For 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 AECforensics.com. Always on the search for quality content, if you are a professional in the A/E/C industry, consider writing for AECforensics.com. For more information about Brian, visit BLHill.info.
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.