Is Silicon Valley going to change the way we build CRE?

From the end of World War II in the mid-1940s until just a few years ago, there was a surge in productivity throughout the United States economy, giving rise to what has often been called the “productivity miracle.”

Throughout this period, nearly every industry in the US — from retail to manufacturing to agriculture — became not only less expensive, but also much more mechanized and faster, leading to increased efficiency.

One industry, however, failed to come on board with this trend – construction. In fact, productivity in construction has not only not increased, but it is also actually lower today than it was in the late 1960’s.

In other words, the way that most commercial real estate buildings are built hasn’t changed much in the last 50 years or so. The process goes by the name “design – bid – build” – but it isn’t nearly as simple or straightforward as it sounds. First, the developer or owner needs to hire an architect, who drafts a rough design. In order to do this, he or she must bring in various outside consultants, such as structural engineers and landscape architects. Next, the owner puts the design out for bids from various general contractors and then hires one (usually the least expensive bid). From there, the general contractor subcontracts the work out, with the architect and the general contractor working together closely to make sure the project is completed as close as possible to budget and on schedule.

If the system sounds complicated, well, that’s because it is. Having so many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak, often leads to misunderstandings, placing blame on others, or worse. The combination of volatile prices for materials and an observed shortage of skilled labor has created an industry that is primed for disruption.

 

 

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