AS A SELF-PROCLAIMED “PROPELLER-HEAD,” Jonathan Smoke, Chief Information Officer of Beazer Homes, has spent the past few years immersed in new technology initiatives.

But few have piqued his interest as much as the Envision online option management program. In fact, at a September summit of builders and manufacturers in Austin, Texas, sponsored by New Home Technologies, Smoke waxed nostalgic.

“It feels like 1999. People in our industry are excited about the Internet again,” says Smoke. “There's a real sense that we're on the verge of something big—that Envision is the true killer app we've been waiting for.”

Envision launched in October 2004 when manufacturers started populating a central repository with their corporate data. Builders will then be able to deploy their applications for consumers on their existing Web sites, which will let consumers research and select new-home options online.

To date, participating builders include Beazer Homes, Capital Pacific Holdings, Centex Corp., David Weekley Homes, KB Home, Lennar Corp., McGuyer Homebuilders, Morrison Homes, Toll Brothers, and Village Homes. All plan to phase the program in during 2005.

“This is no longer abstract,” says Smoke, who hopes to start Beazer's rollout by April 1. “This is something we can put in place and measure. We are definitely seeing from the software side that the technology is available and there is enough interest to guarantee there will be content.”

Lisa Marquis Jackson is a freelance writer based in Texas.