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The race to write industry software for hand-helds is on

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by Daily Commercial News last update:Sep 13, 2006

Nobody’s made much fuss about it, but wireless communication is becoming a bit bigger every week in the construction industry.

Nobody’s made much fuss about it, but wireless communication is becoming a bit bigger every week in the construction industry.

With appropriate software, cell phones, pocket PCs and BlackBerry devices can all be used now for a number of management functions on any construction project.

And a race is under way to develop programs for those devices.

Some of the software packages already on the market are aimed at such professionals as engineers gathering data on site, even doing on-site project costing.

Others are aimed at companies that need to tie on-site data collection to the accounting department back at the office.

The objective is to enter data only once. That saves time, reduces the chance of the errors that so often accompany re-keying numbers.

Locating equipment, checking equipment service needs, submitting time slips and many other things can now be done with a range of hand-held devices that use wireless technology to “talk” to the office server.

There are companies providing single-purpose software that works really well — time slips, for example. But there are others which have quietly assembled suites of software modules that can either be used alone for a single purpose, or together to provide most construction management functions.

One company that has been at the forefront of wireless communication for construction is Vancouver-based Explorer Software.

This outfit was originally a specialist in construction management software for the roadbuilding and heavy construction sector. Then, about a year ago, it broadened its target audience and product line through the acquisition of the Conac Software. That extended Explorer’s reach to generals, subs, engineers and homebuilders.

At about the same time, the company took another big step by offering Web-based software services as well as its thin-client offerings.

A thin client is just a low-cost computer with very little memory and not much else. It doesn’t need more because the application software lives and works on a server. That means all the user needs is a keyboard and a screen on which to view results.

An advantage of thin-client technology is that it’s cheap and easy to add another computer to your office system since there is no need to buy a powerful desktop machine and load it with expensive software.

Although Explorer now caters to more construction sectors than it did, its strength remains heavy construction, and in particular wireless applications that can feed data to an office server.

For example, the company’s Maestro is a means of secure wireless access to company operations, and lets users gather information from remote job locations and check the status of equipment instantly using a cell phone, Internet phone or PDA.

There are a couple of related products that perform similar functions. Explorer Engineer is, as the name suggests, aimed at engineers. Communiqué is intended for BlackBerry users.

The company’s range of products is broad, so a visit to its Web site is worthwhile. It’s at www.explorer-software.com

While you’re there you might want to browse through the Web-based offerings, which the company calls eExplorer.

I’ll come back to the business of wireless communication next week to talk about Mike, a neat wireless communication device that ties into a system with features aimed directly at the construction industry.

Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to editor@dailycommercialnews.com

last update:Sep 13, 2006

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