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Transcript - How to Win work with Georgia Tech, with Scott Jones

Audio:
Welcome to AEC Marketing For Principals, brought to you by Smartegies where we help design and construction firms, navigate sales, and leverage marketing to win more projects. Here are your hosts, Katie Cash and Judy Sparks.

Katie Cash:
Hi everyone, and welcome to today's episode of the AEC Marketing For Principals podcast. Today Judy and I are joined by a longtime friend, and a regular buyer of both design and construction services, Mr. Scott Jones. Scott currently serves as the Assistant Vice President of Facilities Design and Construction at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He's been there for a number of years. We're really excited to have you with us today, Scott. So welcome to the show.

Scott Jones:
Thank you.

Katie Cash:
We love talking with owners like yourself because you are quite interesting. Not only did you come from a family of builders, but when you decided to pursue a career on your own, you didn't go the family route and go into construction right away. You decided to pursue a degree in architecture. And then before you joined Georgia Tech, I know you spent some time both in the US and abroad working in the private sector. So you've kind of seen a little bit of everything before you came to Georgia Tech where you started in your role where you are actively pursuing and promoting your projects for the campus. So maybe could share a little bit with our listeners, kind of your background, your career journey, and maybe what your responsibilities look like at the campus in your current role.

Scott Jones:
Well, I've managed design and construction my whole career. I've done it as an architect initially with John Portman and Associates. Then later on as a contractor, and then a developer down in Kiawah Island, which was a real dream job. And now I do it basically as an owner. We were running essentially a captive program management operation for Georgia Tech. We manage design all their design and construction projects. We also have some design and engineering capacity in house, a lot of interior projects, lab projects, smaller projects. So kind of run the gamut with that.

Scott Jones:
The way we do our business development here at Georgia Tech is expectation management and making sure our stakeholders are happy. Because it just comes at us like a fire hose. I mean it's somewhere around 350 to 450 million a year and in different stages. Anywhere from planning to design and construction. And planning, though we're not responsible for, we're a partner with CPSM and try to make sure that when things do get launched they're launched in the right footing with the right budgets and schedules.

Judy Sparks:
Scott, I have to say you really are unique in terms of having a holistic view of the entire design and construction process. From an owner standpoint, as a practitioner's standpoint, I would say, and I'm always telling people that you're a quite sophisticated buyer compared to maybe some of your counterparts in the higher education space. And with that sophistication comes some expectations. So I would love for you to just expand on, at Georgia Tech with your description of it's coming at you nonstop, drinking from a fire hose, what are your baseline expectations from the design and construction community when working with you?

Scott Jones:
It starts with listening to what the needs are. And I regularly meet with people that have never done business at Georgia Tech and who want to know how to do that. And I basically tell them the same thing on where to find our work and how to pursue it. It starts with listening and taking a hard look at what our real needs are. And don't just throw canned material at us, but do you have the resources in house to do our projects or not? If you don't, save your powder. Because there are lots of people that will. But it's really that simple, I think.

Judy Sparks:
So for those who haven't had the pleasure of meeting with you in person and hearing that standard answer of where... and all of those tips and tricks on how to be a better listener, can you share with our listeners, where do you advertise your work? How do they find out about what's coming up? Give them a little bit of the lay of the land there.

Scott Jones:
Everything we do is posted out on the Georgia Procurement website. And you can sign up to that, and be very specific about what you're looking for. And you will receive an email when something is posted. The only advance notice that precedes that is when we seek permission through the Board of Regents for a project, and that is also public record. Our policy here is we don't talk about it unless it's already out, publicly released, with that kind of information flows.

Scott Jones:
So we typically don't talk about what's coming down the pipe. Everybody wants to know that. But we don't really do that because we have a capital plan, and it changes yearly. So I could look at the top one, two, or three projects that were on that plan. There's no point in talking about it because they're not funded, number one. Number two, the funding constraints can change either within the state, or within people who are donating money. And so once we send it to the Board of Regents and say, "Okay, we'd like to do this project," that's public record.

