In this episode of the Weekly Podcast Series, commARCH has a dialogue with Mark Dorsey, the CEO of Construction Specifications Institute, or CSI, to discuss the past, present, and future of construction standards and information technology.
Mark Dorsey describes himself as being dedicated to understanding marketing and strategy issues, finding solutions, and getting results. The only thing that excites him more than solving long-standing, intractable problems is building a commitment to excellence in the people around him.
Prior to CSI, Dorsey was CEO of the Professional Ski Instructors of America & American Association of Snowboard Instructors, owned a consumer research company, and bought and sold media in Seattle, WA, and Anchorage, AK. He served as Interim Executive Director, and later Chair, of Medical Education Collaborative, a non-profit continuing medical education corporation.
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YouTube, all major podcast platforms, and, of course, the commARCH website. In this episode, commARCH has a dialogue with Mark Dorsey, the CEO of Construction Specifications institute, or CSI, to discuss the past, present, and future of construction standards and information technology.Areas covered include:
the history of CSI and its evolving efforts to build information infrastructure in the industry; analyzing the potential for growth and innovation in the otherwise stagnant field of construction productivity; and highlighting CSI's new Crosswalk API, which enables digital access to CSI standards and a wide array of related tools. Mark Dorsey describes himself as being dedicated to understanding marketing and strategy issues, finding solutions, and getting results. The only thing that excites him more than solving longstanding intractable problems is building a commitment to excellence in people around him. Prior to CSI Dorsey was CEO of the Professional Ski instructors of America and American Association of Snowboard Instructors, owned a consumer research company, and bought and sold media in Seattle, Washington and Anchorage, Alaska. He served as Interim Executive Director, and later Chair, of Medical Education Collaborative, a nonprofit continuing medical education corporation. Thank you for joining us this week, let's hop into the podcast.Dean Horowitz:
Before we get into Crosswalk, can we talk a little bit about CSI, and the standards first that are the foundation, really, of Crosswalk?Mark Dorsey:
So, you know, CSI is a more than 70-year-old organization, and it was really founded, I think, on the idea of communication - how to improve communication between all of the different facets of the project team. And there's a tendency to think of architects, but we're actually talking about specifications and how that work is to be delivered and what products are to be integrated and how that is communicated how that work is communicated between the architect or the design side, the engineering side, the contracting side, but there's an even bigger group. When you think of, "Well, are we delivering the project in a manner that meets what ownership might've envisioned?" Or, on the far end of the spectrum, also influences how a facility is going to be maintained. We, you know, once the building comes to life - because they're living, breathing organisms in some respects - there's kind of this circle of life, and early on, when I first started with CSI, there was a current board member at the time who said, "You know, our standards and formats are really like the Rosetta Stone of construction. They're designed to take all of these disparate pieces of information, particularly around products and organize them in a way that makes it easier to communicate about those products or assemblies to others on the team." And so that's at the heart of what MasterFormat and Uniformat and Omniclass are about. But the way that we have delivered those historically is we'd give you a book. You remember back in the day when you, if you were a computer programmer, you'd see a book with a camel on it and you know, you'd have, here's my C# book, and you get a disc or - or later you get a downloadable file. And I kind of looked at how we were offering up MasterFormat in particular, and said, "Well, you know, here's a book and a flat file. And the nineties called and it wants its development process back." Because what we'd have to do is you'd have to integrate between - by hand, develop how these standards were integrated into your software. And that's just not a contemporary way of doing business. And certainly, you know, look at Silicon Valley, nobody makes a living that way. So you know, that's kind of what CSI is about and what gave rise to Crosswalk. And part of what gave rise to it... part of the problem set is that, if we look at contractors and project managers and designers, contractors and specifiers, they're all sharing information in different ways. Multiple software programs, PDF files, Word documents. It's on my iPad, it's not on my iPad. Which just creates a lot of opportunity for error and miscommunication. And you contrast that, when we actually see contracting firms using augmented reality to conduct inspections via a HoloLens, for example or, a Magic Leap headset. And now you can see what you envision the design to be, married up against the reality of the design in real time. So, you know, in what environment do you want to work in? We're trying to bring what CSI has done historically into that space in order to facilitate communication and data, in a much more dynamic and interesting way.Dean Horowitz:
