In the first part of this series, we debunked the myth that using technology for automation is only beneficial for big tasks. When you can shave even five minutes off a process your production staff does every day, it can add up to thousands of dollars in profits.
This article looks at another great opportunity to incorporate technology into your small firm.
There’s profitability hiding in your pain points.
Our firm started investigating virtual reality in 2018. I thought it could be cost prohibitive, but I wanted to research it anyway. I asked other, mostly larger, firms if they were doing it and the answer was yes. But the usage seemed limited to a person in one office, and it wasn’t a process that was integrated or that everyone could access. I researched the various applications, the hardware needed, and the cost of those items. The hard thing was trying to figure out where the actual jumping off point was; as a small firm owner, if you are going to invest the money you want to do the best to invest in the right thing. But at some point, you have to just jump in and try something, and realize you may have some sunk cost and you may need to try something else.
We picked a virtual reality rig and a software, with a total investment of roughly $2500. Then someone needed to learn the software. I asked if anyone was interested to learn it and do some experimentation. A volunteer stepped forward and began the learning process. Then we worked to identify a project we could test it on. I have learned the best way to move forward using new technology is to have an actual purpose, something with a deadline that forces us to execute. Maybe it’s how our firm is wired, but it’s what seems to work for us.
While implementing VR on that first project, we ended up switching the software because we found one that worked better with our BIM platform, something that was more user friendly and with more options. It was possible to have the VR and CAD softwares both open at the same time, and making a change in CAD would automatically make the change in the VR platform. So yes, there was a sunk cost in the first VR software we purchased. Add to that the cost of the second software license. The point is, there’s a definite learning curve to implementing new technology.
Also, it is important to identify your goals for expending the money and time new technology requires. With the incorporation of virtual reality in our practice, I wanted to overcome the fear of what’s coming in the future, by actively engaging in it and understanding it. I also wanted to invest in VR for its profitability potential. I thought VR would be a good tool for those projects with specific client requests when a client may not understand what they are asking for, say a big reception desk, or they have super specific details of how they want something done. Sometime a client wants something that won’t work in the available space, yet they insist on having it anyway. What has happened in those situations for us is that we get into construction, that element goes into the room, and the client hates it when they see there’s not enough space or it’s not what they envisioned. Despite our efforts in design development to illustrate the problem in the 2D renderings and elevations and plans, clients often insist the design element is indeed what they want. Yet once it is built and it is no longer wanted, it may cost something like $10,000 to make a change. Then the client is unhappy, we’re unhappy, we’ve spent a tremendous amount of time that we can’t get paid for, and the client wants us to pay for the change we’ve documented – that we said we didn’t think was the right solution in the first place. Nobody is happy and the relationship is damaged.
Virtual reality can put clients IN their space during SD and DD. They can walk around the large desk and see it at scale and see it’s too big, and no one has built anything or spent the money on anything yet. It does take a bit of time on our end to produce the VR views, but it doesn’t have to be photorealistic quality. It just has to be enough for the client to get a sense of the space and the massing. Even without high details, VR gives the ability to communicate the design intent, and get the client on board to understand what you’re trying to accomplish with the design. And now we have a happier client and less drama at the end. And we’ve spent way less time doing the virtual reality than spending time during construction administration trying to fix the problem. It saves the time and worry of trying to figure out how to get paid when something gets built the client doesn’t like. VR is a useful tool to help mitigate wasted time and potentially unhappy clients. It is also a tool you can include in proposals to offer as an optional service, and come up with a fee to do it. Clients may also benefit from VR:
- sell the design to investors
- use in marketing efforts to share with customers of what’s coming in the future
- use as a sales tool for leasing
Who knows how clients might use VR. But don’t assume clients won’t pay for it without even asking.
Matterport is another technology we are actively investigating. This field verification technology makes the tedious task of field measurements much easier. Which makes our employees much happier! We use laser measures, but it’s still an arduous process. Like with VR, we had a perfect project to force us to implement Matterport. Our client plans to open locations of their pediatric practice all over the United States. We wanted to assist them with these locations outside of Texas, and Matterport enabled us to show them how efficient we can be. This technology helps us document as accurately as possible what we’re seeing in the field, which can then be easily communicated to other consultants. We can also refer to the data later when questions arise about the actual conditions, the little nuances in every existing site. Matterport makes it possible to scan the space and get a 3D image of the location, similar to what you’ve seen in home sales today. Matterport has an extension available for an extra fee to get a pointcloud file that can be imported into your BIM application. Since the file isn’t on your local server, it can be easily shared with your client and the consultant team on the project. Everyone can see what is there on site. More accuracy, more efficiency, more profitability!
There’s one more article in this series, you won’t want to miss it. We’ll review some tech tips for increasing employee retention and improving relationships with current and prospective clients.