Scott Jones:
And then very soon after that it'll be posted on the Georgia Procurement website starting with the solicitation for architectural engineering, and then contractor who are going to use construction management or design build. Otherwise it'll be bid. Sometimes we'll selected bid. But always through the Georgia procurement website.

Katie Cash:
I think that's really helpful for a number of our listeners just trying to figure out exactly where to monitor, and what those opportunities might look like. And Scott, you mentioned a few things. You mentioned annual volume. You're roughly looking at 450, maybe 500 million dollars of construction volume projects you and your team are managing. And you mentioned capital planning and a handful of other things.

Katie Cash:
I'm curious if you could maybe just speak broadly about the different ways that you might engage firms. I don't know if Georgia Tech does task order contracts for example, or is there an on call service contracts for architecture and design services. Is there a pre-qualified pool? Do you hire one off? Do you hire for the year? Kind of maybe share a little bit of that insights with our listeners.

Scott Jones:
Yes, we do a variety of things. We started the program in the state, the first ones to launch what we call IDIQ's, indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts for design in engineering and other pre-con services. When I got here, I looked around and there wasn't anything like that. And I said, "Oh well we'll get this done. We'll launch that in six months." It took two years because we had the invent a contract with the Georgia Attorney General.

Scott Jones:
But we have a cadre of those in every imaginable trade or specific a area with engineering. And on the construction side, we had something I didn't think was working very well when I got here that was sort of like a job order contract, but the way things were priced was more a function of means and that database I've never had much success with. And we changed that into a task order type contract format. Which is sort of like a construction management contract.

Scott Jones:
Both IDIQ and the task orders, the initial contract is issued for $0. But you have capacity on the design side at 600,000 annually. On the construction side it's two and a half million. That could be a dozen small projects, or several large ones. We use usually don't use those for large projects. We try to spread it around so that if we're on the construction side, if we're working in three or four buildings in the same zip code, we might have one task order doing three or four projects so that we can share general conditions, and therefore save money.

Katie Cash:
How would you define large projects? Kind of what's that dollar value threshold?

Scott Jones:
Way I look at it is I don't like to say small projects, I say special projects.

Katie Cash:
[crosstalk 00:08:25].

Scott Jones:
Our small projects group is our special projects group. And special projects, you could have a million dollar project that's highly complex, or you could have a $5 million project that's real simple. In general, if you want to look at scale, it's probably around five million, that anything over five million is considered a capital project because we have Chuck Rhode that runs facility management, has delegated authority for construction up to five million, and design up to 600,000.

Scott Jones:
Any project over a million dollars, however, in construction value we have to go down to the Board of Regents and ask, mother may I. We've got this project. We've got this funding. Here's how it's going to be set up. And it goes through, gets the board approval, and that was what I spoke of earlier. Which is the first time that it would be in the public arena typically unless there's been some strategic fundraising done for it, which then is also a way to see things.

Katie Cash:
Scott, I really appreciate you kind of talking about going down to Board of Regents and asking, mother may I. We'd really like to have this project. But there's also, my understanding, at Georgia Tech there's another kind of funding mechanism that might come through your campus foundation. Can you speak a little bit about how that is set up and what projects might be coming out of the foundation versus from the mothership that might be Board of Regents?

Scott Jones:
When you say coming out of, I would interpret that to mean the way they are funded.

Katie Cash:
Correct.

Scott Jones:
As far as we are concerned, the way projects operate, it's all George Washington. It's all money. And we operate the same way. Regardless of the funding source, we have the same form of contract, generally. Any Board of Regents project has a certain set of contracts that are available on the web. When we do business with one of the affiliated organizations, we will have a different contract. But it's very, very similar.

Katie Cash:
When the foundation is involved, does that change maybe any of the procurement process, or the makeup of your selection committee teams?

Scott Jones:
Typically not.

Katie Cash:
Okay.

Scott Jones:
We will have, if there is an affiliated organization, we may have a representative from that board in the room. If it's a large capital project, they certainly would have representation. But we would, just like any project, we have multiple stakeholders that are represented, and they would be one of them.

