Genteel Extortion or Clever Marketing?
In the November 1999 edition I told of plumbing manufacturers getting solicited to advertise on a couple of CD-ROMs containing master specifications for Hilton Residential Suites™ and Hilton Garden Inns®. A company called Viscomm™ (formerly Cadspec™) was producing the CD-ROMs and telling prospective advertisers that those who do would be ensured product specification for the hotel projects. One plumbing manufacturer complained to PME about this policy raising an ethical issue that is summarized in the headline above.
Rather than pontificate with my own opinion, I decided to throw the question open to readers, asking whether Viscomm’s ad policy is “apt to compromise project integrity,” or is it making “much ado about nothing.” What follows are some responses.
Extortion It Is“I just read the Viscomm newsletter and my vote is that it is extortion. It didn’t state in the newsletter that the products were pre-qualified.”
“I think that the executives at Hilton might be interested to know how Mr. Nealy (Viscomm’s vice president of business development) picks his manufacturers for specification. Even if the manufacturers were originally from a ‘preferred’ list Hilton provided, he is selecting these manufacturers based upon advertising dollars. The following excerpts from the National Society of Professional Engineers’ Code of Ethics clearly show that if Mr. Nealy were a P.E. and not an architect, he could be brought before the board of ethical review.
“Engineers shall act for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees. “Engineers shall not solicit or accept financial or other valuable consideration, directly or indirectly, from outside agents in connection with the work for which they are responsible. “Engineers shall not be influenced in their professional duties by conflicting interests. “Engineers shall not accept financial or other considerations, including free engineering designs, from material or equipment suppliers for specifying their product.”
Rick L. Hautekeete, P.E.
No, It’s Not“Viscomm’s marketing approach has no lasting power. This is similar to a ‘three name’ spec, where one manufacturer’s product is described in detail, including catalog number, and then naming two other manufacturers without naming their catalog number. If the spec is very tight, the two named ones won’t bid. If it is loose, the two will bid their models that are less expensive. Usually manufacturers offer models having range of quality and serviceability for a given function. So, unless Hilton reviews and edits features in the manufacturer’s publications, all you get is an ‘approved’ manufacturer, and that is probably good for the engineer because it saves time and effort.
“Hilton may not realize it yet, but if anything goes wrong (product flaw, poor service by manufacturer, etc.) the engineer is clean and Hilton will be dragged into the decision making. I vote for the ‘much ado about nothing’ option in your column.”
Henn Rebane. P.E.
“Thanks for asking for our opinions. Speaking as a design engineer, I have no objections to an owner providing a list of preferred manufacturers’ names and model numbers to the design team. A&Es have the option of participating in this method of product specification.
“It is not uncommon for certain building owners to have preferred product material lists. The engineer should have the option of not specifying any product for cause. Perhaps an otherwise acceptable product has inferior local support.
“My experience is that having a list of owner’s preferred products up front can be a significant time saver. Standardization can be a major benefit for owner maintenance staff providing the staff maintains many hotels. Standardization could lose some of its advantages when each hotel has its own maintenance staff. A preferred product list would curtail the owner’s benefiting from the experience of the local A&E design team.
“Manufacturers have the option of participating in this procedure. Their added costs would have to be reflected in their sales price. Higher prices or lower profit margins? Maybe not. The cost could come from the manufacturers advertising budget. “CD-ROMs, while an improvement over dry ink on dead trees, are still dated technology. Installing this information on the owner’s Web site would be less costly and would ensure access to the latest information. The fee derived from creating the CD-ROMs seems quite handsome and might not represent an income to Hilton.
“A major concern seems to lie in the fact that preferred providers are being asked to promote their product on the owner’s CD-ROM in order to ensure being specified. I view this as a plus for the A&E team. The owner could be saving money by being provided with preferred products. A product displayed digitally is good, but I would prefer to view it on a Web site.”
Ed McJunkin, P.E. President, connet.com
As I expected, our readers contributed some enlightened opinions that raised issues not immediately apparent. Thanks to all of you who took time to respond. If you still wish to weigh in on this issue or any other, please do so.
As one of my heroes, the French philosopher Voltaire once put it, “I may disagree with everything you say, but will defend unto death your right to say it.”
P.S. We Have Nothing Portentous To SayAs we were putting together this edition, someone asked if we were planning a special “New Millennium” theme issue or at least a related feature. Well, except for introducing a graphics redesign, which we think is pretty special, the basic answer is no.
“Why not? It’s an opportunity that comes around only once every 1,000 years,” said the kibitzer.
Best excuse I could come up with might be called “Y2K Fatigue Syndrome.” Y2KFS hit me full force in November when TV ads were hyping an overwrought made-for-TV flick about all the disasters that would befall society when the clock struck January 1, 2000. Writing this almost a month before that turn of the calendar, I predict that airplanes won’t fall out of the sky and all those people stocking up on provisions are eating lots of canned chili right about now. Nor do I concern myself with anything supermarket tabloids or TV preachers are predicting to occur at the stroke of millennial midnight.
I count myself, as I’m sure do almost all of you, among the reasoning folks who understand that millennium madness stems from a rather arbitrary numerology. Objectively, the year 2000 has no more relevance than 1999 or 2001. Its only empirical difference is the 01/01/00 software dating problem, which the world’s computer geeks had been working hard to fix for the last several years and which I trust was substantially accomplished.
Nonetheless, I will say it’s good to be alive at this time, as it was last year and, if the Almighty decrees it, will be next year. And here’s wishing all of you a healthy and prosperous new millennium, or whatever fraction of it you are able to enjoy before inevitably running out of time. Beyond that PME has nothing portentous to say about the year 2000 and beyond.