So what is going to get displaced as a result of bringing this in?Mark Dorsey:
Well... books, for sure. You know, I think - I don't know so much what gets displaced as, if you're a software developer and you're creating tools or you're trying to access data of a product that then just gets a whole lot more efficient. So, you know, I was talking with a colleague earlier today about speed of data, better data. You know, speed is getting better, so what? What you're trying to create are better insights for better outcomes. And so if I'm looking at this first step, which are classifications as a service, I mean, what's displaced are paper documents instead of you know, better digital project workflow. And, you know, how do you connect to a project management tool in addition to your design tool, in addition to your costing tool? So the classifications are one thing, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. If we're looking at where this goes, well, now we're actually supporting disruptors that exist, like augmented design. Or you're using virtual reality, augmented reality, not only for design, but you're using it for inspection. From a trust and transparency standpoint imagine self-executing contracts upon inspection, that relate to, that are enabled by blockchain. You know, none of that happens, really, if you don't have something like Crosswalk tying all that together.Dean Horowitz:
How far off do you think that is?Mark Dorsey:
We're actually already digging into - I mean the augmented design and blockchain options are already underway. Augmented design has been around for years.Dean Horowitz:
No, I'm talking about the inspection part because that's...Mark Dorsey:
It's happening now. I mean, I've actually seen demos of contractors. And Paul Doherty, who's an advisor to us, actually was showing - I believe it was Thyssenkrupp a couple of years ago. When they're doing sales calls - I mean, sorry - service calls on an elevator. They've got a tech with a HoloLens and when they get to a portion of dealing with the motherboard on an elevator, they can actually Skype in somebody via HoloLens in order to help assist, in order to deconstruct the problem. And I'll put it a different way: I have this really great coffee maker. It's really cool. It's absurdly expensive, but the coffee will pay for itself in about a year. I basically can make any type of coffee that I want to, and it's also complicated, and when it breaks, when we call the service department, they will ask permission to get onto my phone so that they can see just like you might FaceTime, what's going on, instruct us, and we do the service ourselves. Right? And that means that I don't have to send it in. It means I don't have to take it to a retailer. If I do have to send it in, it's genuinely broken. Imagine if you do your car that way.Dean Horowitz:
Right. I'm intrigued by the coffee maker.Mark Dorsey:
Yeah, DeLonghi. It's awesome.Dean Horowitz:
A few years ago, I calculated how much I spent at Starbucks over the course of the year, and I'm sure this is more affordable.Mark Dorsey:
Yeah. You know, over the long run, we did some of the math, but our coffee was so much better. So we just went there, we went that route.Dean Horowitz:
So to go to a quote on your website, "The productivity of construction remains stuck at the same level as 80 years ago," that's from the McKinsey report.Mark Dorsey:
Yeah. In 2017 McKinsey put out a report that talks about how inefficient the construction industry is, compared to global counterparts. And a big portion of that had to do with the speed of information. I think the holy grail has been around BIM, and BIM modeling, and trying to gain agreement about, well, you know, what standard for BIM objects, what's the standard going to be for products and services. And we're all trying to move - trying to move towards that preferred future. But the US markets just had a difficult time doing that - and there are good reasons for it. I mean, you know, it's long, it's complicated, we're complex, local jurisdictions dealing with code, code enforcement. I mean, there's just a really long laundry list. So we look at Crosswalk as one of those things to help move towards solving for that problem.Dean Horowitz:
10 years ago - maybe a little bit longer -I went to a brilliant two, three day workshop on BIM. And it was produced by Autodesk and it was so exciting and so brilliant. I was so jazzed. Here we are today, and we still have adoption problems.Mark Dorsey:
Yeah, we do, don't we?Dean Horowitz:
I mean, the promise of it was great, the technology is amazing. What, what are two or three questions somebody should be asking themselves so that they can come to the point of, yeah, I need Crosswalk.Mark Dorsey:
