For most of my business career, I have strived not to be a commodity. It is a discussion I have with so many of my counterparts in the engineering community, and although we may agree, they don't want to change their old ways. And why don't they want to change? I believe the answer is that being a commodity is easy. You don't have to work hard to be considered for engineering services; just log on to one of many websites soliciting services. You don't need to leave your office or to talk to anyone to be considered for the opportunity to compete. The downside to this type of business is that the odds of winning are low and so are the profit margins.
Engineers have spent most, if not all, of their careers developing skills to be proficient at engineering. Seldom do they take public speaking classes, get papers published, and/or lecture. These three skills can differentiate one engineer from so many other engineers. At the same time, these skills can be the building blocks to help make an engineer less of a commodity and more of a specialist. If you want to check out some of these specialists, attend the winter ASHRAE conference where these engineers will be presenting and lecturing.