Judy Sparks:
Scott, can you speak a little bit to the makeup of your typical selection committee? And I also know that Georgia Tech does something pretty innovative and unique in that you have what's called a PDC jury that weighs in on some of your selections. Can you elaborate on both of those items?

Scott Jones:
Typically if it's a project that's going through the Board of Regents, and/or if it has GSFIC involvement from state bond financing, then they will be involved in the selection committee. We will have a couple of representatives. They will have a couple of representatives. And usually it's myself, or somebody in my leadership team on our side, maybe somebody from capital planning. And then on the Board of Regents, they will have their staff. So you've got sort of that aspect of it.

Scott Jones:
When they're not involved, if it's just a project that is funded completely separately by one of our affiliated organizations, then we would have a set of stakeholders that are designing construction, capital planning, space management, and whoever we are serving with the project. So College of Engineering, College of Sciences, whoever the project is for. GTAA, for instance, the Athletic Association, or GTRI.

Judy Sparks:
So Scott, it's hard to think about Georgia Tech separate from Midtown Atlanta. And as you all have for many years crossed over the Interstate, and definitely having an impact on the footprint of Midtown, can you share with us anything that's public knowledge about the vision for Georgia Tech's presence and expansion across the Interstate?

Scott Jones:
Not really. I think we are on the cusp of... we just finished the Coda project, and we're already looking at what's next. And what's next will be public knowledge pretty soon.

Judy Sparks:
Okay, fair enough. I want to go back to something you said earlier about delivery methods. You all have every delivery method, and hybrids of methods, and what are some of the determining factors that determine which delivery method you will utilize on a project, whether it's traditional design bid build, CM at risk, or design build?

Scott Jones:
I think it has to do primarily with the levels of complexity and the timing. If we have all the time in the world, you can take a set of drawings and make sure it's a hundred percent complete and bid it. If it's fairly simple, then that works. The more complex projects, and the more complex, not just in what you're trying to achieve, but also that within the logistics spectrum of complexity. Meaning you could have a project that must be done in three or four phases. We're in an active campus, so everything we do impacts operations, typically. Those kinds of projects will lend themselves to other methodologies like construction management at risk, or design build.

Scott Jones:
If time is of the essence here, trying to finish something from a clean sheet to a completed building as quickly as possible, designed build comes into it. For instance, we used bridging for the first time here. It wasn't the first time I asked to use it. But it was the first time we actually did use it. Out in Cobb County, the work we did at Lockheed, because we went in and bought property from Lockheed. And we could not occupy it until we had removed every utility, including, not just water and gas, electricity, but also the sewer, which was all interconnected with Lockheed. And all of that had to be removed and rerouted, and completely separated and isolated before we could occupy it.

Scott Jones:
So here we are closing, it's a big investment, a lot of money, a lot of cashflow going out. So I wanted to compress the amount of time that we were spending money without being able to use the facility. So we used bridging, and very successfully compress that time by at least nine months.

Katie Cash:
I think that's great. You know, Scott, I think it's hard to talk about Georgia Tech and your team and what you're doing without really talking about innovation, and kind of pushing the industry forward with each of the projects that you and your team undertake with the group. I'm thinking, you mentioned there about utilizing bridging, I know in the past you guys have kind of pushed the envelope on the capabilities of BIM technology. You've also developed a carbon neutral facility.

Katie Cash:
Can you talk a little bit about innovation, and how you're bringing that scope of innovation into maybe the project discussions themselves, maybe even into the scope of work as your design and construction team are casing the projects? And maybe what the next level of innovation might look like at Tech?

Scott Jones:
Well we're designing and we're building facilities. We're not making up the programs. So we are working in an environment that is on the cutting edge of a lot of aspects of technology and research, increasingly in the biomedical and medical fields where they're studying cancer solutions here. And they're working in robotics at the small scale of an ant here all the way up to very large. So the spectrum is enormous in what's being researched here.

