Software one can build on

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The Independent Online
AN ON-LINE database that uses high-capacity phone lines is now delivering colour graphics, videos and photographs, as well as text, to users in the construction industry.

More than 170,000 pages of product and technical information stored on a central computer can be accessed from a personal computer and displayed as they appear in the original hard copy. This will do away with the need to keep hard copies of literature, brochures, photographs and drawings, according to Graham Poulter, managing director of On Demand Information, which provides the service in collaboration with the Building Centre in London.

The on-line service, targeted at architects, local authority specifiers, building contractors and surveyors, is an enhanced version of an existing CD-Rom system. Because all the information is held centrally, it can be kept up to date.

Users can store information in their PCs for future reference. When it is accessed the system checks to see if any amendments have been made centrally and gives the user the choice of updating.

Up to eight personal computers can be connected to the information service over one ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) phone line. Users need a 386 PC with a high-resolution screen, upgraded with graphics and ISDN cards developed by On Demand Information. Users access the index to search for the material they require, and so have to be connected to the host computer only to download information, reducing connection charges.

'The typical time to transmit six colour and nine black- and-white pages is 45 seconds - charged at the standard business rate of 4.2p per unit,' Mr Poulter says.

During 1994, the service will be enhanced by adding video cameras to enable face-to-face conversation at the same time as the relevant information is displayed. Mr Poulter says the service will include translation software to convert data received into the correct format for using with other applications that are running on the PC. He expects existing users of the CD-Rom service to convert to the phone-based service.

Some CD-Rom users have already decided to deal only with suppliers who are on the system. Mr Poulter believes the on-line service will accelerate this trend. Existing users are responsible for more than pounds 750m of construction projects per annum.

Another advantage for information suppliers is that they can cut the cost of printing brochures and other product literature. Information on paper, videotape, microfiche, transparencies, sound recordings or CD-Rom can be put on the central computer and updated at any time. Suppliers can also rent private space for information to which they may want to control.

Mr Poulter has plans for further databases. He says he has signed agreements with the publishing company Haymarket to collaborate on a media services database, and with the Packaging Industry Research Association (PIRA) for a packaging database.

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