Technology & Special Systems Construction

Oct. 31, 2012
As technology and requirements for facilities continue to evolve at a high rate, finding new approaches becomes more and more important

A hot topic with airport IT folks lately has been finding the most effective way to incorporate technology systems into new airport construction. The best technology in the world does little good if improperly deployed or not integrated with the facilities it supports.

At the turn of the century, the best solution for technology deployment was a "system integrator." This worked because the scope of airport technology was pretty narrow — limited to flight information, passenger processing, building automation, and security. A system integrator was usually a manufacturer of hardware or software that brought together various sub-components to support their proprietary solution.

Then along came the bright idea of using TCP/IP as a common transport platform for all technology; a converged solution that allowed the possiblilty of various elements exchanging information. Virtually overnight the need arose for someone to integrate all the system integrators in this new common environment.


Traditional system integrators did not understand functions of systems other than their own, and with multiple system integrators all working in the same environment, protection of turf became an issue. The role of coordination and arbitration fell to the airport IT staff or a general contractor who just wanted the work done to specification with little concern for the intracacies of the various technologies.

During the course of the past three years there has been an avalanche of new technology solutions for traditional problems, and the difficulties of efficient technology deployments will only get more complicated (see sidebar). While the A&E and construction folks may not have the necessary expertise for comprehensive technology delivery, they have already developed an invaluable process model for success — design-build.

The Design Build Institute of America (DBIA) defines the process: “A method of project delivery in which one entity — the design-build team — works under a single contract with the project owner to provide design and construction services. One entity, one contract, one unified flow of work from initial concept through completion.”

It is a tried and true methodology. RSMeans reports that in 2010, 40 percent of non-residential construction was delivered design-build. For projects over $10 million it is even higher. Contracts are developed and the selection process is refined. Consequently, construction firms are amenable to incorporating a technology design-build firm into their delivery team if they can find one.

Design-build is outside the scope of technology vendors for reasons described earlier and consulting firms don’t have the resources, such as contracting licenses and bonding capability, to implement it effectively. As a result there are few companies providing the service and often insufficient competitors to allow clients to perform Qualifications Based Selection (QBS) for a design-build technology contractor.

Now, we aren’t talking about applying design-build to the traditional tasks of an IT department, such as software deployments, server upgrades, or even network enhancements. Nor would design-build apply to work requiring only a single contractor for delivery. For example, if the project is upgrades to a data network, you should hire a networking company — a design-build entity would only increase overhead and likely get in the way.

How It’s Done

First you must decide the experience and resources you want from your technology design-build contractor. Once complete, this requirement can be included in the broader project construction scope our used to select a design-build contractor for your technology project.

Doing a good job of Qualifications Based Selection is more work for the airport IT staff than just writing an RFP for design. The need to clearly define what you want to accomplish is the same, but there is the added complication of determining the dollar value you place on what you want to accomplish — call it a budget or target cost. Finally, you need a concise process for evaluating and comparing the qualifications of the proposers.

Target cost can be estimated based on current industry norms and comparables for owner objectives. A good idea is to set the target cost below budget to drive innovation in solution and design. The difference between budget and target becomes the project contingency.

The target cost must be accurate. If it is unrealistically low, design-build firms will be reluctant to respond. On the flip side, if the target cost is too high, you leave money on the table. Airports can perform this work themselves or obtain assistance from one of the many consulting companies offering information technology master planning and concept design.

If the consultant has the experience, they might also assist with the QBS process and serve as an extension of owner staff during the construction phase.

Selection is typically a two-step process. The first step is ranking the proposers using written and interview responses, then negotiating the scope and fee with the best candidate. Once selected, contractors are willing to collaborate with the owner to get the best balance of scope and total cost for the work. 

As technology and requirements for facilities continue to evolve at a high rate, finding new approaches becomes more and more important. Design-build processes have been tested in many different environments and should at least be considered when they can streamline integration.