Building Owners Requiring Specialty Consultants

Last week I replied to an owner's request for proposal (RFP). The owner included a requirement that the architect retain specific firms for specialty consulting services including geotechnical engineering and medical equipment planning. The owner had previous experience with both firms and obviously trusts their abilities to deliver what the owner requires.

What other specialties should the owner consider?
Well... how about specifiers? Let's discuss how specifiers benefit owners - not architects, but owners.

Specifiers control project quality. Drawings show location, size, and quantity, but cannot convey quality. Do owners routinely ask that a project be built to mediocre or poor quality? No, they usually demand the best or highest quality. If owners wish to control quality, specifications must be controlled. There are several means to do so:

  • Develop and enforce minimum design and construction criteria
  • Develop and enforce standard specifications
  • Insist architects use specifiers familiar with the owner's needs

Criteria and Standards
The first two methods require active participation by the owner for the initial development, on-going maintenance, and enforcement of the documents. These also require staff that is technically knowledgeable about specifications and construction. Conformance to minimum criteria and standards is commonly required by healthcare, university, and large corporate owners.

I have worked with both of these scenarios on many occasions. Usually the process starts with me trying to determine just how old the owner's documents are. There are always telltale clues. It is not unusual to see documents, 10, 15, and even 20 years old. Sometimes required products are no longer available and manufacturers are out of business.

Next, the question, are the documents enforced rigidly, flexibly, uniformly, or selectively? Enforcement is highly variable, even for different projects for the same owner. Often enforcement is dependent on the owner's reviewer and the time available to complete the task.

Of course, these processes take time and cost money. Specifications fees will be inflated to cover the uncertainty of dealing with owner's unfamiliar documents. And spec fees are passed back to the owner, probably with a markup by the architect. So the owner is paying an excessive fee for each and every project because of archaic, standard documents.

Required Specialty Consultant
Requiring architects to use a preselected, certified, professional specifier will allow owners to control the project quality, directly. Through a direct relationship with the owner, the specifier will develop a thorough understanding of the owner's expectations.

The specifier's understanding will be built over time, one project at a time. The specifier will review design documents, offering comment to improve overall coordination. As projects are constructed, specifiers will incorporate lessons learned, building the owner's corporate memory for use on future projects. Professional specifiers, especially independent specifiers, will bring their experience from hundreds of other projects to benefit each project the owner undertakes. Ultimately the specifier will counsel the design team about the owner's material preferences and required quality with virtually no intervention by the owner.

This solution will not happen without an owner's insistence. Design teams may be reluctant to relinquish specifications to an owner selected consultant, thinking the specifier will not respond to the designer's needs. But, in the end, the specifier must be responsible to the owner, delivering documents to produce a building with a quality level meeting the owner's expectations and the design intent.

Finding Qualified Specifiers
Start with the Construction Specifications Institute. Check the directory of Certified Construction Specifiers (CCS). There are a total of 1153. But all are not dedicated full-time specifiers. So check the Specifications Consultants in Independent Practice (SCIP) membership directory with about 150 members to narrow the pool. Check experience and involvement. The best specifiers are involved, constantly learning, and teaching to improve the entire design and construction process for everyone. They exert influence through leadership positions at local, regional, and national levels to guide industry standards and trends. These leaders are the master specifiers.

How Will You Do It?
So corporate and institutional building owners, how do you plan to get the quality you expect from your capital improvements projects? Tell us what you think!

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