Scott Jones:
Tech is probably a bigger research facility that most people realize. It's certainly a lot bigger than I realized. And when we look at pushing the envelope in construction or design management, it's simply to try to maintain a track record of delivering projects that meet expectations, and maximize the program that can be delivered for the amount of money that's available. And that's simply looking around at the tools that are in development in our industry, and picking the best of them, and using them, and being willing to experiment a little bit.

Scott Jones:
We have kind of a saying, we don't want to be a serial number one, two, or three necessarily when we are going at risk for large sums of money, dependent on delivering as much program as possible in as short a duration as possible. But we can, in parallel, investigate certain things. So we've done that.

Katie Cash:
I want you to toot your horn a little bit. I feel like there's lots of stats out there that talk about Georgia Tech has the... let's talk about Coda. The first high rise, higher education facility. I think you guys had one of the first underground water systems. One of the largest green campus master plans. Are there other kind of big bursts, or ribbons that you'd like to attach to what you and your team at the campus have been able to achieve?

Scott Jones:
We're not very good at blowing our own horn actually.

Katie Cash:
I mean you have a giant whistle on campus. You just-

Scott Jones:
I know. I know. We've had to tweak it so sounds right. There've been a lot of things that we've done that we're very proud of to be part of. Our team is amazingly talented, and very much cares about what they're doing. And that helps us push the envelope in a lot of different ways. I mean, we embraced and developed a reliance on USGBC's LEED as a way of measuring what we were doing with buildings.

Scott Jones:
And I made gold our minimum standard when I got here, and we've delivered over five platinum buildings. We no longer can use that as a measuring device because of certain legislation that was passed. Even though it was targeted at one specific criteria, the pine lobby. But we have looked around. I looked around, and said, "Well, let's use ASHRAE 189.1. Because it's not a green building code, so it's technically in compliance with the law." It's a specification. And it's also embraces a lot of different areas. We're looking at the well standard for similar reasons. It's not a green building standard, but it replaces some of the biophilia aspects that we had with USGBC's LEED.

Scott Jones:
And right now we're looking at taking the information we've learned as we have worked on the Living Building Challenge Project, on tech with the Cadena Foundation. And we are looking at the materials, and say, okay, what have we learned, and what can we, as a minimum, use from those materials so that everything we're building our buildings with, doesn't, A, harm the environment, or B, harm the people that work and play at the environments. You shouldn't have to, for instance, flush the air out of a building before you occupy it because you've put things in it that are off gassing formaldehyde. I mean, hello. So we're-

Katie Cash:
That's pretty straight-

Scott Jones:
... doing those things.

Judy Sparks:
So Scott, you know our firm, and you know who our clients are. We work with a lot of the large, large brands here in Atlanta, and beyond Georgia, as well as some of the mid size and smaller companies that may even do, just specialized interiors work. And we're often coaching these firms on, how do you make a difference in your RFQ submittal? How do you make a difference in your interview? As you know, our industry is what Katie and I often refer to, and affectionately, as a sea of sameness.

Judy Sparks:
So I bet in your whole career you've never had a vendor come to you, and say, "Hey we meet the schedule sometimes. We're okay at budgets. And we'll respond when we feel like it." So a lot of times our customers are telling us what makes them different is their people, and they're super responsive, and they are super smart, their resume speaks for itself. What advice do you have for that sea of sameness to really make a difference, and make you feel like you trust them during the selection process to trust them with your project?

Scott Jones:
Well, I think it basically boils down to the people. We don't like, and it's useless to pursue a project if all you're doing is throwing canned responses from your shelf at it. You show us 10 projects that the firm did, which are similar to what we looking for, but none of the people you put forward participated in any of them. So to the degree that you can highlight the talent of the people that will be in the various roles and responsibilities, and what they have done.

Scott Jones:
Even if they've done it for somebody else before they joined your firm. It doesn't matter. That's the talent you're looking for. Highlight where they work together. I mean, in an ideal world, you want a team that's done very similar to what you're doing, and work together as a team. You can't always do that. You can't always have that depth of talent that a hits a home road.

