Taking design-build further: Southland’s connected solutions

The Design-Build method is growing in popularity as owners become more familiar with its benefits and develop a better understanding of how to approach it.


Courtesy of Southland IndustriesAt Southland, we use the term "Connected Solutions" to refer to our unique approach to delivering a full-service offering to our customer. But what does this term really mean and how does it allow us to deliver a better value and higher quality results for the projects we take on?

Let's take a look at how the engineering and construction industry has traditionally operated. Historically, large mechanical projects occurred inside a conventional design-bid-build context. That is, an owner would hire an architect and engineer to design a project, then put that out for bids to construct it. While this still makes sense for some work and remains a popular approach, it brings with it some inefficiencies largely due to the fact that the people envisioning a project and the people executing that vision are kept at a distance. This can mean a project that costs more than intended, work that isn't accurately translated from the plans to the physical world, or ideas that look better on paper than they do in practice.

The industry knew that there had to be a better way - and so the design-build movement came along. Southland has been at the forefront of this space, which links the firm designing a project to the one building it. The advantages of this approach stem from the fact that the contractor is able to incorporate constructability as an inherent part of its process, and can execute the entire process more quickly by initiating equipment procurement and construction without requiring that every design for every element is finished beforehand. The result is a project completed more quickly, at higher quality and lower cost. The Design-Build method is growing in popularity as owners become more familiar with its benefits and develop a better understanding of how to approach it.

But even as we've found success in this model, we knew that we could take it even further. This is where "Connected Solutions" was born. Similar in principle to design-build, and incorporating its basic steps, Connected Solutions takes the philosophy of that approach even further. Buildings are not a one-time expenditure - they continue to grow and change with the people who use them. Design-build ended at the very beginning of a building's story - with Connected Solutions, we support the full lifespan of a facility. For Southland, this meant investing in new divisions - Energy and Controls and Service groups designed to address the needs of buildings after they've been constructed

What does this look like in practice?

As an example, let's consider a large hospital with aging mechanical systems and high operating costs. An Energy expert can audit the facility and develop a detailed plan for equipment replacement designed to reduce energy and maintenance expenses while improving the environment for patients and staff. Southland Engineering can complete the detailed design in accordance with all applicable codes and standards. Southland Construction can build the project, with Envise - Southland's service group - providing an integrated controls solution as well as ongoing maintenance and technical support. The project can be financed in such a way that monthly savings exceed monthly payments, thus generating positive cash flow to the owner with zero out of pocket cost. And the results can be guaranteed by Southland, who takes responsibility for every aspect of design, construction and performance.

The owner gets a modernized hospital, fully up to code, running as efficiently as a new facility, with a comfortable, healthy indoor environment that will be maintained for as long as the building stands. This is design-build on steroids. This is a Connected Solution.

This approach has shaped how we've outfitted our organization. Our Energy group, branded as Southland Energy, can function as a standalone Energy Services Company (ESCO) and in that role has successfully completed numerous large energy retrofit projects for clients like the Department of Defense. Our controls and service group, known as Envise, produces world-class control systems installation and integration as well as ongoing mechanical and controls system maintenance, again on a standalone basis.

But the true value of Southland as a whole finds its highest expression when all the groups collaborate to create a Connected Solution. This method allows us to partner with an owner for a complete lifecycle solution to building issues.

We look at this approach as not only a successful strategy for ourselves, but as a challenge to the rest of the industry to take what we've learned and understand from the design-build movement and apply it to how buildings are actually used - as living, changing spaces that need to be maintained, updated and reassessed throughout their entire life.

Ken Robinson, director of operational excellence, Southland Industries. This article originally appeared on Southland's blog. Southland Industries is a CFE Media content partner.

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