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The Catch-22 Scenario for New Technology Purchases Print E-mail
Thursday, 30 October 2014

I’ve noticed that ever since our firm, ARC has come to specialize in existing conditions documentation, our technology budgets have also increased substantially. This is compared to when we were a small, outsource architectural firm offering primarily drafting support services.

The hardware (total station and laser scanning equipment, and higher powered computers for processing) and software (licenses of various software to register and 3D model) purchased for doing building surveys proved to be tremendously more expensive than the old handful of seats of AutoCAD and the associated machines we ran them on.

The fact that we also constantly try to take advantage of the newest technologies in order to maintain a competitive advantage in this market only compounds the problem.

These factors have combined to form what I’ve come to think of as sort of a “Catch-22 Scenario” regarding new technology purchases. This refers to the logic paradox of needing something, but not being able to get it unless you don’t really need it. 

The gist of the issue is that we almost always need a big new job to pay for a desired new hardware and/or software purchase, but because that technology is unfamiliar to us we don’t have the expertise yet to use it to its full advantage on the project that is paying for it. Often there’s not time for adequate training (much less the development of best practices) while actively working toward hard project milestones. There is usually a delay as well in getting the actual tools in hand - the order isn’t made until there is an assurance (through a signed contract and/or retainer) of available funds, but the project schedule “clock” has already started ticking (since the bigger the job the more everyone seems to be in a hurry).

This can result in having to figure things out “on the fly” in order to find a way to get tasks done, and the learning curve associated with this method of operation probably means lower initial productivity. It also possibly means less than desired profitability, which on a big project can have an adverse effect on a lot of money. The plan is that the eventual increased gains resulting from the new purchases will hopefully offset the early frustrations in figuring out how to achieve them.

This also means that sometimes the way we first figure out how to do something new becomes the way we then always do it. Not necessarily because it is the best way, but probably because it is the most familiar way, especially if we never underwent adequate training before getting started.

In a perfect world we would get the new tools in and any necessary learning about them out of the way on a small project first, then be primed to take full advantage of the gains in productivity on the next big project  (if and when it comes around). The only problem with that logic is that without the big project in first, we’d never be able to get the new technology in the first place.

This results in a “Catch-22 Scenario”.  We have to have the big job in hand to buy the new technology, but we almost have to be able to do that job without it (in order to avoid the potential for losing our shirts in the process).

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