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Extranets are something we are all going to be hearing a lot about - and using - within a short space of time. There was another major launch last week, this time by Cephren, which has been operating its ProjectNet system in the US for several years.

And the Construction Industry Computing Association last week held a half day seminar on the use of extranets, with speakers from Laing, Taylor Woodrow Construction Engineering and Cambridge University.

There was also a presentation on Arup's Integration system. Some of the themes from the seminar will be covered next week.

Use of project collaboration systems is one of those electronic applications that really does have the potential to change the way that construction does business.

Everyone on the project team, wherever they are, can share and track information.

With such potential, it is not surprising to see names familiar and new, British and American, competing to corner the market by providing software and hosting services. The number of players has been put at well over 100, but this is a sector where a few names are likely to dominate fairly quickly. There is a simple reason for this.

Each project has multiple firms and each firm works on multiple projects. People will simply not put up with logging in to several different systems in succession to check for new data on all the projects they play a part in.

Cephren's UK launch has been in development for several months. The system has been tailored to our way of working and language - aggressive sounding American terms like 'punchlist' turn out to mean 'snagging' in English. In case you are wondering where the company name comes from, Cephren was the master builder of the great pyramids. The firm was formed in January, from a merger of project collaboration company Blueline Online, and e-commerce business eBricks. com.

So how do you persuade people to change their way of working? Certain firms and clients such as BAA have been developing systems for a number of years, but it is only now with introduction of off-the-shelf (but flexible) packages that use will rocket.

Cephren built an initial portfolio of UK users ahead of this month's launch, and 200 firms are already using the system. This includes the project team on Vodafone's seven year new headquarters development programme.

Contractors already using the system include Fitzpatrick, Amec and Laing.

As Cephren's value added reseller manager Joe O'Rourke explains, smaller firms will tend to wait for their bigger counterparts to test the water. And clients are a big part of getting the systems accepted - after all, they enjoy one of the greatest advantages: they can inherit an as-built information system for managing their structure.

Cephren's cost is £800/month/ project for unlimited users. The reasoning goes that a pay-peruser policy might mean some of the supply chain being cut out, which would defeat the object.

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