Scott Jones:
But if we get 15 submittals or 20 submittals, it's usually pretty easy to cut them in half. And say these people weren't paying attention, A, to what we were looking for. They didn't listen, B, when we said this is the specifics that are important because they didn't feed it back to us in any way, shape or form. And C, there's no people there that have done this work. So pictures on the wall for the firm don't mean much.

Judy Sparks:
So interesting real life scenario. We're in a conversation with a general contractor, and say they have built for you before, and where the superintendent that has long history building on your campus, knows your people, knows that intrinsic value of understanding your expectations because they've been there.

Judy Sparks:
But maybe the building type doesn't align with their resume. And there's a new superintendent that you've not worked with, but he has a long resume at that type of building. Which is more important? Because that is a debate that we are often sitting with our clients trying to figure out that somebody with the institutional knowledge of [inaudible 00:23:34], or GSFIC, or is it a person that maybe they're going to import from another office that has that type of lab experience and has built it all over the country?

Scott Jones:
It's difficult to answer because it just kind of depends on what the recipe is. It's like cooking in the kitchen. Yes, you can substitute dates for sugar, and you may get away with it in a cake, but not necessarily cookies.

Katie Cash:
Great [inaudible 00:24:04].

Scott Jones:
I would say you need a little bit of both. You need some strength in people that have worked together. You need knowledge of what's important to the stakeholders you're serving. And you need the talent of having been there and done that, if possible, on the specific kind of project you're doing. It doesn't all have to be in the same person. I mean you can have different people on the team that bring those things to the table. But you need a little bit of all of it. Because there's enough people out there that will have that.

Scott Jones:
And when you're trying to shorten to three or four that are the best of the 20, or two dozen or so that have submitted, that's what generally we're looking for. And I think most people are looking for. So pick and choose. I mean is it the superintendent that's the most important? I don't know. It could be the project executive, the project manager. But if you come in, and you're showing me executives that look good in the presentation, they can talk, but we're never going to see them again we are actually managing the design to manage construction, that doesn't sell either.

Scott Jones:
You got to have the people that roll their sleeves up and get it done, and know how to be team members. Because we're looking for, like every owner, we want to hit on all the cylinders. We want to bring the project in on budget, on schedule, and maximize the program that we've delivering for that. In our industry, and I don't mean institutionally all owners across the spectrum, I mean 75 to 80 percent of projects come in overbudget and overschedule. That's unacceptable to us. We do not want that. And the way you avoid that is you hire the right people, and you run interference to take the stumbling blocks out of their way, and help make them successful. They make us successful at the same time.

Judy Sparks:
So in that same light, on the architecture side, Georgia Tech is one of those beautiful campuses in terms of really celebrating great design and architecture. And over the years, a lot of your marquee projects have included a local architecture firm teamed with the a national firm. Is that always appropriate? Is that the go-to formula, or not so much?

Scott Jones:
I would say it's always appropriate. It's hard to have a project led by someone who's not in your zip code. If you're going to have a meeting, and they're just trying to Skype in, or they have to fly in, that's not going to work day and day out. It's better to have leadership in the local community. And we have extraordinary breadth and depth of talent in this town in the architectural engineering and construction space.

Scott Jones:
Yes, you can have a specific expertise that's not necessarily here, or maybe the one that is here is tied up already on a team, whatever. And you could bring in somebody to augment what you have locally in your talent pool. But to me, and what I've seen, it really needs to be led by local people.

Katie Cash:
If we continue down the theme of looking at your architectural partners, when you are looking at those firms, possibly thinking about who you're going to consider to hire, how important, or how much does their engineering and specialty consultants weigh on the selection? And then as a backup question to that, that we're often faced with our design clients, is does it matter if they have the same engineers or competition? Or do they need to push for exclusives with their engineering partners in order to win work at Tech?

