Home Construction Goes Wireless

Home construction is not often considered a tech-savvy industry, but IBM (NYSE:IBM) and partner AirToolz Software are aiming to sell contractors on the ROI benefits of managing their businesses wirelessly.

AirToolz, a joint venture of IBM business partner Unity Software Systems and Arizona-based LMC Construction, Friday is gearing up to unleash a new application dubbed AirWavz which promises to cut as much as 10 days off the home building cycle through the use of handheld devices which can wirelessly manage work schedules, inventories and back-end systems.

AirWavz is written in Java and powered by a combination of IBM’s DB2 database and WebSphere Application Server software. The partners said it could reduce superintendent phone calls by as much as 80 percent per month by managing a master construction schedule in real-time for contractors working at multiple job sites. The software can instantly update and communicate construction schedule changes through wireless handheld devices like a Palm Pilot or Blackberry running DB2 Everyplace, or even through a standard Web browser.

When the software detects a schedule change, it determines the effect of the change on other contractors and notifies them through cell phone, e-mail or fax.

The service is hosted at AirToolz’ facility in Scottsdale, Ariz., with each customer getting one server at the facility. David Dean, of Unity Software Systems, said the company is currently using AIX machines, though it can run in Solaris on NT environments. Dean said AirWavz has not yet been tested in a Linux environment. When AirWavz outgrows the AirToolz facility, Dean said the company will move the servers to a colocation facility.

DB2 is also capable of integrating the AirWavz application with back-end systems like sales, financial and supply chain management applications. For example, such integration can increase the efficiency of processing payments because the application communicates with the accounting system which begins payment processing immediately when a sub-contractor completes a job.

That capability has not been utilized as yet. “Right now we’re just passing dates,” Dean said, noting the company will enable those features “as soon as the builders say they want it.”

Because the application is only passing scheduling data at this point, Dean said it is only using WebSphere’s built-in basic security and password protection.

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