April 2006
Interview
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EMAIL INTERVIEW Al De Wachter & Ken Sinclair

Al De Wachter has been active in the Building Automation industry for over 37 years. He has held senior positions with leading companies in the field and has since 1990 served as president of Independent Control Specialists Inc. ICS develops advanced productivity software for Facility Automation Integrators and consults on related productivity issues. www.ics-controls.com


Making Success a Standard: A New Approach

While industry complexity grows and technologies remain forever in flux, the tasks of estimating, design and submittal can finally be rationalized and standardized.

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Control Solutions, Inc

Sinclair: Seems to me that the concept of standards has been around for many, many years.  What has changed?

De Wachter: The concept remains the same, but the tools and technology required by contractors have finally become universally available.

Sinclair: How so?

De Wachter: Using technology, contractors are finally able to combine “doing things the right way” with “doing things the easy way”.

These software tools can provide a single, common platform from which sales, operations and management can collaborate on ideas, collect and distribute information and share experiences and standards.

So, what about a practical solution? Cosmos is our answer to that. As many of your readers know, ICS has pioneered Cost Estimating methodologies for Control System Integrators, under the “Concerto Suite” name. Several years in the making, we have now released the “Cosmos” module that allows an estimate to “grow into” a design and submittal.

Sinclair: Our industry needs tools like these and judging by the number of hits, last month’s article on “Closing the loop: Making Success a Standard” seems to have touched a nerve, did you get any feedback from readers?

De Wachter: Well, people looked at Standards from different directions; here are just a few comments.

One common theme was that standards support “new employee training”.

“Perhaps one further benefit is the ability for new employees to understand the overall process from estimating, engineering, submitting, material order, executing the work, to completing as-built documentation by the use of one common thread through the whole system. Often new employees learn how to do something according to one person, then have to learn the way another person does the same thing. That causes frustration for the new employee.”

Others approached it from the “reduced complexity” angle.

“I totally agree with what you're stating. We have been in the process of consolidating for about 3 years, so we have fewer brands and sequences, which in turn ties into standards. The fewer and more consistent the better. It should streamline engineering, construction, and service.”

“One of the main reasons COSMOS caught my attention is because it provides an efficient way to catalog, share, and maintain standards. With offices across the US and Canada, having a good process to catalog, share, and maintain our standards is very important to us. This becomes of greater importance on our national accounts or when we need to share engineering resources between offices”.

“My office and the Document Room next door are loaded with ideas for standards, but the biggest problem is time. Usually HVAC contractors are small and pressed for time as everyone wears several hats. We can never seem to justify spending time on a standard, even though we will expend the same amount of effort the next time to reinvent the wheel. "We don't have time to create friendly standards, but we have time to recreate the system from scratch each time." Seems like a silly cycle that we can't break free from, but I think your software has the potential for dramatic impact.”

Reliable Controls Sinclair: One aspect of our industry is that most contractors have developed their own preferred way of putting their design and submittal packages together.  How is that addressed?

De Wachter: We support that model wholeheartedly. Cosmos does not impose any strict methodology that removes a contractor’s flexibility. In fact, Cosmos works with “Visio shapes” from any source, and they can be put together in any way desired. Smart shapes are not required, but may be used if a client has created them or gets them elsewhere. Instead we provide a framework that manages design information, and produces a single PDF submittal document that contains all design and submittal documentation.

Sinclair: Submittals are much more than just schematic drawings.  Do you support the other typical elements?

De Wachter: A design and submittal document often includes “Sequences of Operations” and a “Bill of Material”. Cosmos supports those, as well as valve, damper and point schedules and PDF product data sheets. It also allows the designer to attach “any” file type, such as a scanned wire detail page, letters, specifications, or any other digital files, to the submittal. It all gets assembled into a single PDF file that can be versioned, archived and emailed.

Sinclair: How do standards play in this equation?

De Wachter: Our approach is an extension of the Concerto estimating methods. Estimators and designers can use the identical Concerto standards library from which to both estimate and design projects. Of course, that means that if a project was estimated from the office standards library, which typically represents 80 to 90% of any project, its design is also almost completely done as a byproduct of the estimate. Conversely, the labor or material cost changes that result from design stage decisions, can be evaluated in the estimating package for a quick but detailed look at the “variance” between the way the job was estimated, and how it looks after the design was completed.

Sinclair: You mean this can be the often talked-about but seldom implemented “engineered estimate”?

De Wachter: That was one of the goals of integrating estimates and designs. Because finding out right away that there is a cost difference between the estimate and the design, allows for corrective action. Finding out at the end of the project completion is too late – the horse has bolted from the barn.

Sinclair: This should also reduce the time lag between getting an order, and delivering submittals to the client, right?

De Wachter: Design-time savings are an important benefit of Standards. Arguably, the quality of the submittals may be even more important, as standards really promote consistency.

Sinclair: How can the submittal package be customized?

De Wachter: There are several “pieces” that make up a full package. Cosmos allows the contractor to specify what is included, and in what order the various elements should appear. The submittal is indexed, and a version is assigned so that partial submittals and re-submittals can be kept and tracked.

Control Solutions, Inc Sinclair: Can all clients read the submittal document format?

De Wachter: Cosmos creates a standard Adobe Acrobat (PDF) file. A free reader is available on the web.

Sinclair: How are the design product databases maintained?

De Wachter: The product databases are shared between Concerto Estimating and Cosmos Design/Submittal and maintained. That further supports standardization, as both groups have an interest in, and become familiar with the same product lines.

Sinclair: Any initial feedback on how the software is being received?

De Wachter: Early responses have been extremely positive. Users are really taking advantage of the power and flexibility with the tools and we look forward to sharing more and more of their success stories.

Sinclair: Sounds great, thanks Al.

De Wachter: Thanks Ken.

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