Last year I was honored to be selected to serve on a panel of owner’s representatives at the 2016 AIA Symposium. While the discussions that ensued were informative and thought provoking, it was the dialogue that occurred off stage that stuck with me most. I was repeatedly approached by inquiring architects who wanted to know “Why don’t Owner’s Representatives issue better RFPs and guide their clients through a more refined selection process?” While I am not the owner’s representative industry spokesman, I defended myself (and our colleagues) by explaining that owner’s representatives are not always the culprit of these poorly crafted RFPs.

Upon returning from the conference, I was curious, what percentage of RFPs do we help owners generate? While it is true that owner’s representatives sometimes have a long-standing relationship with certain clients, we aren’t always involved in the procurement of architects, or even general contractors for the matter.  I inventoried the projects we managed in the last three years and determined that 55% have the architect in place before we were brought on board. Of the 45% that had not yet procured the architect, over half had already begun the process and our first tasks were to assist on the shortlisting and interview processes. The fact is that over the last three years we led the procurement process, and thus the writing of the RFP, for the design team at a rate of 18%.

While these statistics might come as a surprise to some, it sounded about right to me; there are certain causal scenarios that we see frequently playout. Master planning, for example, often leads to the procurement of the already contracted design firm for continued services. While the budget might be in place for an owner’s representative early in the planning, design firms don’t tend to push for owner’s representative procurement until their contracts for the next phases are in order (no one wants to diminish their chances to win work). Even though owner’s representatives often advise clients on the benefits of keeping the incumbent firm, from the incumbent’s perspective if introduced before the signatures are on the contract, it could disrupt the flow and add unforeseen complications.

The reality is that owner’s beginning a new project don’t always think of the owner’s representative first (yes, it stings a bit); we are often forging relationships with potential clients along with the architect and general contractor. The feedback we consistently receive from our colleagues is that the process runs more smoothly when the owner’s representative is engaged early, if not first, in the process; reflecting on those projects that make up the 18%, I have to agree; project teams consistently produce better results for our clients when the projects are led with a team member having more experience in the process.

~ Paul Wember, Owner’s Representative