As 1999 comes to an end, it is a good time to reflect on the past and look towards the future. In the past, consulting engineers were traditionally working for architects. Today, many engineers have worked their way past the architect to better position themselves with the real customer, the building owner. Design-bid-build (plan & spec) business has been displaced — first by construction management and now design-build.

And why not? Engineering designs have a direct impact on the building owner’s annual operating budget. It is imperative that the customer and the design engineer work closely together to develop the optimum mechanical and electrical equipment and systems. Construction management has been a bridging process to bring the premium construction managers into the design-build arena. Now, the customer can finally achieve the goal of a guaranteed price for a guaranteed building program at the start of a project.

Elsewhere, operation and maintenance (O&M) management has made significant strides in elevating itself from the boiler room to the boardroom. Today, many a support service group has a vice president at the helm. Unfortunately, many an O&M group is under the microscope to demonstrate why they should not be outsourced. Facility management has come a long way since the 1960s, but it also has a long way to go.

Communicate and Participate

So where are we going, and what does the future hold for the engineering, construction, and O&M communities? Here are my thoughts, based on what I heard from customers:

The engineering community needs to:

  • Get better at what it does. Commissioning continues to grow as a requirement of projects. Engineers need to look in the mirror and ask themselves, “Why are customers asking for a 3rd-party intervention?”
  • Mentor engineers-in-training so that they can become better. Future engineers need to be the best that they can be, and the best strategy is training and guidance.
  • Learn to be better communicators as project delivery opportunities grow. If engineers don’t grasp the opportunity to lead in program management (the next generation of the D-B process), they will continue to follow the contractor.
  • Participate in project startup. They cannot continue to abdicate this responsibility. Engineers need to take ownership of what they are doing or step aside and let some one else take responsibility for the engineer’s work.

The construction community, too, will need to get better at what it does. Commissioning continues to grow as a requirement of projects. Hvac contractors, as well as construction managers, need to ask what the advent of commissioning means to them.

Construction managers (CM) need to become exactly that: managers, and not general contractors with construction manager titles. Management requires leadership, motivation, and inspiration. Many a CM perceives the role simply as a traffic cop, directing the blame as appropriate.

Once they learn to take ownership for the CM process, the industry needs to grasp the opportunity to be the customer’s program and provide single-source project delivery services and program management services.

What About Support Services?

The support services community needs to wake up and smell the roses! Outsourcing is becoming a billion-dollar enterprise because O&M is a business. There is a phrase, “he will come in and eat your lunch,” and that is exactly what an outsource firm does to the in-house operation. Outsource companies have been very innovative in their approach to facility support services. In-house groups need to be just as innovative. Meanwhile, they also need to:

  • Mirror how outside companies market their services;
  • Become more proactive, instead of being reactive and skeptical towards upper management. In-house O&M can be just as innovative and upbeat as the competition.
  • Demonstrate what they produce. The outside competition has a sales staff and a marketing group. In-house O&M need to generate their own, too. Fight fire with fire!

Analogous to baseball’s schedule, the D-B and O&M industries are starting a new season. Engineers, construction managers, and support services need to be optimistic and “out to win” in 2000.