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Who's Ready for Integrated Project Deliver?

Integrated project delivery may be just what the AV industry needs to become a bigger part of the commercial design and construction team. But are we ready to do our part?

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Thom Mullins

Be careful what you wish for–you just might get it (although it might not look like you thought it would). The first part of that adage is courtesy of our parents. The second part, about appearances, we've learned through the lessons of life. Let me explain.

The construction industry is constantly looking for new ways to save money. It's a $1.2 trillion market–about 9 percent of our GDP. And it generates a lot of waste.

By some estimates, up to 25 percent of the cost of a project is related to issues having to do with the interpretation of construction documents by contractors. To address this problem, the construction industry has tried a number of different project delivery models. In addition to design/bid/build, there are design/build approaches, general contractor/construction manager (GC/CM) projects, CM-at-risk projects, and lean-design-and-construction projects. A project I'm working on now is using EC/CM, where the electrical contractor plays the role of construction manager and is responsible for all high- and low-voltage systems.

One of the latest entries into the fray is integrated project delivery (IPD). The goal of IPD is to increase productivity, which has been on a decline in the construction industry since the 1960s, and to reduce construction costs and risk. The essential principles of IPD, according to the American Institute of Architects, involve mutual respect, mutual benefit, early goal definition, enhanced communication, clearly defined standards, appropriate technology, and high performance. Each of these terms is defined in the AIA document Integrated Project DeliveryA Working Definition. It's a short read, but very informative.

To some extent, IPD creates a new working environment for the owner, architect, and contractor, with the goal of bringing the parties together earlier in the project timeline. It is based on a return to the medieval notion of the "master builder," where the builder is also the designer. Granted, the move toward design/build had its foundations in this approach, but even the design/build model has problems in implementation. Design/build places the contractor in the leading role; IPD tries to spread the knowledge, contributions, and risks among the various team members more equitably.

In our industry, there are high hopes that such an approach will bring the AV design professional and the integrator into a project earlier, when we have a better opportunity to understand the goals of a project and work with the team to integrate AV technologies during building design and construction. I don't need to tell you, we've been chasing this goal for a long time. While we recognize the value we bring to any project, it often seems an uphill battle to get the rest of the design team to appreciate it.

What I find intriguing about the AIA's description of IPD is the term "appropriate technology." Front-and-center in the IPD process is the use of building information modeling software, something we in the AV industry are still trying to get our heads around. While more AV equipment manufacturers tell me they're transferring their CAD drawings to BIM, the practice has not yet reached critical mass. We need more manufacturers to contribute–and fast. As the rest of the team moves forward with a new approach, we're still using 2D CAD drawings as a means of communicating information such as where projectors, screens, and loudspeakers will be located, and then have to leave it to the imagination of the architect and owner to determine what it will look like in the end. If we're not careful, we could find ourselves spun into an eddy while the rest of the team continues downstream.

BIM provides us the means of showing the rest of the team how critical our systems are to the functionality and aesthetic design of the final product. BIM also gives us a platform from which to talk about how to integrate AV systems into the rest of the building. I sense a lot of excitement about the integration of AV controls into building automation systems. AMX, Cisco, Crestron, Johnson Controls, and Siemens (to name a few) all claim to have solutions, but there still are missing pieces. The hardware might be there, but good integration software has not yet arrived. And because this is new to designers and contractors, there are unanswered process questions: How do you design systems? Who is responsible for testing and commissioning them? What is the sequence?

As we answer these questions, we necessarily shift AV design work to earlier in a project, when communication with the owner and the overall design team must begin. And we begin to differentiate between "design" and "drafting" as a means of documentation. Will it be a smooth transition? Probably not. IPD is new. It was only 2007 when the AIA began defining the process and producing documents for architects to use. The contract language has yet to be tested in court.

There's also the potential problem of team members misunderstanding their roles and when their work must be performed. If you don't have a clear understanding of those expectationsand as a designer or contractor you're still operating under an old paradigmit will adversely affect the process, schedule, communications, and cost of the project. IPD needs a champion to ensure its success. This will typically be the owner, who will be responsible for communicating clearly and pushing the rest of the team to follow the process. An apt and early demonstration of IPD is underway: InfoComm has agreed to work with the AIA to overhaul the AV in several meeting rooms at AIA headquarters in Washington, D.C., using IPD to manage the project (see infocomm.org/aia).

The benefits of IPD and the integrated use of BIM outweigh the negatives. But we're far from where we need to be as an industry. Personally, I'm afraid we could find that the future of AV design and construction will arrive before we are ready for it. And it might not look like we think it should.

Thom Mullins is a senior consultant with Affiliated Engineers NW in Seattle.

 


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