E-business is here to stay, even though nobody has made any money on it yet. Now everyone's older and wiser since the "dot-bombs" proved that technology is only a means to a strategic end.

Ours has had the same e-business experiences as any other industry. In the late '90s, dot-com startups received tons of cash from venture capitalists and spent much of it on costly brand building. The idea was that concrete producers would order their materials and take concrete orders through whichever intermediary site emerged as the eBay of the industry. Even at the peak of dot-com fever, NRMCA and PCA began working on establishing Extensible Markup Language (XML) standards for secure data sharing within the industry, expanding the industry's e-business initiatives beyond e-commerce. XML is a programming language that makes it easier for computers to share data without human intervention. Members of every company or industry who want to share data across a network using XML must agree to a common language for that purpose.

Developing common standards is important because industries that produce alternative building materials, such as steel and plastic, are doing it. More importantly, Web-enabled customer relationship management (CRM) is already emerging in our industry without common standards.

XML is affecting CRM in our industry in two key areas: order management/accounting and in terms of optimizing delivery schedules and mix designs.