Consultants’ ‘Unaccountability Cloak’ Can’t Last Forever

Consultant’s POV: Shameful

Recently, a colleague who owns a sound-contracting firm called me up and asked if I would help him review an audio-only bid construction package. I’ve worked on the opposite side of the consulting fence for most of my career, and his offer didn’t initially pique my interest. However, before I declined, he threw out a lure that I couldn’t ignore.

According to him, I wouldn’t believe how bad the state of consultant packages had become in the last 10 years. “They’re an embarrassment,” he said.

I was intrigued, and somewhat disbelieving.

The package he showed me looked pretty enough: a big, thick specification and an even thicker set of E-size plots with lots of colorful logos, legends and intricate details. If you spent a cursory 20 minutes looking at it, you’d think nothing was wrong. It was generated by one of the biggest and most respected consulting firms in the world, so you would also assume that they put out quality material.

But it was wrong. Horribly and embarrassingly wrong.

Now, I understand that clients have done everything in their power to cut costs over the last generation. Both money and schedules are tight. Cutting and pasting between drawings can cause problems. But at some point, one has to assume that the consultant’s specifications, facility drawings and Single Line drawings will match to a reasonable level. After all, consistency is the point of the package.

Suffice it to say, they weren’t even close. There were 370 speakers on the facility drawings, a quantity of two called out in the specifications (you read that correctly), and 170 on the Single Line drawings.

The amplifier quantities didn’t match. Nor did the rack quantities, processing or sources. Not even the interface panels. Some speakers didn’t even have an amplifier or processor on the Single Line. Symbols showed up on the facility drawings with no correlation to either the Legend or the Single Line drawings.

Every audio circuit reference that would have coordinated the Single Lines to the facility drawings was missing. Power distribution and grounding standards were nonexistent. No rack layouts, either. For a confusing twist, they used three uniquely different names for the same connector.

And what idiot thought using six-point fonts on an E-size drawing was acceptable? Obviously an inexperienced drafter who has never had to work off A-size prints in the field during the graveyard shift.

The package brought up a whole host of questions:

  • How can sound contractors possibly provide competitive bids?
  • Do facility owners realize they are put at financial risk for change orders?
  • How much money should the contractor put in his bid to re-engineer the entire system?
  • Why should owners have to pay for the system to be designed twice?
  • Why can’t the consultant provide an equipment list with quantities?
  • How did this get so out of control?

It’s obvious who is accountable here. The consultant was lazy and is to blame. We can’t shield ourselves in some sort of “unaccountability cloak” forever. Forcing the sound contractors to pick up our slack is shameful.

How bad has it become? I reviewed another consultant’s drawings on a retail rollout program. The design process consisted of two drawing packages: a Permit package followed by a Construction package roughly 60 days later. The consultant had become so lazy he took the Construction package from a previous job, changed the address in the title block and submitted them as a Permit package as if he had actually done the work.

You might ask why they’re able to get away with this nonsense. Because the consultant knew the city inspectors only check the MEP portions of the package and invariably let the low-voltage communication drawings slide under the radar, so they skate around doing the work. When confronted on the issue, the consultant’s response was, “The architect doesn’t pay us enough to care: They wanted it cheap. We will do what’s necessary in the Construction package.” Good luck to any contractor bidding off that Permit package.

Other countries instituted a process to solve this problem decades ago by including the role of the quantity surveyor, yet we don’t have them in America. Quantity surveyors are financially on the hook for errors of this magnitude, so they ensure a higher standard of work.

If this level of garbage is typical of the consulting business in general, it’s no wonder so many good sound contractors have either gone out of business or transitioned into other, more serious, disciplines.

I’m lucky. Most sound contractors have to suck it up in silence, for fear they won’t even get to bid for the next job if they complain. I hope that I am able to share their frustration with you here.

The result of all this is that an estimating and bidding process that should take hours took days and put the contractor and the facility owner at huge financial risk. All because the consultant was too lazy to check his drawings before shipping them off to the architect to be plotted and distributed.

This bidding process is driving our industry into the ground, and we consultants owe a huge apology to sound contractors. This is flat-out unacceptable and is doing irreparable harm to the industry. Perhaps the NSCA could develop some sort of consultant tattletale system.

Consultants: Make your damn drawings match. Otherwise, you should find another profession.

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