning a QR code does the same thing as clicking on a link, and can provide most of the same functionality.

What does that mean? Here are five examples:
  1. Link to Technical Information: This is the use I am most excited about. Imagine you are on a job site, trying to figure out how to install some new product. Spotting a QR code, you pull out your phone, scan it, and - BOOM! - the installation instructions and data sheets pop up. Contractors may not have internet access on job sites, but most carry a phone with a camera. Inspections could make use of this, comparing the actual site to the plans. Architects looking at the product sample sitting on their shelf can use it to get the guide specs in a single click.
  2. Jobsite Signage: Many manufacturers have trouble figuring out how to display their company name and contact information on the job site. Complicating the matter, interested prospects may forget your name and phone number before they have a chance to call. Include a QR code on your signs, and they can instantly add your contact information to their phone book, open your website, or email a rep.
  3. Emergency Contact Information: QR codes can auto-dial phone numbers, open webpages, or send pre-written fill-in-the-blanks emails. This could earn them a place on HSW sheets, making it easier to quickly reach poison control or emergency services. Or maybe they are directed to someone in your company, so you are informed of the situation and can respond appropriately. For that matter, they could even link to video first aid guides.
  4. Project Information in Photos: Put a QR code on the page next to project photos, and readers can quickly access online information about the project. This could be a case study, real-time energy savings, or even a map with driving directions.
  5. Sales Literature and Business Cards: This last one is not construction-specific, but it is important. Like with job signs, putting a QR code on your printed sales collateral and business cards makes it much easier for people to contact you, and therefore more likely to actually call you instead of just dropping your card in the trash.

QR codes are huge in Japan, and are just now reaching critical density in the US. Relatively new organizations like encourage readers to "Hyperlink your world!" As adoption spreads, I anticipate many innovative uses within our industry.

How would you use QR codes in construction? Tell us in the comments.

DuPont's iPhone App

DuPont's iPhone app, mySurface, bills itself as a full catalog of "full-sized samples you can take anywhere you go". I would love to see an app like this with more augmented reality capabilities, but the app does a good job of taking you from color selection to sales rep in one easy package.

User reviews are largely positive; pay special attention to the users that claim they decided to use DuPont products because of the app:

I was always thinking of Corian a
nd now, after flipping through these Zodiaq selections I am thinking of doing the bathroom not just the kitchen!

...easy, smooth, simple process...good for business!
This app does what B2B smartphone apps should do: it makes it easy and attractive to use DuPont's products. I can only imagine that an iPad version would be even more effective, as the larger screen could allow larger sample photos and maybe even side-by-side comparisons.

iPad Apps: Channel to Reach Designers

The arrival of the Apple iPad on April 3 was followed, just 5 days later, by the arrival of the first BIM app for the iPad. Structural Engineering & Design reports that goBIM is the first iPad-compatible app to enable users to navigate models and review data tagged to model elements (such as materials, manufacturer information and volumetric information).

Apple's iPad has a large, bright, colorful screen that is likely to be very useful to design professionals.

This early entry of A/E tools to the iPad platform is, perhaps, an indication that the device will have broad appeal in the design community.  That big, bright, highly portable screen could be replacing both the clipboard and the laptop in many meetings and site visits.

Businesses in all corners of industry and commerce have found it advantageous to create apps for the iPhone.  Some of these apps are simply brand promoters, such as the brilliant sponsoring by Charmin toilet paper of a free app that locates public restrooms in the user’s immediate vicinity.  Some serve a function directly related to doing business, such as a dedicated insurance quote app for a particular insurance carrier’s agents.  Some serve as an electronic catalogue, or a purchasing device.  This last idea lends itself far better to the big-screen iPad, where it can display architectural materials at a pleasant scale, and explain design problems and concepts with readily accessible illustrations.  The iPad-based catalogue not only weighs nothing, so it can be carried anywhere, but it can go conceptually where a hardcopy catalogue cannot: interactivity, video displays, and far more.

