Laiserin's Lemma™—Busman's Holiday
As the apocryphal bus driver vacations as a bus passenger, so my idea of time off is attending conferences at which I am not a speaker. Why? Because, as baseball legend Yogi Berra says, "you can observe a lot just by looking." Recently, I looked and listened at the national conference of the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA). If intelligence, enthusiasm and technological sophistication count for anything in a competitive environment, then the designers, builders and design-builders who compete with construction managers on project delivery need to be afraid—very afraid.
By the Time I Get to Phoenix..."
In a CMAA presentation on "Delivering Municipal Projects using Alternative Project Delivery Methods," Wylie Bearup, PE, Deputy City Engineer in the City of Phoenix Department of Engineering and Architectural Services, reviewed the impact of revisions to Arizona statutes that authorize the City to use alternative procurement methods for project delivery services throughout a five-year, US$3.8-billion capital construction program. Conventional design-bid-build, in which the construction team joins the project through competitive bidding after the design team has delivered "100% complete" documents, seems almost perversely arranged to produce the slowest possible project information lifecycle with the greatest opportunity for information discontinuities. In contrast, both design-build and CM-at-risk delivery methods compress project delivery schedules and improve coordination by exploiting the inherent ability of digital information flows to support overlapping, concurrent work processes.
While these obviously are discouraging words for contractors wedded to low-bid procurement methods, the news for design professionals is even worse. Because CM-at-risk project delivery shifts a greater share of project lifecycle information to the construction manager and away from the designer, clients such as the City of Phoenix have also begun to shift the role of project meeting leadership during the construction administration (CA) phase of projects to the construction manager and away from the designer. The underlying information efficiencies can save the client 1%-2% of project cost in reduced CA fees (designers traditionally performing CA services charged the City of Phoenix 3%-4%; by switching to CM's performing similar services based on project information they were already managing, the city can reduce the overall fees it pays for CA to as little as 1%-2%).
Thus, the concurrency of digital information flow in project delivery creates opportunities that smart CM's exploit for new sources of fee revenue as well as greater (and more end-to-end) control of project information. The client gains as well, through reduction of total project fees and reduction of lost or duplicated information. The only losers in this scenario are design professionals unable or unwilling to take on the role of project information management themselves.
"Top 10" engineering firm CH2MHill uses digital information flow to leverage construction services in its international CM practice. According to Rob Brawn, PE, Director of the firm's Design Automation Group, the process that the firm calls 3D+D (3D models + integrated Database) represents a "new wave of design applications. It's broader than 4D because 3D+D includes additional dimensions" beyond the X, Y and Z of geometry plus Time. The key is consolidating all project data—models and databases—across all contracts into one master project server to which all project participants contribute all work product and from which participants extract all "view, review and do" information.
Brawn reports that CH2MHill has achieved a 35% increase in constructed value per engineering labor-hour over a three year period, attributable to design automation and delivery. In addition, the firm has documented quality improvements through decreased claims experience and decreased risk of cost creep. Brawn concludes, "although challenges to implementing 3D+D applications exist, CH2MHill has been successfully using this technology on a number of major projects—including a US$1.2-billion wastewater treatment plant project in Singapore" (Brawn hastens to add that the technology yields positive returns on projects as small as US$1-million).
Among the "challenges" to implementing 3D+D are issues such as training, standards and processes, rather than the technology itself. For example, 12,000-strong CH2MHill is training hordes of its project personnel in the specialized skills of navigating complex 3D models, conducting model-based value engineering and constructability reviews, 3D mark-ups and 3D take-offs. Mastery of such skills may be an initial challenge to 3D+D implementation, but a workforce with this skill set may prove to be a source of long-term competitive advantage for CH2MHill. As we saw in IssueThirteen's LLemma, "Lessons From the Plant Kingdom," plant/process and infrastructure engineers are learning answers to questions that AEC design firms have not yet begun to ask. In CH2M's case, this is an example of design engineers crossing over into CM services through technological leverage.
These were just two out of some three dozen high-impact, high-energy presentations at the CMAA conference. Collectively they represent simultaneous opportunities for anyone willing to master the technology adoption/implementation issues involved and competitive threats to anyone unwilling to do so. As Yogi says, "You can observe a lot just by looking"—but you can let me know what you think.
Editor and Publisher, The LaiserinLetter™
Analysis, Strategy and Opinion for Technology Leaders in Design Business