Why Add a Technology Design Consultant to Your Team?

July 1, 2004
Editor’s Note: “Chip Chapman, a building technology design consultant, recently held a continuing education seminar for the AIA in Columbus, OH. He spoke about the need to better plan for technology infrastructure in new and remodeled commercial structures.”

Thank you for coming out on this beautiful warm day, the last day of spring. What I’ll be talking about today involves commercial buildings. How many of you have worked with technology consultants on prior projects or had someone on your staff that handles that technology? Some of you, good. How have the results been? Generally good? Great. Hopefully I can encourage the rest of you to start adding technology consultants to your teams by the time I finish with my lecture here this afternoon. When I got out of college, where I received my degree in computer science, I went to work for a utility contracting firm based here in Columbus, whose specialty was outside plant contracting, and was just getting into inside wiring and cabling. I was there for a number of years, helping them implement technology from the inside out, as well as traveling across the country, visiting college campuses because that’s what our major thrust was, wiring college and university campuses.In 1992, I came to the realization that clients want more than the cabling, they wanted someone who understood what was going on at the end of that cabling, how it worked for the organization. They wanted a little more forethought into strategic planning and design as part of the cabling infrastructure. The company I was with made the decision they did not want to be in that business, so my father and I made a decision to start a company, Integrated Building Systems, now known as IBS. It’s a network integration firm that’s designs and installs the cabling infrastructure and the equipment that goes on the end. So I’ve really learned not only in designing these systems but also installing them, so I’ve seen the full gamut of what the results are of planning or not planning for this technology.About four years ago we spun off our design and engineering capabilities into a separate company, The Knowledge Group. I took over the company and started talking to folks like you about what it is we do, where we are today and where we see it coming down the road as technology becomes a more critical part of every organization that we deal with.Businesses have been impacted a great deal over the last 20-25 years by technology. As we all know, it’s about faster, better, cheaper in the business world. All the applications that folks are putting in, from phone systems, data networks, what-have-you, what we’re really starting to see is a convergence of that technology to one platform. So that’s the good news, but there’s also a lot of bad news that goes along with that, if we’re not designing and thinking about it properly during the design stages of the process for a new building.Fire, life safety, building automation, audio, video, lighting controls, you name it, it’s all moving toward a common platform and that’s Internet Protocol. It’s a common language. In the past, we had a lot of different proprietary systems that were out there, each developed from the ground up. Over time, the telecommunications industry, the data electronics industry, and all the other auxiliary industries have come to realize that they need to get together and have a way to have common communications. As you’ve probably started to see, instead of having the telecom department, the facilities department, the IT department – departments that are making decisions – I’m starting to see a pattern where IT is taking over and is ruling over everything, whether that’s facilities issues, security, what-have-you. It’s still falling under their domain. At least in most mid- to large-size organizations.I wanted to take a minute and discuss a couple of projects to illustrate what’s happening in our industry. One we worked on with architect Al Lupton comes to mind. This project was about a year ago, but this was the first time that a client told Lupton-Rausch that they were short-listed for the project – there were four or five firms short-listed out of about thirty – because they had a technology consultant as part of their design team. So the owners are starting to recognize this is a value. I think that’s the thing that really impressed Lupton-Rausch, hearing that from the clients. I don’t know if you guys are hearing that yet, but if you’re not, you will.Architects Foreman-Davis is primarily focused on K-12 education projects, and their recent project was for a local school district in Columbus. The scenario was a security project. They had an initial estimate from a vendor of about $120,000 for security access control, digital video recording system. We took a look at it and decided we could not only save them some money but give them a better solution by breaking it out into a couple of different packages. We were able to save the owner on a $120,000 original quote about $25,000 and the big plus there is The Knowledge Group made some fees on that as well as Foreman-Davis, which is what you guys want to hear. If you’re going to add somebody to your team, you want to make sure they’re a value-add and you’re going to be able to obtain additional fees for the project. It’s definitely do-able.We had a couple of other projects that we worked with architect Robert S. Davis, Ltd. We had two projects at the Ohio State University School of Dentistry one good example and one bad example. The projects in general came out very well. But the conference room was planning for projectors and audio-video, surround sound and 35mm slide projectors. The problem was, they didn’t involve any kind of technology designer. They went to their in-house cabling and technology guys who said this is what you need, so they just went out to the market and said, “buy it.” We bought it for them, put it in, and it didn’t work. We were able to resolve that, but it was an after-the-fact issue and it ended up costing the client about $5,000 extra on a $10,000-$15,000 investment for technology