So here's a couple of them, and and I think they're actually fairly simple. And again, I want to go back to, what's the problem space? Are you using manual processes? Is your information delayed? Are your systems compatible with each other? Are there integrations that are missing? And the why is really - you know, if cross-referencing a standard or, frankly, data - I mean, you think of a piece of data, think of looking at a product in the old days and the giant binders that are dusty sitting around the office. Well, that's not how you're looking up information anymore. I mean - I did have an opportunity to talk to a group that was part of sealant distribution and sales, right? You know, in every other walk of life, if we're interested in a product, we go to the company's website or Amazon to look up the characteristics of that product. We might see reviews about that product and how that product performs and we'll make decisions - for better and for worse, I'm not saying it's perfect - but that's how we shop, right? And by the way, is that not just driven home, you know, in a COVID era, like crazy? But when we think about "how do you source construction products?" There's a fear in there that, "Oh my goodness. You know, who do I go to?" And I've seen this happen in other industries. I hail from the ski industry and, you know, specialty retail was just terrified. But the thing is, is that specialty retail, just like really good salespeople, are trusted advisors to help you navigate how the product works best, you know, give you insights that you're not going to get from the online description. But, I mean, you know, look at the dating world. That's digital-first too. So I think the question is, in an era where the standards are constantly evolving - and they're not being driven because we as an association say so. Look at what a door is right now compared to what it was 50 years ago. A door was an obstacle to ingress or egress, then. Well, now it's a security tool, now it's a data portal. You might have magnetic locks on it. You have power supplies to be concerned with. They are much, much more complex. So how do you account for all of that information in a more efficient way? How do you cross reference against old standards, which might say doors and assembly lives here, but it could also live here, here and here. And how do you navigate increasingly specialized and task-specific tools? So if you're finding that you're having to jump between multiple platforms to get essentially the same piece of information, that's a need for something like Crosswalk. But Crosswalk is the digital application of something the industry has used for years. So what we are, are trying to essentially - think of it like a Google Translate for the construction industry. You as an end user might not see Crosswalk. Where we're looking at is, will the software underneath it enable these standards and formats to enable you to do your job more effectively and more efficiently. And what we are seeing happening in the industry is, "I can't do that relying on what CSI has given me. So if I'm a big enough firm, I'll just develop my own set of standards." Well, the problem is that inherently means it's not a standard, because it's not adopted by a broad population. So what we'll do is, we'll do what a nonprofit association can do, which is be a neutral third party. Our space will be standardized taxonomy and organization of information. Anonymized data. We're not interested in being in the end user software business. What we are interested in doing is enabling information to be shared more effectively and more efficiently. So, end users benefit from that. And our projects are on time. They're higher quality, they're safer, and they're more cost-effective.Dean Horowitz:
You can go to the crosswalk.biz website. Also, there are local chapters for CSI around the country?Mark Dorsey:
Yeah, we have about 130 chapters across the country. Which is where, you know, you can talk to the local practitioners that are expert in their field, around the topic of specifications. Because specifications themselves are embedded into so many things we do, but they are of interest to an engineer or architect or contractor. We're really in one respect, a bit of a big tent because we're trying to facilitate communication across those members of the project teams personally, as well as digitally.Dean Horowitz:
How many members in total?Mark Dorsey:
About 7,000, but we have a much larger footprint in terms of the number of folks that we we interact with and talk to.Dean Horowitz:
Isn't it like enormous on who's gotten certified or use some of your programs, then you have a real large number don't you?Mark Dorsey:
Oh yeah. Our focus is around - from a certification standpoint - around construction documentation, contract administration, construction, specifications, and product representation. And the biggest one, the Construction Documents Technologist program, we see a couple of thousand people a year for that program. And about half of them are non-members that - we'd love you to be a member, we love that because you know, members are what support, all of that, that goodness. But if you were to go online, you'll see a learning library and what those certifications are about. But the primary certification, the Construction Document Technologist, we - what we get back is, this is where people gain an understanding of really how a project comes to life and gets built. You know, it takes a lot of theory and makes it reality. And then you can go into the specialty areas around specifications, contract administration, product representation. So that's really the funnel, but if you go to csiresources.org, you can learn all about that.Dean Horowitz:
Well, thanks for doing this with me.Mark Dorsey:
Yeah, thank you very much. I really appreciate it.cA:
The commARCH team. Thanks you as always for joining us for this week's podcast. Please remember to subscribe to the commARCH YouTube channel, follow us on your favorite podcast platform, and take advantage of the commARCH website, where you can access all of these platforms and associated podcast transcripts. Until next time.