Apps have powered the mushroom-like growth of the iPhone, and can be expected to have a big effect on the popularity of its larger sibling, the iPad.  The device will in all likelihood attract design professionals, which will attract developers to make apps for those designers to buy.  This means the device will probably be in their hands in large numbers by this time next year. Put the pieces together, and it suggests that iPad apps could be a golden road to the hearts and minds of architects and engineers.  

A thoughtfully designed app that is both useful and free will always be popular. We believe that developing such apps, to give away from promotional purposes, is a great opportunity for building products marketers, and we are working with our clients to take advantage of it.

Mobile Web and the White House

How important is mobile web browsing becoming? Even the President now has an app.

A post at ReadWriteWeb this morning discusses the White House's new iPhone app and mobile website. I love the post's title too: US Government in Your Pocket.
The White House announced the release of a new White House iPhone App via a late night blog post on Included in the mobile application are features like news items, photos, blog posts, videos, and even live video streaming. That's right - live video.

Granted, the Obama tean have been strong tech adopters since the early days of the campaign, but the underlying message here is there are now enough people expecting they can get their news via their phone that major speeches like the State of the Union can be streamed live to your iPhone.

Still think your business can afford to ignore the mobile web? Later in the article they provide some interesting statistics [the bold emphasis was added by me]:
Also of interest: the White House states that mobile web use has grown over 100% in the last year in the U.S. and higher worldwide. That's putting it mildly. Over the past year, we've heard from numerous companies and analyst firms regarding the explosive growth of the mobile web. For example, in spring of 2009, Opera [manufacturers of a popular alternative web browser] reported a 157% increase in usage of their Opera Mini web browser and a 319% increase in year-over-year data traffic. AdMob release a report in October revealing a 19% increase year-over-year in iPhone/iPod Touch data traffic alone and last month, analyst firm IDC predicted over a billion mobile web users by 2010. Ignoring the mobile masses at this point would be a mistake and it's clear that the White House understands that.

Mobile web is changing the game. No; better to say it already has changed the game. Within the next couple of years, companies that ignore mobile computing will wind up looking like the companies that ignored the internet in the early 90's; behind the times, out of touch, and racing to catch up.

Barcoding Building Product Info

Barcodes may have new opportunities in building product marketing thanks to cell phone applications and improved bar code technology. There are now cell phone applications that can read bar codes to launch other programs. Consider, for examples:
  • Your product label has a bar code. In the field, an installer shoots a picture of the barcode, reads the picture, and then connects the installer to an online demonstration about how to install the product. When the installer downloaded the app, he or she registered created a profile so the cell phone app can connect the installer to the right data for the climate, location, and preferred language. You are able to collect valuable data on who is using your product.
  • An architect is scanning your print catalog or reading a magazine add. A quick snap of the bar code promptly directs the designer to additional information.
Reading the barcode is potentially faster and less prone to error than typing in a long url address for a website.

Golf Digest is already using a similar barcode system. According to the Christian Science Monitor, "Those who pick up the November issue of Golf Digest magazine will see similar two-dimensional barcodes accompanying certain articles. These, when scanned with a smartphone equipped with the Microsoft Tag app, take readers to video tutorials related to the article they accompany. Some might say it’s surprising to see such innovation from a golf magazine, but the move makes sense – golf is one sport dominated by ever-changing technology. Why wouldn’t a publication committed to following it be the same?"

Masterformat Meets iPhone

CSI is offering an iPhone app to convert MasterFormat 95 section numbers to Masterformat 2004. This is not only handy but timely, since CSI has announced it will discontinue support for MasterFormat 95 on December 31, 2009.

They are also offering a MasterFormat 2004 Search app. See their website for more details, or go directly to the
iTunes app store.

If you have not already converted your product literature to MasterFormat 2004, call Chusid Associates for help converting.