Mark Dorsey, CEO: CSI’s rich past will lead to future opportunities
Now in its 75th year, CSI continues to drive project delivery excellence in the architecture, engineering, construction, and owner (AECO) industry. In a new set of interviews, we ask key stakeholders how they view the association, the industry, and the future of construction. CSI CEO, Mark Dorsey, shares his thoughts and insights on the past and future of CSI.
As the association celebrates this significant milestone, what are some of the most impactful contributions CSI has made for the benefit of the AECO industry?
Fundamentally, if we go back to our roots, our most consequential successes have been creating systems and processes that have radically improved how our industry functions. In the past, architects had one language and contractors had another. Today, CSI standards and formats enable different members of the project team to communicate more effectively about the needs of the project. It’s hard to imagine meeting those objectives without these tools, isn’t it?
CSI tools encompass the sphere of construction, too, not just architectural projects. Our standards and formats extend to just about anything that’s built from design and construction to the facilities management phase once the project is complete. Since people work together in groups and cross-functional teams, there’s less of an emphasis on the sequential hand-off of data and information.
For me, that is the single biggest value of CSI historically; staying focused on how we can improve quality and efficiency, increase communication, and reduce risks associated with miscommunication in any given project.
For decades, CSI has continually created new standards, study groups, formats and now, new technologies to help members stay on top of change. How do you see this as part of the association’s DNA?
If the DNA of the organization is to document those materials, methods, and practices, and provide specific information about a project from an architect, engineer, or other design professional to contractors and other stakeholders, we’re at the hub of any given project. As technology is always changing, we constantly need to stay on top of that.
We need to be vigilant, though, about the accuracy of the information that’s shared so quickly. When CSI was founded in the late ’40s, you had to pick up a phone and get an operator to dial into somebody else’s office. Your written communication time was days long, if not weeks. Now, it’s instant global communication through a multitude of channels. This had a major impact on the way practitioners handle construction administration, which has been accelerated to the point where every project is basically fast-tracked. The risk in that is, you can look up anything on the internet and hit “reply all” in an email, but then all your documentation, commentary, and perspective is shared instantly around the globe. This requires all of us to be more diligent and thoughtful to separate the signal from noise or trust actionable information from volumes of data. I think the pace of information is something we need to pay attention to so we can maintain our roots, which is sharing information that is clear, concise, complete, and accurate.
Why are CSI standards and formats so important to how work gets done, especially in terms of risk involving cost claims and delays?
Risk management is a huge part of avoiding work delays, unanticipated costs, and health and safety concerns with any given project. That’s why the standards and formats, especially MasterFormat, Uniformat, and Omniclass, relate to the organization of information in how work gets done. They are available to the entire industry and have been adopted broadly throughout North America and overseas. If each member of the project team organizes information differently then it’s much harder to find information that might be handed off or contemplated within the construction documents.
That is the essence of what we do; we enable folks to find and develop accurate information more consistently. When done right, it reduces the opportunities for error and miscommunication, and minimizes risks.
How do you see the role of the specifier changing now and in the future?
While specifiers are researching and putting together all this documentation, they are also understanding building information modeling (BIM) and construction information. BIM has begun to realize its potential where instead of it being a glorified representation of an object in computer aided design, you also have all the data related to it.
As artificial intelligence (AI) evolves, it is likely that people engaged in specifications become more of fact checkers and data analysts than writers. Already, there are applications that can create a video on your behalf that will fill in design elements if you plug in the dimensions of the space you want to create. The issue around AI isn’t necessarily whether it will take your job, it’s how it will change your job; but the human part of the equation is judgment and aesthetic.
The human part is understanding how products and processes interact. So, the role is evolving to be even more of a thought leader, fact checker, and critical player in the design and construction process. It’s not about who writes the best spec—it’s going to be about who can troubleshoot the best spec and manage related data.
This mindset to master change, what does it mean to the association and to you?
Mastering change is about being open to change. This is a challenge because humans crave consistency and certainty. Being a student through life, being curious about what change you might want to initiate, is absolutely critical. We can see how technology has changed all our lives. The fact we have come through a pandemic where video communication envisioned in the ’50s and ’60s was accelerated in the last two years and is now woven into our daily lives means we must continue to figure out how are we going to keep the things that work for us and discard those that don’t. To master change, you must embrace it.
As impressive as celebrating the 75th anniversary is, where do you see the association going from here?
I see CSI really leaning into the idea of having virtual and face-to-face communities so that people have a network that helps them be better at their jobs. While it’s true, we are about improving building performance and project outcomes, it doesn’t happen without a board of directors who are focused on helping every professional be the best at what they do and have the support of their professional peers. We do that by learning from the past, so we can honor those processes that will allow us to address changes in technology, in how we work, and in how projects and products come together.
Although we’ve come a long way in 75 years, one thing will never change: our commitment to building spaces, places, and infrastructures that enable us to function as a healthy, productive, and joyous society.
Peter Kray is a content strategist with CSI. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.