Many sizable MEP (Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing) firms offer technology consulting as part of an “MEP-T” (MEP+Technology) practice. Within a combined scope of services from an MEP-T firm, the cost for technology consulting appears lower than from a technology consultant like TEECOM. MEP-Ts will often claim a client is getting the same service at a lower price and therefore a better value. In this article, we explain some of the major differences between a technology consultant and an MEP-T firm and how they impact the value delivered to clients.
Depth of Knowledge
TEECOM has more than 100 technology experts. Many MEP-T firms have one or two. They have to be generalists, working across telecom, AV, and security. “It’s impossible to master all three disciplines,” says Larry Anderson, TEECOM’s Chief Engineer. “Senior engineers whom I’ve interviewed who say they have mastered all three can’t answer questions that junior engineers in our disciplines at TEECOM could answer.” Technology engineering from an MEP-T firm is ultimately closer to a design-build approach, with many details left to a contractor. Specialty sub-systems are also often farmed out to other subcontractors.
There is a big difference between an MEP-T firm asking a client what technology system they want and following the client’s direction, and a technology consultant asking the client what their business objective is and then informing them of the range of options to achieve that objective. The former relies on the client’s knowledge of the industry with no thought leadership added by the technology engineer. The latter is an exploratory dialogue, drawing on deep knowledge of different systems and building types, asking informed questions, leading the client to the best solution, and educating them in the process. The latter results in the best user outcomes, the lowest long-term costs, and repeat business with satisfied clients.
Research & Development
TEECOM enhances the thought leadership we provide with our internal Research and Development team, TEECOMlabs. This group of software engineers is dedicated to understanding advances in technology that relate to the built environment, testing and evaluating new products, exploring possibilities for creating new solutions, and improving workflows for our design teams.
Training and Mentorship
When a junior designer joins TEECOM, they receive mentorship from engineers with decades of experience. We run an annual internship program, TEECOMuniversity, in which young engineers receive a crash course in technology engineering with intensive instruction from our senior engineers. Staff at all levels of the firm are encouraged to pursue professional certifications, with their study time and exams funded by the firm and a bonus for passing. The mentorship and training allows every individual on every team to grow their expertise exponentially. This creates more opportunity for individuals and better value for clients, as we have more skilled and more well-rounded individuals.
At TEECOM, we have regular discipline meetings and dedicated Slack channels to share information and ideas and answer questions. “I can be at a meeting with a vendor and get on Slack and ask if anyone has experience with this product,” says Principal, Senior Consultant Adam Wrzeski. “I can get firsthand expert knowledge from a colleague within minutes.” We have creative design reviews to ensure that multiple perspectives examine the challenge and proposed solution. We invest in the communication tools to collaborate effectively even in our current remote circumstances.
Internal Tool Development
TEECOM invests in developing internal tools, such as Revit tools, specific to technology systems, rather than mechanical or electrical systems. These tools are not available on the market. Technology engineers at MEP-T firms have to use tools geared for other disciplines or purchase tools that another firm created. “Our constant internal development of tools enables us to provide high-quality work ever more efficiently, which aligns with the industry trend of clients building faster and faster,” says Justin King, Principal, Senior Consultant.
Many MEP-T firms, and especially large AE firms, are selling the idea that having all disciplines under one roof makes the design process more integrated. In fact, it’s often the opposite. TEECOM usually works for an owner or architect and, ideally, has an early seat at the table to influence the project. At an MEP-T firm, technology engineers are often kept out of client meetings to protect the fee. They end up having to do all their work at the end of the project, which often necessitates last-minute revisions to the overall designs.
Large AE firms typically purchase many smaller firms and then present themselves as one firm in which everyone works together. In reality, the integration and communication isn’t necessarily happening. TEECOM operates as a single entity across several offices and regions, performing QA/QC through our headquarters. This differentiates us even from other technology consultancies that operate with different offices as different businesses.
While an MEP principal is focused on a few projects, the one or two technology engineers at an MEP-T firm have to work on every single one of the firm’s projects. They may have to pledge 30 percent of their time as available on a proposal when their real availability will be closer to three percent. The level of attention and ability to address details is very limited.
MEP-T firms certainly cannot provide advanced services like technology project management or ongoing enterprise support. Our project managers work closely with clients to guide them from strategy, to design, to procurement, to construction, saving time and money and ensuring the best outcomes for users. We guide an organization in this way as it grows across a global real estate portfolio.
An MEP-T firm can scope a low technology cost and disperse the actual cost among the MEP fees. MEP engineers often price a technology system without knowing what it will take to actually bring that system to fruition; the price is low, but the owner is buying a product the seller cannot actually deliver at that price. This often results in change orders, which wipe out the money saved on low initial fees, or even having to bring a technology consultant into the project in its late stages.
TEECOM’s commitment to clients is “We make technology work in buildings.” We are not just there to ask a client what they want, put it on the drawing, hand it off to the contractor, and hope for the best. We measure our success by whether the right system was chosen for the objective and whether that system functions as intended on the appointed day.
So Next Time…
You are selecting technology services in a competitive bid, we recommend you request the following of an MEP-T firm:
- Price technology separately as if it was the only service you were bidding for;
- List the projects currently assigned to the technology engineer(s) along with their availability for this project;
- Share sample documents from a recent technology project;
- Share client and contractor references for technology work.
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