Like it or not, the world is rapidly becoming one. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. And the implications for architects, engineers, planners, and allied professions are significant. What it means, quite simply, is work will flow to the most competent, lowest-cost professional service provider, regardless of where that person or firm is physically located. It’s well underway. Places like Mexico, India, China, and the Philippines have established themselves as having many competent and lower-cost service providers. Obviously, the bigger the project, the more production-driven, and the more engineering-oriented it is, the more likely it is that offshore service providers can be employed. But contrary to some opinions, it’s not all low-tech by any means. Soon, more advanced expertise will be outside of the U.S. than in it. Just take a look at the declining numbers of U.S.-born engineers and scientists and the increasing numbers of these people coming from other lands and it’s not hard to predict what is around the corner. Architecture and design are a little different, but not entirely so. Understanding the culture of where the project is going to be located is the softer side of this business that’s not always easily transferred to service providers from far away. That said, as the world becomes more one, travel gets easier, and communications continue to improve, these differences will be less noticeable. In any case, it’s easy for some to see offshoring as a threat. Work that was done by people here could go elsewhere. That’s bad. On the other hand, those who see the glass half full vs. half empty can see that this provides as many or more opportunities for U.S. firms as it takes away. Just look at the number of U.S. firms working on overseas projects today vs. 10 or 15 years ago and I think you will find international work is much more commonplace in a much greater variety of sizes and types of A/E/P and environmental firms than it ever was. And eventually, as standards of living (and costs) rise elsewhere, we will become more competitive again price-wise as well. Everything cycles and the cycle will repeat. And more good news for our industry lies in the fact that as population grows and the economic conditions improve around the world, so does demand for what we do. Clean water, clean air, transportation, housing, health care, school, and recreational facilities are going to be needed in record numbers. The whole business is a growth industry without a doubt. Of course, our best tried-and-true advice that has stood the test of time is that firms wanting to remain competitive in this dynamic environment over the long-term must continue to focus on developing niche expertise. This will allow you to export your capabilities anywhere and better fend off low-cost providers— wherever they may be.Originally published 6/19/2006
About Zweig Group
Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.
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