Are you readying for a rebound?

January 2011 » Columns » LEVERAGING TECHNOLOGY
Mark J. Scacco, P.E.

As a consultant who provides CAD- and building information modeling (BIM)-related services across the country to engineers and surveyors, I am guardedly optimistic at the small but consistent signs of recovery that I have seen building during the last several months. They are not major indicators and are mostly anecdotal — a new hire here, a few software activations there, requests for training where once I heard only silence — but in aggregate, I’m beginning to see a positive upward trend that I interpret as good news. However, there is a potential peril in this recovery in that many organizations are not adequately preparing for it.

Before the recession, work was so plentiful and fast-paced that many firms struggled to find talented people, had no time to worry about operational efficiencies, and completed a lot of their work with “brute force” by throwing more bodies at a given project. During the recession, most organizations downsized considerably while at the same time asked more and more from the employees that remained. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that output per worker increased 7 percent and 6 percent in the third and fourth quarters of 2009, respectively, and 2010 also saw increases. Unfortunately, as many analysts agree, these productivity increases were not the result of improved efficiencies but rather of pushing smaller staffs to do more in the same amount of time. Running at a higher rate without real changes to the efficiency with which tasks are completed will eventually lead to staff burn-out.

With staffs reduced to more manageable sizes, many organizations are reluctant to go back to the bloated payrolls of a few years ago. At the same time, the need to cost-effectively produce quality work on schedule will always remain a priority. So how do you prepare for a rebound in your workload while keeping costs under control? Smart organizations are leveraging technology to achieve this goal.

Most consulting organizations have purchased design software that is underutilized or otherwise not being applied as efficiently as it should be. Many of the brute force tasks associated with the preparation of a set of construction documents can be accomplished in a fraction of the time if only the software (which most organizations already own) was used to its full potential. The path to achieving this goal is often thought to consist only of training: Send your users to a three-day class and they’ll come back experts, right? Wrong. While software training is an important piece of the puzzle, it is not the only piece.

Getting the most out of your purchase requires a plan to integrate the tool into your design and drafting processes. Like an engineering project, the integration plan typically consists of the following steps:

1) due diligence;

2) installation and configuration;

3) workflow and data management plan;

4) ongoing training; and

5) mentoring during a real project.

There may be slight variations to how this is done, but what is most important is that it is done. Rather than considering design software a necessary evil, smart firms are embracing its potential and taking advantage of the slower economy to retool for the eventual hectic pace of consulting engineering.

Is your organization readying itself for the rebound? If so, how? Are you investing the time to understand how you could improve your design and drafting efficiency? Are you looking at ways to leverage technology to set you apart from your competition? Can you use what you already own to provide additional services and added value to your clients? Experience tells me that even if you aren’t, many organizations are, and when the jobs come knocking again, they will be leaner, more capable, and ready to deliver.

Productivity and cost reduction top IT executive concerns
CIOs, CTOs, and senior IT executives from 172 U.S. companies cite business productivity and cost reduction as their top business concern according to the 2010 IT Industry Trend Survey, commissioned by the Society for Information Management (SIM, www.simnet.org). “The insights from the study confirm that the economic downturn is continuing to cause a significant shift in IT priorities,” said Jerry Luftman, former SIM executive vice president and executive director of Graduate Information Systems Programs and distinguished professor of information systems at Stevens Institute of Technology. “It is essential to recognize how organizations are leveraging IT during this prolonged economic conundrum, as well as preparing for when the economy will improve.”

Respondents also indicated that virtualization and cloud computing were major new application and technology investments for 2010.

Mark J. Scacco, P.E., is the president and founder of Engineered Efficiency Inc., a nationwide BIM and CAD training and consulting firm. He appreciates your feedback at mark.scacco@eng-eff.com.


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