Scott Jones:
I don't think they need to have exclusives. One of the things that we, I hate to say that it depends, but I mean what's important on the project, is it something that's we're trying to get down to net energy zero. That we need somebody that knows how to do those kinds of systems. What's an energy use intensity in EUI, and how do you manipulate the variables in order to get there? What are the sustainability features that are going to get you to the stated program intent that we're looking for? And what are the consultants that are needed to do that? Where's the experience? If you've got the experience one one side or another, then yeah, show that.

Scott Jones:
If you don't, and it's something we're asking for, then don't bother to respond. Like I said earlier. But I believe that engineering is a very important part of it from our standpoint. As an owner at Tech, we're not building for the short term. These buildings are going to be around for 50 years plus. And so we want to have reasonable conversations about the different levels of performance of equipment, and costs points.

Scott Jones:
We may say we'll pay more for this particular system because of the energy performance, and how easy it is to maintain. And take that, if it costs more, out of another area of the project. Because the long run, I mean, you know as well as I do, 4% or something of the life cycle cost of a building is up front. The rest of it's operations. So we're very much interested in that. I think engineering is a part of that.

Katie Cash:
That's super helpful. And Scott, I think you've shared a lot of really great insights with us. I do want to ask you one final question today. And that is, the majority of our listeners are in the C-suite. They are principals, owners of architectural firms, or engineering firms. They're also presidents of large, small, and medium sized construction firms. So what advice would you give them as they are considering either chasing work, or maybe performing their first project with Georgia Tech and your team?

Scott Jones:
That last part, performing their first project at Georgia Tech, it's be willing to start small. We've had lots of people that have come in here, and worked as an IDIQ, or a task order. And proven themselves before they got something bigger. We've had the reverse happen too. But it's more rare that somebody walks in and takes the prize job, and that's the first thing they ever do for Tech. So I don't know if that answers your question, but that's what comes to mind. It's-

Katie Cash:
Yeah.

Scott Jones:
Did that answer your question?

Katie Cash:
I think that's super helpful. So for all of our listeners out there, just some smart tips, takeaways from today's conversation with Scott. First and foremost, you can find all the opportunities to work with Georgia Tech on the Georgia Procurement website. Register as a vendor, get those notifications. As those come through, make sure you fully understand the ask of the project, and the scope. And look at your team, look at your expertise, your capacity before you decide to submit on a proposal.

Katie Cash:
And when you do submit that proposal, make sure you are not submitting boiler plate. Scott and his team can see it from a mile away. They want to know kind of how your team is going to bring your expertise to the table, how you might approach the project, how you're going to work collaboratively together. Be mindful of wherever the project is being funded, whether it's private donor funds through the foundation, or through state bond funding.

Katie Cash:
That team that Scott leads is going to be involved. Also for our designers out there, the PDC's going to get involved in primarily the selection of those affiliate driven projects for design. But they will also be involved in most large design projects as they're kicked off. Meeting quarterly throughout the year, just giving some insights and some feedback as the design progresses. Again, for our designer listeners out there, when you are chasing work at Tech, it seems to be a good formula to consider. National design firms with a expertise in the building type teamed with a local production architect. Again, working collaboratively as one design unit.

Katie Cash:
And lastly, when you're pursuing work at Tech, that people are going to matter more than the portfolio that the firm brings to the table. So make sure you are examining the talent on your team, matching up the expertise of maybe understanding the project type, the intricacies of the building systems involved, really the scope of the project. If you can find the individuals with that experience that have also worked together, that is a formula for success. Just to make sure that the team that you present to Tech is not just your sales team. It needs to be the team that's actually going to perform the work.

Katie Cash:
And lastly, Tech is always building something. There's something new around the corner. So make sure you stay tuned as the campus continues to grow and expand. So again, Scott, thank you for your time. And everybody have a great week.

Scott Jones:
You're most welcome. Thank you.

Audio:
Thank you. You've been listening to AEC Marketing for Principles brought to you by Smartegies. If you liked this episode, please let us know by visiting aecmarketingpodcasts.com, where you can learn more ways to position your brand and sell to owners.

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