Thoughts on construction law from Christopher G. Hill, Virginia construction lawyer, LEED AP, mediator, and member of the Virginia Legal Elite in Construction Law

The Last Mile in Construction Innovation

Originally posted 2012-06-22 09:00:18. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Brian Hill AEC ForensicsFor this week’s Guest Post Friday here at Construction Law Musings, we welcome back, Brian L. Hill. Brian helps others to achieve more from less through business development, digital media and construction consulting. A fourth generation construction/real estate professional, he shares his passion for pursuing quality in the built environment at Always on the search for quality content, if you are a professional in the A/E/C industry, consider writing for For more information about Brian, visit

Thanks again to Chris for inviting me to write for this blog. As always, it is both an honor and a challenge.

In the tech world, there is a term used by pundits and professionals alike: The Last Mile. It refers to the final leg of connection between a service provider and customer. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and telecommunication companies have been challenged to bring service to every available customer. Bringing telephone and internet connection to remote areas is costly, but necessary for fostering that most important human characteristic: communication.

The process of designing and constructing the built environment has, like the telecommunications industry, seen rapid change in our present generation. Not only that, the the rate of change has accelerated as well. The tools of the trade for a newly licensed architect a quarter-century ago seem downright quaint in our modern era: Precision lead-holders, expensive jewel-tipped pens, fancy pullied devices for making straight and angled lines. A truck filled with tools, a oiled leather tool belt, some business cards and a Samsonite briefcase, was all the newly licensed contractor of the mid-80s needed to get started.

What’s the first thing a newly licensed architect or contractor needs to purchase nowadays (after securing adequate insurance)? The most powerful laptop they can afford.

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is clearly the future for our industry. Not only are design professionals going back to school to gain proficiency in this burgeoning technology, but so are contractors. Just use the search box on the right-hand side of Construction Law Musings and type in BIM to see what I mean. In essence, BIM is allowing us to “build before we build.” Before ground is broken, we can already anticipate, and therefore prevent conflicts between various trades and components.

That’s all fine and dandy, but we are forgetting about the last mile…

What is the last mile in construction innovation? The tradesmen.

When you’re strapped into an OSHA-approved harness spraying material from a diesel-powered high-capacity pump, consulting the 3D model (or pulling up the latest change order for that matter) isn’t all that easy. Wait, what’s the acceptable temperature range for applying this compound? Are we supposed to use 2-3/8″ fasteners or 2-1/2″? Do the joints need to be staggered on the exterior sheathing? Does the peel-n-stick flashing require primer over this substrate?

The answer to all these questions and much more are available. Just not very easily. First, the drawings must be consulted. Then we need to see what the specifications call out. There may be a line in the subcontract that also applies. Don’t forget about the commissioning agent’s Basis of Design and Owner’s Project Requirements. And of course there’s the applicable building codes (often varying from one jurisdiction to the next), the relevant International Code Council’s Evaluation Report, manufacturer recommendations, and guidelines developed by the alphabet soup of trade organizations and industry councils (AAMA, ACI, ANSI, ASTM – and that’s just beginning in the A’s).

The lack of ease for accessing such crucial information is a serious obstacle for our industry. To make matters worse, a large number of highly trained and highly experienced tradesmen are leaving the workforce. And due to the recession, there isn’t much knowledge transfer taking place.

We as an industry need to focus on the last mile. We need to connect to tradesmen. They are the heroes in construction. They are the ones that risk their lives to bring the virtual 3D models to reality. You can’t build a house (or an office building, or a hospital, or a road) with 1’s and 0’s.

Brian and I welcome your comments below. Also, please subscribe to keep up with this and other Guest Post Friday Musings.

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8 Responses to The Last Mile in Construction Innovation

  1. The third from last paragraph in this post is one of the best descriptions of tasks required of site managers and resident engineers I’ve seen. “BIM” was used under other names for power and process industry construction beginning in the 80’s. Many E&C firms like Stone & Webster were developers. Database information showing engineering and manufacturers specifications, client preferences, standards and operating information was tied to the drawings on CAD machines. Click on a valve, piping system, or any piece of equipment and there was all the related info. But the best we could do was to get a huge CAD machine installed at the jobsite so the management and foremen there could use it. It has taken from then until only recently to get this going on desktops and laptops for architectural and commercial construction sectors. There’s still a long way to go, probably much more than only one last mile.

  2. I totally agree, that the last leg before the launch or execution of any process or event is always the hardest. Not only does it involve one party but maybe 2 or a group of a few individuals or teams. And of course not forgetting that the entire process from scratch until the end requires technology in this modern and revolutionized era. Every idea and concept are discussed with virtual visual and graphics which is much preferred rather than with pen and paper which might get destroyed halfway through the milestone. However, even with the latest gadget and machines, nothing can be built or created without the final execution heroes — the tradesmen. The ones who give their very best while at work with the most physical energy and strength used each day on top of the full heart and soul put into their job.
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  3. Every project, regardless of its nature, requires a development process that consists of many steps. Each step is being contributed by different party with different involvement level. One might be the architect with the ideas, pen, and paper. The next might be the engineer who adds on to those ideas. And the subsequent one might be the construction workers themselves or the tradesmen who contribute physical strength to get the final execution of the project completed.
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  4. Every action consists of more than just a single step or process before it can be fully accomplished. Building a house or an estate for example comprises of the architecture, interior design, physical building works, decorating and many final procedures before it can be called a home. That is why one step can consist of more than just a single individual or party and requires a lot of effort and co-operation before it gets really well executed and the desired results can be achieved.

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