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Three Trends that are Changing Preconstruction
By Lori Nash Byron

In September 2011, Beck Technology, developers of a macro BIM software tool for early project planning and cost estimating, gathered a group of preconstruction professionals from across the United States and Canada to share their views on the industry.

The panelists - Matt Gulden of The Haskell Company, Steve Schaper of Schaper & Associates, Andy Hill of DPR Construction, Michael Bouchey of Evergreen Estimating, Corey Sanders of Beck Technology and Lars-Erik Larsen of Clark Builders Canada - discussed the future of estimating and preconstruction, how the role of the estimator is changing and what’s next for the construction industry.

The big ideas? Technology, for sure. Shifting from fast and dirty square foot estimating to more sophisticated parametric estimating to determine a project’s costs. The rise of data mining and analytics. And most of all, the need for cross industry collaboration to harness the transformational power of innovation.

Following are three trends the panel discussed.

1 – Shifting emphasis to early project planning
The industry downturn and increasingly sophisticated owners are creating a stronger focus on early project planning and estimating as a means to predict costs and increase value.

Steve Schaper, a veteran estimator who’s now an independent construction consultant, commented on the shift, “There was a time when all developers wanted to know was how much per square foot would it cost to build this building. Now they’re becoming more and more sophisticated. They want to know the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of cost.”

To succeed in this new landscape, Schaper says it’s imperative that construction companies strive to become cost leaders. Estimators, he urges, need to become leaders with clients as well, to act as partners in aligning projects with pro formas.

Acting in partnership can help to secure business for the construction company, too. Lars-Erik Larsen, an estimator with Clark Builders, points to Clark’s open book policy, where the project team shares data, trade quotes and other information to assure the client that their focus is on the best interests of the project. “We offer insight on where the client can save money and where it’s best to spend money.”

2 – Technology as a game changer
Complex cost databases, fabrication, new materials and of course, building information modeling – construction professionals agree that technology is having a tremendous impact on the industry.

“I think we are very much at a changing point in the design and construction industry. One that’s no less important than the change from hand drawing to CAD,” compared Matt Gulden of The Haskell Company.

Andy Hill, Preconstruction Manager with DPR Construction agrees. He points out that while technology continues to improve the process all the way around, it also requires a more significant resource investment at the early stage to help plan the projects from preconstruction, through the 3D coordination, to the virtual building of the project.

Hill also cautions that the prevalence of more sophisticated and data-rich technology requires that estimators sharpen their technical skills. “There is absolutely more information in any model no matter what stage it’s at in the design process, than there is in a set of 2D drawings.”

Hill sees technical skills as key for estimators and preconstruction professionals to leverage the data available in a model to create more accurate cost estimates. However, he points out that there’s a digital divide that is limiting the industry’s power to revolutionize its processes. “Virtual buildings help us better coordinate design and construction but we don’t always get the seasoned field veterans at the table early enough. A lot of times, you walk into a 3D coordination room and it’s the youngest, freshest guys out of school who’re pulling things together. That’s great, but we need a concerted effort to bring the folks who are actually in the field, building it, to inject their perspective, too.”

Michael Bouchey, President of Evergreen Estimating Services, believes that currently, technology is outpacing the industry. Once estimators break free of the natural human resistance to change, he says that 5D estimating (a 3 dimensional building model, linked to a construction cost estimate generating material quantities automatically based on the model’s data) will be the norm.

Larsen points out that technology alone doesn’t create greater efficiencies or a competitive advantage. For him, data mining and analytics, including the ability to track, store and use data across an organization is as important as the tools themselves. “From an industry point of view, the data set is what’s important in the process because every company is different. Be focused on the data and keeping track of it and organizing it.”

3 - Collaboration is key
Cross industry sharing of ideas, information and technical advancements is viewed as the rising tide that will lift all ships.

All the panelists agreed that construction companies that aren’t pursuing innovation and increased use of technology in their organizations would soon be unable to compete in the increasingly sophisticated marketplace.

But there is a third option, they all agree. Rather than working as individual entities, the panel members urge collaboration among the industry.

“You’ll often hear that the disciplines across the AEC industry work in silos. As preconstruction managers, we tend to work in silos even within our own companies. I think there is information that we can share just on the profession itself, to make us better,” says Corey Sanders, a BIM user and former preconstruction manager, now with Beck Technology.

Rather than fearing competition, Larsen advocates for partnering on innovation and best practices, not just competing. He predicts that the construction industry will follow manufacturing’s example in pursuing cross-industry collaboration to benefit the whole.

“That is where the future lies for us. There will be a whole lot of megaprojects and I think there’s going to be enough work for everyone involved.”

If you are interested in attending or participating in future virtual round tables, please email info@beck-technology.com with "Precon Virtual Roundtable" in the subject line.

About the author: Lori Nash Byron is a freelance writer and owner of Practical Magic Marketing.

Lori has 20 years experience in the marketing field working in the AEC, technology and financial services sector. Visit www.PracticalMagicMarketing.com or email Lori at lori@practicalmagicmarketing.com.
 


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