The Technology Shift
Triangles on a floor plan can define where a phone jack is placed, a point of sale terminal will be, or possibly where a flat-screen TV will be placed on a wall. However, the triangles alone do not constitute a good set of construction documents or issue for construction.
We have witnessed an amazing technology evolution over the nearly 15 years since we started our company. The technology we work with has changed, as it has in every facet of our lives. From the start, we determined that we would provide the highest caliber of service, which has helped us grow to where we are today. Our final set of drawings include but go far beyond triangles.
When we secured our first commercial project in 1998, the telephone landline was the unchallenged home communication king. That has changed. Broadcast TV still owned the largest share of the home viewing market. Less than 1 in 10 people in the U.S. were using the Internet and fewer than that used cell phones. Wireless Internet was not yet a viable option for the home. Contrast that to your own home today for a perspective of the changes in the technology since 1998.
Why Choosing a Technology Consultant is About More Than Cost
Like the heading suggests, price is not the only component to consider when evaluating a technology team of consultants.
The price listed in a proposal, with options or alternatives presented, is easily compared to another proposal for the same scope. Evaluating the value of the consultant's services is a different story. Each may provide the same defined deliverables, such as Construction Documents (CDs), a set number of meetings, and site visits. However, that is often where the comparison stops.
At first blush, the proposal with the lowest fee may seem to represent the lowest-cost approach. Both proposals may provide the same number of meetings, the same number of site visits, and both may claim to deliver CDs at the conclusion of the design process. However, it is important to consider all facets of the consultants' role to appreciate the potential "hidden costs" for the project. It can be the difference between providing a complete set of plans and triangles on a floor plan.
The level of service, attention to detail, and proactive trouble-shooting will affect errors, omissions, delays, and change orders. If the alternative deliverable is a CD set with triangles on a floor plan, you are comparing "apples to oranges." Without cabling detail, and any other proactive efforts to avoid problems, the two proposals' values are not equal.
There is a value to having a technology Owner's Advocate on the team, expert knowledge, and a commitment to proactive focus on the technology need throughout the entire project.
Meeting the Divide Between Vision and Budget
The Owner's Vision often starts with the latest and greatest technology. We hear comments from architects such as, "the owner wants to present a wow factor in the lobby." Or we might hear from the owner, "I want the best available technology for an overall experience that appeals to the under 40, technology-savvy generation".
Then budgets come into focus. When actual systems costs are compared to budget, there may be too much system for the available funds, or the selected systems are too expensive operationally. The natural next step is to reconcile the required costs and desired systems. If a value engineering exercise considers a reduction in owner expectation, then a reduction in cost will possibly bring no surprises later. However, that wow factor in the lobby and robust technology often remains an expectation of the owner. In many cases, this is our first opportunity to save an owner's future headaches and unnecessary costs. And this comes long before any triangles are placed on a floor plan.
When we secure a project from a new client, our first concern is to make certain that our appreciation of the project scope, technology budgets, and expectations of the owner are aligned correctly. Provided we are included in the project by early design development (or preferably earlier), we can help identify and avoid potential issues that may arise. Often our initial series of "programming" questions will shed light on potential design challenges. It may be the technology room size, or it's placement. Or, it could be the lack of clarity for systems responsibility in a renovation. These are typically not difficult or expensive issues if addressed early. However, if addressed too late in the process, the ripple effect created by design revisions can be costly and delay the design or construction phases.
A consultant firm with triangles on a floor plan might say that an inadequate technology budget is not their problem. And they would be correct, in the strict interpretation of their contract. We have always taken a more proactive role, realizing that any inadequacies in the beginning, are often the cause of later problems. Unless the responsibilities, expectations, and budgets are aligned before or early in the design phase, the likelihood of problems rises. Addressing the issue early saves an owner time and money.
Then and Now
As NTI approached the year 2000, it was common for us to be hired to fix or arrest an existing problem or provide a solution for a foreseen challenge. At that time, before our involvement, there was often no one charged with the overall technology scope.
For example, one of our earliest projects involved walking a college campus to document where the cable had been laid years before across the campus. Digging associated with recent new construction on the campus was routinely cutting existing cables. The college had no existing condition (as-built) drawings for the campus' cabling layout. We did not calculate the cost to the college of that omission, but the multiple cut cables during expansion, the systems downtime, cable repair, and construction delays were certainly far more than having had as-built drawings created initially.
A dozen years after Y2K, we find the same challenges in addressing technology systems design as we did when we started 15 years ago. Two differences stand out. One is that our body of work and associated experience now includes over 740 projects. Today, our first-time clients are usually referred by an owner, operator, or architect who has experience with us preventing headaches and saving them money. The other difference is that our new client's problem is seldom because no one was responsible for the technology scope before we arrived.
In an extreme example, a few years ago, we performed a peer review of the AV systems for an upscale mixed-use hotel/residence high-rise during the design stage. We found that the proposed AV systems would have created serious sound issues between the physical residences. Our redesign and bid process (to replace the design-build contractor) saved our client close to $1 Million.
The Challenge Today is Not From The Absence of Technology Drawings
It is important to note that not all CD sets are created equal. A set of drawings should be a well-documented CD sets with notes and comments, complete with room layouts, riser diagrams, equipment rack elevations, floor plans, detail sheets, and typical room layouts where applicable. That is a complete set of bid and construction documents for the Structured Cabling and the technology systems.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are triangles on a floor plan, showing outlet placements on the floor plans, with no cabling requirements, riser diagrams, details, etc.
Equally important, the technology consultant needs to possess a proactive focus on technology issues. Adding a few triangles on a floor plan doesn't do that. Cost overruns are far more likely to occur with a minimum CD set, and no one proactively focused on the technology throughout the concept, design, and implementation.
Even with adequate CDs, there is a good probability (or risk if you'd rather) of unexpected technology problems during the project if no one serves as the owner's advocate for the technology issues from the concept until the opening day. During the programming, design, and construction phases, there are multiple opportunities for a good consultant to save the project significant costs. The lowest fees may not always represent the best overall value for the project.
We believe that a comprehensive CD set and a proactive approach to avoiding issues before they arise are a large part of our services' value. The basis of our success has and will continue to be to grow by reputation. To that end, we strive to provide the absolute best service possible for our clients so that each client shall return and recommend us as a high-value provider of technology consulting services.
We are very grateful that so many of our clients have returned with additional projects and have recommended us to their project partners who needed our services.
With technology changing at a dizzying pace, we remain students of our industry and shall continue our commitment to delivering more than expected for every project on which we work.
by Jeff Cook