I have seen the e-future and it is all around us.

A wholesaler without a facsimile machine is rapidly going the way of the dinosaur, and contractors who do bid work are following close behind

Explosive E-growth

Yet, what is happening in the construction/design sector of the business world lags behind what's going in the economy at-large. The Boston Consulting Group estimates that one-fourth of all U.S. B2B purchasing will be done online by 2003. Transaction value will grow from about $2 billion today to an eye-popping $2.8 trillion by then.

Another e-commerce specialist, Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, pegs it to be at $2.7 trillion by 2004. By then, Forrester expects so-called "eMarketplaces"--Web sites that bring multiple buyers and sellers together-to capture 53% of online B2B transactions.

BuildNet.com, Cephren.com, e-Builder.net, Akropolis.net and BuildPoint.com are among construction industry e-Marketplaces, and others seem to arise almost weekly. Nonetheless, according to the New York Times, Forrester Research predicts that even by 2004, construction industry e-commerce is likely to total only $141 billion, or less than 11% of total construction spending. The Times article blamed hidebound attitudes for retarding progress.

This may be so, but that's not what I saw on display in a couple of programs on project management via the Internet at this year's convention of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, held Feb. 20-24 in San Diego.

"The Future of Technology & The Mechanical Contractor" featured Dean Allen of Seattle-based McKinstry Co., along with Microsoft executive Gary Cooke and Wenn-Soft software executive Tom Devroy, detailing modern project management and documentation techniques via the Internet. I'm the last person anybody might describe as a tree hugger, but it sure was good to see electrons eliminating the need for more pulp and paper mills.

Equally mesmerizing was a presentation by consultant Jonathon Antevy on "Project Management via the Internet, Intranets & Extranets." Antevy and a colleague in Florida demonstrated how a CAD drawing could be revised online in real time. Don't worry, encrypted security pretty much eliminates the potential for mischief.

Think of our ancestors who were alive at the turn of the last century, and how they must have marveled at all those newfangled automobiles, telephones, electricity and so many other inventions that were transforming their lives. They'd have needed pretty wild imaginations to envision our world of today. It seems wild even to some of us who were born half a century later. But it's here, and getting more wondrous all the time.

By the way, on the day I wrote this article, I glanced at the latest report for PME's Web site, www.pmengineer.com, covering the month of February. In the first month after launching the site, July 1998, we had 385 visitors. In February 1999, we had 744. Our February 2000 data shows that number more than quadrupled to 3142.