for the space. We had a much better experience on the next project, which was a training room/lab, setting up an AV system, sound feed, and video camera feed from the operating rooms, and in that particular project, we designed it from the very beginning. We knew what they wanted, we took time to listen to what the owner’s needs were, and made specific recommendations and decisions on the products and were able to go out and find the best price for them. So we had a much better outcome. What you realize is that owners just don’t know what they don’t know. They just assume that the architects, the professionals that are working with them, know what’s going on, they’re going to help them make the right decisions. That’s the expectation.When we start talking about technology, where we’ve had a separation is how technology is handled in the planning process. I don’t expect you guys, and I don’t think the client expects you to make decisions about applications, about hardware, about those types of things. They do expect you to make smart decisions about infrastructure, space, power requirements, HVAC requirements – those types of things. That’s what they’re counting on. So there’s a separation here and I just want to make that really clear. If you lump technology together and think of it as all of one thing, that’s where you’re making a mistake. If you really focus on the infrastructure and support, you’ll be much better off in the early design process.One of the interesting things I have realized out of technology planning. Typically, we’re getting two to seven years’ life out of hardware and that really depends. You won’t get seven years out of a desktop PC but you may get seven years out of a phone system. You’re lucky to get two years, maybe three years, out of a desktop PC. Software, again depending upon the application, you may buy something every six, seven, ten years, but you’re constantly getting updates or upgrades. But typically cabling, is expected to last ten, twenty, even longer – the lifetime of the building. So planning for that infrastructure – making sure we have flexibility in the pathways to support additions, changes. You know, you can’t think of everything when you think of initial design. So the design of the space, the pathways and everything is critical. What’s ironic about cabling is, it’s typically the least expensive item, when you look at the overall technology investment and it’s expected to last the longest, but 60 to 80 percent of problems are traced to improper cabling infrastructure. Either poor design, wrong cable was put in to begin with, or it was improperly installed. Besides the cable itself, the jacks, the patch panels, those types of things, the other major issue is power. Not enough power, not conditioned power. Those are the two big items over the past twenty years. Whenever we had problems, that’s where the problems lay, almost always. So it’s critical, not only to get the design right but to be installed properly as well. Let’s talk about planning for a new building. That’s what architects are very familiar with, the whole planning process, programming, sitting down with the client, making decisions, understanding the workflow and start playing with or moving things around, deciding how we’re going to make this space work for the client. There’s the owner’s requirements, there are codes, and what you’re going to start seeing on the telecom or technology side, is the EIA, TIA, standards. If you haven’t already started seeing those, you’re going to see them. Traditional players in the programming stage: The owner is interested in getting the best bang for the buck. How can I get into this facility in the quickest time and spending the lowest dollar amount that I can and have some flexibility for growth. Developers are always worried about, in my opinion, looking for the lowest initial cost for the building, getting that shell up and getting the building rented out or sold. Maximizing the square footage, and you guys deal with that all the time. The user, or the facility managers, have a little bit different take on it. They’re worried about cost of ownership, understanding how to manage that building, how they’re going to manage the systems when they’re in that building. They look at a little broader perspective in taking over that building. Unfortunately, a lot of times, particularly if a developer’s involved, there is no user to talk to, so they start making decisions or don’t plan for, the technology side.  They just figure, whoever buys the building or uses it, they’ll deal with it when they get the building. Well, I can tell you, in my experience, after the fact is going to mean one and a half to as much as three times the cost if we wait until afterwards to put technology in, to create pathways, rip into the ceilings, open walls, open up floors – whatever we have to do to retrofit a space versus planning for it on the front end.Obviously you guys are worrying about codes and that ultimately the customer’s going to be happy with the end result. What I’ve seen, in talking with the construction industry, and I’m talking about architects, general contractors, even the owners, is that decisions about technology is typically treated as FF&E (furniture, fixtures and equipment). Decisions are made at the end, decisions are pushed off onto the owner. Or the mechanical/electrical engineering firm may not have had much experience with technology planning. So they go in and handle the major items, the telephone and the data, but when it comes to the other systems, they may not have a full grasp of how these systems are going to integrate. Or how they could save money versus putting in proprietary cabling systems to support every one of the applications that are going to go in by moving more toward a universal, open, integrated cabling system to support all the technologies.However, I know that the big issue is space. Regardless of the party, I know that the belief is space for technology is wasted – put them in the janitor’s closet, put them in the basement. We’ll find space for it, we’ll deal with it after the fact. But the truth is, more and more companies are investing more and more in technology. You take a $10 million building. In the past, they might’ve spent $50,000 or $100,000 on their total technology. Today, they’re spending millions of dollars on technology. And if you’re spending millions of dollars on technology and you don’t have the infrastructure to support that, you’re going to be very upset. When it comes time to flip the switch and the equipment doesn’t work or they start having problems, so it’s very critical in the future of design of the building process.Now I understand. Space is very expensive. We’re spending $80 to $150 per square foot to build space. When I say I want a 10 by 10 room and the architect says, I was only going to give you a five by five room or I was only going to give you a little corner over here of shared space with the janitor and the slop sink with the electrical panels – I’m telling you guys, that’s not acceptable.  