By Boyce Thompson. Do you know what you spend on new technology within your company? Do you have a plan for allocating capital among technology applications? Are you even aware of all the inexpensive technology options that exist?

If you are like most builders, your answer to all three of these questions is probably, "no." The first question, of course, is a trick, because few companies have the accounting wherewithal to truly isolate technology spending from other expenses.

But getting a handle on the other two questions isn't nearly as hard, and it needs to get done. We've come up with a conference to help you prioritize your technology spending and determine which options are right for you. It's called the BUILDER Technology Conference, and it will be held in Washington on June 11 and 12. We hope that you can make it.

Means to an end

My sense is that the dot-com bust, with the attendant decrease in publicity about miraculous, cheap technology solutions, has unduly influenced thinking. If these companies couldn't make it, the reasoning goes, then the application wasn't worthwhile in the first place. This never should have been the way to think about technology.

Technology is all about improving your business practices. It's a means, often a highly desirable one, to an end. Fostering more productive behavior within your company is much more important. As Tim Costello of Builder HomeSite said during a recent seminar program on technology, "I could probably improve your productivity through the use of 2x4 colored note cards."

The place to start building a technology plan is to look at your business processes. Figure out which are in most need of improvement. Where are your bottlenecks in construction, sales, communication, and back-office processes? What do you need to fix first? Which would have the biggest payback? This is a financial exercise.

It's hard to argue with builders who are wary of technology. Given the dot-com collapse, problems implementing some early proprietary solutions, and serious issues related to how stand-alone applications interface with the back office, builders need to take a hard look before they leap at the next great solution.

But it's hard to believe that anyone would doubt technology's positive impact. Think about all the great everyday tools that you have at your disposal--e-mail, the Nextel phone network, hand-held tools, and the Internet. Building homes is all about communication, and communicating has gotten a whole lot faster and more accurate.

Now, in a very exciting development, many of the best builder accounting software packages are being updated. They have been given Web interfaces. Plus, new systems from companies with deep enough pockets to update them have emerged.

Photo: Katherine Lambert

Moreover, we can't dismiss the services that the dot-com survivors bring to the market. A half dozen compete to streamline your option and upgrade process by putting all this information on the Web. New CRM (customer relationship management) solutions could improve customer service by creating a digital memory of events. Web-based project management has achieved traction. Everyone needs a technology plan. The best builders, the ones that make the most money, employ the best systems. They continually look for ways to improve those systems, and they often settle on new, proven technology as their solution.

Boyce Thompson

Editor in Chief