Discussing the changing role of the specifier with Keith Robinson: CSI Member Spotlight

Why are specifications important?

Aside from my personal bias, which is that specifications is what I do and keeps me gainfully employed?

Seriously though, when used correctly, specifications communicate design strategies and assign appropriate and well-written direction to the constructor. They have the power to influence good design and contribute to projects that satisfy the performance expectations of the people who hire us; the people and corporations that make the construction industry a vital component of the economic fabric of this country and the world. Meanwhile, poorly written specifications are expected to be “interpreted” by the constructor—as if they could read the designer’s mind.

The power of words is underestimated. This goes back to why I joined CSI; the quantity of work and population size in the United States dictates that, by sheer numbers, the quantity of legal issues will be significant. Progress follows the correction of these arising issues, which means specifications are well-positioned to offset and diminish the incidence of claims against professionals.

“The importance of the specification and integration with the model has grown and is increasingly evolving.”

I have a friend who owns a company that provides alternate dispute resolution. His goal is to provide information to specifiers and reduce his workload; unfortunately, his one admitted failure is that he has been extremely successful in finding faults within specifications—oftentimes the same fault repeated over and over.

If there are people making money from poorly written specifications, think about how important this document is and the ways in which well-written content can reduce the cost of construction and improve the state of the built environment.

How has the process of creating specifications changed in the last five years, and how do you see this process changing within the next five years?

BIM has become a much more influential contributor to specification writing. The company I work for is making the conversion to 100 percent digital documentation and creating connections between the modelled building and the specification.

The importance of the specification and integration with the model has grown and is increasingly evolving. The next five years will present special challenges; by the speed of adoption by constructors, this may necessitate changes very few of us have real knowledge of or experience in.

It is clear that doing things the same way we have always done them is not working. Change is being forced on us and the next five years will see a tremendous growth in adaptive strategies to deal with this new reality.

From your perspective, how has the role of the specifier changed over the last 10 years, and how do you see that role changing during the next five years?

More and more, the specifier is being used as a project resource. We are experiencing early involvement during conceptual design phases and this involvement is continuing through to schematic and design development. This makes the published document more accurate and reflective of the design intent.

Designers and specifiers experience a similar challenge; there is a disconnect between design and the model, which is often a consequence of different digital tool usage. This differential has noticeably reduced in the last couple of years, diminishing the rework and disconnect that was occurring as a consequence of using different toolsets between the design and production teams.

The next five years will see more collaborative software suites. I hope this leads to a more efficient transfer of design knowledge, resulting in improved communication to the constructor.

What’s the one piece of advice you wish someone had given you?

I was fortunate to have several good mentors and have benefited greatly from their advice over my nearly 40-year career. The one piece of advice they did not give me was about the inevitability of change—and how quickly that change can occur.

The Boy Scout motto “be prepared” springs to mind; the state of readiness in mind, spirit, and body this idiom conveys was missed in my early development and, as a result, I had to learn those lessons the hard way.

One piece of advice for individuals preparing for an upcoming exam?

Use the knowledge you have acquired. Do not memorize the content of your lessons; rather, think of ways to apply those lessons. Knowing how to solve something will be more beneficial to the exam than memorized facts and phrases.

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One comment on “Discussing the changing role of the specifier with Keith Robinson: CSI Member Spotlight”

  1. Great article Keith. I’ve had many discussions with Keith over the decades and he is one of my ‘go to’ colleagues when I have a specification issue to resolve. His honesty and dedication to help the industry is well known. I here he is communing with nature in the Amazon for a well deserved break! All the best Keith and see you at the CSC Conference in Edmonton, Canada, at the end of May.

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