As staffing costs rise and margin pressure intensifies, many architecture practices in Australia are finding they need to look at their operations and whether or not all work should be done in-house or whether some could be outsourced to external providers.

One area which is coming under scrutiny in this regard is documentation, and questions about whether or not architectural drawings and specification writing should be done in-house or outsourced to a specialist provider are increasingly being asked.

According to Ali Noble, general manager of Perth and Melbourne-based documentation outsourcing and BIM services provider Parametric Australia, outsourcing if done well can eliminate the need to hire in-house personnel to perform what is essentially a non-core business task. This allows practices to focus more effort upon core business areas such as design development and client relationships while simultaneously taking advantage of the outsource service provider’s efficiency and expertise in documentation.

“If your business is set up as a design house, and you are generally engaged by a client because of your expertise in making a space and an environment look and feel attractive, you are getting paid for that design – you are not actually getting paid for your expertise in the documentation,” Noble said. “The documentation is a by-product and an expression of how you are going to get your information visualised and set out so that people can understand your intent. It does not drive your income or earn your business any money.

“When outsourcing, your outsourced service provider can transcribe your ideas into documents to ensure that your vision is met and understood in the most cost effective way. They help you do it with a speed and accuracy that helps you keep your project on budget and on time.

“Through outsourcing, you can focus on what’s important to your business and what gives you the most advantage.”

Once deciding to outsource, the next question revolves around who you should select and whether to go with a local or overseas provider. Contrary to popular perception, Brisbane-based specification writer Greg Blain says overseas providers are not only less expensive but are generally competent and usually produce high quality work. He is especially impressed with work coming out of the Philippines, where he says providers operate during similar time-zones to Australia and offer high levels of English proficiency, a strong sense of integrity and a good work ethic.

When working with overseas providers, however, Blain says language barriers can be an issue and that communication must therefore be kept clear, concise and direct.

Noble, meanwhile, says working with overseas providers can be effective provided there is open collaboration and communication between the parties. However, she says an advantage of local providers revolves around a guaranteed understanding of the Australian built environment and the Building Code of Australia.

Irrespective of where you source from, both Blain and Noble stress it is important to go with a provider with whom you are comfortable and to check references.

In terms of how to outsource effectively, Noble suggests those new to outsourcing talk with peers who have done likewise and find out what who they engaged, what sort of experience they had and what they learned. When going about it for the first time, she suggests doing so with a smaller ‘pilot project’ as opposed to a critical major one. In terms of the timing, finalising the design development prior to engaging and outsourcing firm to write documentation and specifications eliminates much of the potential for confusion and avoids a need to go back and forth between the client and the outsource service provider.

Finally, Noble says the outsourcing relationship is best approached as one of partnership and that it is important to develop relationships of mutual respect and trust.

“Generally, we find that those who engage in open collaboration with their service provider derive better value from the outsourcing partnership,” she said.

“What we have found in the past is that a relationship based on high levels of trust and respect whereby each party is able to contribute positive ideas and suggestions paves the way for an efficient and effective process which typically delivers the best possible outcomes in the most cost effective manner possible.”