How Technology within Contract Administration Can Elevate Design
Technology has asserted itself as a central cog in the fast paced, constantly evolving world we live in. From the computers at our desks to the smartphones in our pockets, there are many technologies available to design firms through all stages of the design process, including contract administration (CA). At DLR Group, we approach CA as a means by which to manage risk, elevate design, and maintain our commitment to the AIA’s 2030 Commitment. But are we consistently utilizing the appropriate technology to its fullest extent during CA? Through DLR Group’s Professional Development Grant program, I worked with my coworker Aaron Gahwiler to explore perceived inefficiencies in CA through the lens of design professionals and contractors, and tested potential solutions to the problems our focus groups identified. Of all the solutions we assessed, 3D cameras presented themselves as a cost effective tool to manage risk, mitigate construction delays, and ultimately elevate the CA process.
To ensure we were looking at the right issues, we sat down with contractors from a variety of firms in and around Minneapolis. Major issues within CA resulted from “poor or insufficient communication, which leads to an irreversible loss of project efficiency.” We agreed when they said, “CA is a knowledge management problem — other people might know something, but I might not.”
Following these interviews, we surveyed design professionals across DLR group. According to our peers, the most pressing inefficiencies within CA originate from “breakdowns in communication;” “usefulness of site photos;” and “uncertainty in the construction status.” Ultimately, the struggles we encounter internally aren’t dissimilar with those faced by outside contractors. To tackle these problems, we chose to investigate how 360° cameras and drone accessibility could provide superior site observation photos and provide a boost to our visual communication.
360° cameras quickly became the favorite of ours and our peers. With the ease of integration, these cameras provide DLR Group employee-owners with high resolution photos (or 4k video) that facilitate the efficient performance of CA duties. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a 360° photo is worth 1,000 2D photos. And that’s a lot of words.
We also considered drones, which gave us the ability to reach previously unattainable perspectives. Seeing aerial footage of a project can be awe-inspiring and startling for designers.
What we didn’t anticipate was that becoming an effective drone pilot requires hours of training and practice (plus a few spare propellers). Due to the legal considerations, safety concerns, and the learning curve required, the ambition of daily drone integration flew a little too high for the average CA participant. Ultimately, the drone lacks the pick-up-and-go capabilities of the 360° camera.
As we investigated how to elevate the CA experience, we framed a new relationship with technology. Though implementing new and cutting-edge gadgets can be tempting, it is important to remember that technology will always be a tool to aid us in our work – not replace it. As one wise DLR Group colleague shared, “Technology needs to facilitate what we do. If we allow technology to dictate what we do, we have failed.” Elevating the CA experience is about much more than just getting new technology – it has to be about quality design, effective communication, and frequent communication. But the addition of 360° perspectives doesn’t hurt.