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The future of spec writing

The future of spec writing

by Aaron McCullough
We live in an age of increasing complexity. It is frequently noted today’s cell phones are significantly more powerful than the computers employed to put the first man on the moon. While technology is advancing at an exponential pace, the architectural openings industry continues to lag behind.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the specification process. “As a spec writer, your job is to ensure the right pieces of hardware end up on the right door every single time,” says William Lawliss, DHT, DAHC/CDC, CCPR, regional specification director for Allegion. “In reality, a lot of your time is spent tracking down and managing information and searching for the doors on the plans.”

The problem is only getting worse. “Access control and security systems have become standard on most commercial buildings, which means openings are increasingly complex,” explains David Fouché, LEED AP BD+C, Allegion’s architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) platform manager. “The time limit involved in new construction just keeps getting shorter and there are more people involved. Also, many spec writers are nearing retirement, so architects are relying more heavily on manufacturers and information available on the web.”

These problems have been plaguing the construction industry for years, and the solution may finally have arrived. Not surprisingly, the key to fixing these problems involves new technology, but the real solution lies in the collaboration it enables.

Collaboration is key
Collaboration requires communication. The importance of communication is an idea that everyone involved in the construction process—architects, designers, owners, specifiers, and installers—is quite familiar with, in theory. However, the realities of doing so frequently prove to be incredibly challenging.

“There can sometimes be a communication barrier between architects and door hardware consultants,” explains Lawliss. “We speak a different language.”

Fouché agrees, “You are dealing with architects and designers who are very visual, and the specification process is not visual at all. The challenge has always been, how do you allow them to understand the data in specs more easily, and graphically?”

Compounding this problem is the fact there is no easy way to access the information, particularly for people on the design side of the process, who may not be very familiar with hardware.

“The creation and utilization of specifications is a time-consuming and difficult process that almost seems to guarantee mistakes and oversights, particularly as the pace of construction continues to accelerate,” says Fouché. “It is time for the industry to streamline this entire process and make it more usable, efficient, and accurate for everyone involved.”

Bridging the gap
The most effective way to foster communication and collaboration is by harnessing recent advances in technology to create tools allowing architects and hardware consultants to work together more easily and effectively when creating specifications and the security design of architectural openings.

“Any interaction with specifications currently feels like a chore,” says Fouché. “To find anything, first you have to grab your floor plan, locate the door number, go to the door schedule, and find that number. You then have to find the associated hardware set number and open up the right version of the spec that has the product associated with it. Maybe the product number is written in a cryptic manner. Maybe you do not even have the most current version of the spec. How are you going to make sure it matches the requirement?”

The solution to this problem lies in the utilization of a single platform eliminating the process of searching through various documents at different stages of design and construction. Having a single, centralized platform enables everyone involved to skip all of those steps, pull up the plans on a computer, click on a door, and immediately see all the information associated with that particular door. With the advent of cloud-based computing, any changes made appear in real time, ensuring everyone involved always has the most current version of the specifications.

“Advances in technology have enabled the creation of a collaboration site where data is both live and accurate,” explains Jason Kornaker, business leader—project-based business building information modeling (BIM) and technology. “This allows us to bring together key stakeholders—owners, architects, and integrators—and allow everyone to be on the same page, thereby reducing the number of errors, oversights, and omissions that have historically caused so many problems.”

Sharing a platform not only eliminates the potential for common mistakes, but it also effectively bridges the communication gap that has previously existed between architects and specifiers.

“A picture really is worth 1000 words,” says Lawliss, “especially when we are talking about the very technical terms used in hardware spec writing. Architects and designers are obviously very visual people. If you can show them a picture and allow them to see a lever design, for instance, and interact with it within this platform, instead of just product numbers that do not mean anything to people outside the hardware industry, they get it. It saves time and streamlines the entire process.”

Embrace technology
Although there is no doubt technology is rapidly transforming the construction industry, Lawliss is quick to point out this type of technology will by no means replace specification writers.

“Technology is a tool to enhance the job, not replace it,” he explains. “It is just taking away some of the grunt work. If 20 to 30 percent of their time is currently spent tracking down doors, manually retyping data, and cross-referencing door schedules with hardware catalogues, adoption of this technology would enable them to use that time for other tasks like quality control or keeping up with the onslaught of new products and code changes that are so vital to their work.”

This is only the beginning of the technological revolution that will fundamentally change the construction industry. “We already do so many things with our phones,” says Fouché. “Imagine walking up to a door and have your phone know where you are in the building and using it to access a cloud-based survey. You take a picture, upload it, and it is part of the survey. Later, an architect does a punch list. He stands in front of a door with his phone and it tells him what is supposed to be on that door. He can make notes that are immediately uploaded to the cloud and become part of the database. Finally, an installer can ask where he is supposed to install closers and the system can tell him which doors get them.”

It is easy to see how even the most mundane aspects of construction can be transformed and simplified by streamlining processes and facilitating collaboration. A single platform allows everyone involved in the project, from designers to integrators, to interface with the same system in real time. The amount of time and money that, ultimately, can be saved through the elimination of errors, delays, and oversights is simply staggering.

As programs like BIM have already illustrated, technology is having a dramatic impact on the industry, and the adoption rate can be swift, leaving those who fail to adapt to the new model at a distinct disadvantage.

“It is vital this industry embraces technology,” says Lawliss. “Our expertise and knowledge is needed, but if we do not make these changes ourselves and quickly, the larger construction industry will make the changes for us.”

Allegion has rewritten the way specs are written. Discover how a cloud-based collaboration platform can streamline and simplify your next project. Visit https://discover-overtur.allegion.com/.

Aaron McCullough is the vice-president of specifications and fulfillment for Allegion. He brings more than 15 years of lean and process improvement experience in both manufacturing and service industries, preceded by service in the United States Army as an air defense artillery officer. At Allegion, he leads the specification writing team supporting architectures across the country.

All information listed in this section was submitted by Allegion.
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