It’s not going to fly in the future. You’re going to have to make changes and I understand the difficulties, so we’re going to have to work together to educate the client, whether that’s the developer or the owner, that there are issues, there are codes, there are standards that we need to address and take care of to give them adequate space. If we don’t do this, it’s going to cost them more dollars. The decisions that are made early in the process cost a lot less money and they get a lot more bang for their buck. If we wait to get involved during the procurement stage, after all of the other decisions have already been made, how do we go in and retrofit a space in a brand new building to add technology? A lot of times, it’s too late to make major changes or it’s going to cost major dollars to knock out walls, adding HVAC, adding appropriate power after the fact. You guys know this story, but we need to share this story with clients.Without planning, telecom happens. It takes on a life of its own. They start out with a small system and over the years, they keep adding to it and making adjustments, and you end up with this (displays photos of rat’s nests of cabling in new buildings.) I know you’ve all seen it, hidden back in a closet or down in basement and they say, “Don’t touch it – as long as it’s working, just leave it alone.” It’s amazing, just looking at some of these. Here’s a fiber patch panel eight feet off the floor, so if I have to go in and make changes, I’ve got to find a ladder. This patch panel is not even connected to the wall, the cords are holding it up. It’s also not grounded, they’ve got cables everywhere, wire-nutted together. Here’s a water supply line right over the panel. If they have a water leak, it’s going to leak all over the panel. It’s scary. I see these every day. Here’s one of my favorites. We’ve got a multi-tenant building, shared space. There are multiple phone systems wedged into a janitor’s closet. We’ve got a slop sink, paper towels here, they’ve started using this telephone system as a counter, putting their cleaning supplies on the equipment. They’ve knocked the cover off. Here, the ladder access to the roof, they’ve got their mops on it, right next to the telephone equipment. They’ve got a water heater pressurized system up here. If anything happens to it, all the water is going to come right down on all this electronics. And that’s running four different businesses, all health-care related. There was no planning, no design. These guys moved in and were told, “Here’s where you’re going to put your equipment.”One other example. I had known Dave Bianconi, owner of Progressive Medical for a while. I had lunch with him. I asked him, what are you doing about technology. He said we’ve got that covered, my IT guys are working on it. He said we made mistakes in the first building, and we’re not going to make the same mistakes in the second building. So I offered to look at the plans before he started the construction process, and talk to his IT guys. He said fine. Well, what happened was very interesting. The IT staff had made a decision to put the telephone system at one end of the building and the data network at the other end. The reason they wanted to do that is that they had had a little experience in another building where the telephone vendor came in and needed to plug into power. By mistake, he unplugged their servers. So the IT guys said, “Never again. It’s not going to happen.” So that was the reason for keeping these systems totally separate. But after I explained to them how much it was going to cost them to pay to cable the building twice by separating them, plus they had power issues, environmental issues. They were going to have too much space for these closets for the size of the building. Now it’s hard to put a dollar cost on it, but we know we saved them an exorbitant amount of money because we were able to get to it before they started the construction process and were able to make the changes necessary. The best thing was – and this building was built about two-and-a-half years ago – I was at an open house last week, and Dave is still taking clients up to show off his technology space. He shows that off and that’s one way he differentiates his business. Nobody takes clients through their technology space, but he does and he’s proud of it.One of the things that’s been kind of frustrating, from my perspective, has been the CSI Masterformat. It’s been the way it’s been since the ‘60s. It really hasn’t been changed again since the ’95 update. Most of the technology issues of today were thrown into (Division) 16, so you’ve got electrical contractors trying to figure out how they’re going to resolve these issues, how they’re going to find subcontractors, how they’re going to design around these issues. Some of these fell into (Division) 15, Mechanical, and Building Automation, (Division) 13. But by and large, most of the low-voltage systems fell under electrical.That’s been an interesting challenge. There’s been a lot of battles over it. The national associations for electrical contractors have been very vocal to keep that in, because that is a money-maker. The decision on new divisions has gone around and around. The final draft just had its