If you spend much time on construction sites, you've no doubt noticed that they don't look much like they used to. As with every other facet of your daily life, the jobsite that used to be the domain of two-way radios, hardcopy blueprints, and notebooks of project information has been overrun by gizmos and electronic tools that have converted that work into a more efficient stream of digital information.

Not too long ago, you were considered “wired” if you carried a cell phone and pager. Those of you who carried a digital dayplanner were looked upon as techno-geeks. And until recently, laptop computers were for the engineers. But times they are a changin'. The rapid advancement in computer chip technology has brought forth a host of new products and systems that are designed to simplify your daily tasks while increasing efficiency and improving your bottom line.

Web-enabled phones allow you to send and receive e-mail messages and surf the Web. Via today's phones, you can even take a photo on-site and send it back to the office to put a face on those problems that you just can't quite describe. Bar code scanners allow you keep track of your tools, improving accountability and reducing losses due to carelessness and theft. And personal digital assistants (PDAs) are replacing that tried and true pen and notepad you used to use for everything from project updates to job cost tabulation.

Back in the office trailer, high-speed Internet connections can help you answer questions online, share files electronically, and view new RFIs. In a growing trend, general contractors (GCs) and owners are demanding that you communicate with them in real-time over the Internet via an application service provider (ASP). ASPs manage and distribute software-based services and solutions over the Internet or a private network. Yes, GCs and owners are now forcing subcontractors to play by their rules — what else is new? — but the game has moved to the digital playing field.

This may all seem like convenience technology — who really needs a phone that can take pictures? — but for the most part it's becoming a necessity. And you may not think your business is big enough to require these tools, but that kind of attitude could push you to the periphery of the business. Larger subcontractor outfits, with their deep pockets and willingness to take risks on technology, will always be the first try out the latest gadget, but those technological advances will trickle down eventually. Do you really want to sacrifice profits because you can't gather job cost data digitally, send it to the home office, and receive an analysis that would allow you to correct your processes before it's too late? And what happens when an owner requires you to collaborate online and access change orders via an ASP? Do you really want to lose that bid because you weren't willing to try out that new technology?

If you've made it this far without updating your information gathering tools, it's probably because they haven't become pervasive enough to make your work processes obsolete. But if you hold out much longer, you may find yourself losing a hold on your market, and even the fastest Internet connection can't help you get that back.