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All-in-one house design tool has Home Depot courting: Mark Maki's IDI Pro lets buyers choose quotes, financing, building materials, decor products, make design revisions, schedules and track costs with one web interface.

Mark Maki knows the value of a cold call.

The Sault Ste. Marie software developer and president of IDI Technology thought he had a web-based communications tool that might appeal to the second largest retailer in the world.

Last summer, Maki e-mailed Home Depot's head office to find out whom to pitch his IDI Pro software product to. He calls it "pure luck" that before day's end, his message had filtered through to the president of COBS Homes, Home Depot's online home building and design partner.

In a quickly developing partnership deal with COBS this spring, Maki says his newly updated software, called Interactive Project Manager (IPM), will change the way homes are designed, constructed, furnished and financed.

"Within two hours I got an e-mail back from Rob Mackle in California. He called and we talked and we've been at it for a year getting the product to this stage."

Maki's timing was perfect. COBS had been trying to develop this kind of product in-house, but didn't have a full grasp of the technology.

"My story, IDI Pro and what I had to say was exactly what they were looking for."

COBS Homes now wants to integrate the software on their main website within a year.

This month, Maki was heading south for a COBS investors meeting to finalize their plans.

"Whether it's the acquisition or leasing of our technology has yet to be determined," says Maki. "We're still negotiating what the whole (financial) picture's going to be."

But there could be a substantial investment of between $1.5 million and $2 million.

His five-employee Queen Street start-up company is hoping to claim a share of the North American home building and design market.

He's branding IPM as a "project management platform" under the slogan: Changing the way homes are built.

Interactivity is the IT industry's latest buzzword, and Maki hopes IPM will simplify for homebuyers what can be a complicated and costly process.

As an architectural technologist by trade, Maki worked in the engineering business for 20 years before branching off to establish Design Solutions in 1993, and spinning off IDI Technology as a project-specific entity.

"It was time for a change. I've always done home design and the felt the Internet should be more involved and this is the result."

He calls IPM a desktop manager for homebuyers, giving them an Internet portal to professionals and project management.

A home buyer has a one-stop shop to get quotations, obtain financing, choose their building materials and decor products, make drawing revisions, keep an eye on their schedule and track costs.


It also features a message centre for the client, contractors, architects, engineers, designers and consultants to communicate by e-mail, instant messaging or streaming video.

Maki says the password-protected web portal is designed to be viewer-friendly, with a single-screen look and tabs for contractors and homebuyers to view specific features.

"They basically walk through the whole process with professionals online."

Maki says the interactive technology opens itself up to a wider range of possibilities, including how-to-videos, design tips and web cast functions. He also wants to sell Home Depot and COBS on the idea of a customer support call centre to compliment the portal.

While COBS has expressed the most interest in IPM, Maki prefers to keep his options open by adapting IPM as a plug-and-play device to sell to individual home building and design firms.

He's targeting other building service and home improvement companies, developers, contractors, designers and product vendors to be his distributors to end-users.

To start the ball rolling, he made presentations in March to an undisclosed kitchen design company, Home Depot Canada and to senior management with Tennessee-based Softplan, a major AutoCAD retailer for residential software.

"We wanted to tweak their interest and how we might be able to integrate Softplan with IPM. There's definitely interest and they certainly liked the product," but any possible deal is likely months away, Maki says.


Northern Ontario Business
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Author:Ross, Ian
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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