deadline the first of June. The draft is going to be ratified June 23, I believe. What they’ve done is created five groupings and now the communications is going to be in the what’s called the facility services construction. It’s going to break out and have Division 26 for Communications, Division 27 for Electronic Safety and Security, and Division 28 for Integrated Automation – building automation systems. The slang is CLA for Communications, Life Safety and Automation. The long and short of it is, it’s going to be completed by next year, and that’s going to be the new model, the new CSI standard. So everybody in the room is going to be pushed to start using the new model. Division 16 is going away, to be replaced by Division 25. And there are a number of other changes.I’m glad about this, obviously. It makes the case that technology and communications needed their own section in order to be properly addressed in the design process. To give you the complexity of what falls into that, some of the areas that will be covered include: communications, data systems, cable plant, voice systems, integrated audio/video systems, intercoms, dictation, other audio systems, public address, cellular, paging, nurse call, intrusion, detection and alarm, personal alarm, and integrated automation and control. When we look back in history and look at the impact of mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, MEP, in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, it had a major impact. What I think we’re seeing is a very similar pattern in the late 1900’s and today of CLA systems. Obviously, the emergence and convergence of these systems means we’re going to need more space. More space in our equipment rooms, more space in the ceilings, pathways, and entrance requirements. New consultants and contractors that really understand how to design, how to take these processes into account and how to build the proper infrastructure to support them. We’re about to cross a major milestone in the history of building construction. We’re going to see more and more trend toward CLA being designed into the building during construction, prior to construction. We’re going to continue to see industry consolidation. There’s a lot of politics involved and that’s a hard change. We’ve got all these little empires, we’ve got the facilities guys and safety and security guys and the IT guys. Everybody’s trying to protect their area and they don’t want anyone else to have control over it. But with the technology’s that’s available today, you can still put in an integrated,  converged backbone infrastructure, an integrated network, and have all these different applications on it and keep them private and secure for each of the individual owners that want to use it, but save a ton of money. And that’s really what it comes down to, saving money, but still having the functionality and flexibility. If they want to come back and make a change, they won’t have to come back and open the ceilings, open the walls. They’re not having to try and add space or scramble to find space, and that’s really what we’re talking about.As part of that future, new strategies, standards and partnerships will have to be developed. What I mean by that is the architects, engineers and consultants will have to work together to educate the client so they understand the value and the need and that they plan for technology as early in the project as possible. I’m starting to see signs in the community of not just in the building sector, but organizations are starting take into account technology planning as part of their overall strategic planning for their organization. So that issue’s going to come up more and more, particularly when they get ready to do a major renovation or new building construction.Change is hard – if it wasn’t, they wouldn’t have sold a bazillion books of “Who Moved My Cheese”—but it really goes both ways. Architects are going to bring new folks onto their teams, but the technology folks are going to have to learn more about the building process, the systems and how you have to make those decisions. So there is learning going both ways.From the construction manager’s perspective, they have to learn more about how these systems are installed. They can’t wait until the end of the project and put the pressure on the low-voltage contractor to get everything done in the last two weeks before we open the building. That’s not realistic. When you get through a project, I know you guys want to have a customer feeling good about it, get through the punch list, commission the building, open it up and everybody’s excited. When you have technology waiting until the end, you have too much pressure and too many issues that arise behind the scenes and in many cases the owners don’t even know. You’re able to play the shell game and hide it, but it’s going to be tougher and tougher to do so in the future.Summing this up, it’s only going to get more complicated. The technology investment dollar per square foot is going to continue to rise. Owners are going to demand and expect help. We’re not going to want to leave a gap in the service, as the service models are changing. Next year, the changes in the CSI format, you’re going to have to start breaking these things out further, defining it. If you’re going to follow this model, and I’m assuming everyone in this room follows the CSI Masterformat. What you really need to understand from your perspective, this is a value-added service and you should get paid for it. There are fees to be made, this shouldn’t be something you should just give away. Technology planning is a valuable service and clients need to be educated on that. Quite frankly, for the firms that are using technology consultants now – it’s a competitive advantage for them. They’re differentiating themselves by having technology planning as part of their team and they’re using it as part of their sales process. How long with that competitive advantage last? Probably not that long, but it’s out there and available to you if you start using technology consultants as part of your team.

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