Standards Michigan Group, LLC
Lower Education Cost
“We shape our buildings;
thereafter, they shape us.”
— Winston Churchill
We are the outgrowth of an enterprise begun at the University of Michigan in 1993 that focused on making education facilities safer, simpler, lower-cost and longer-lasting by participating assertively in ANSI-accredited, consortium and open source standards development. By assertively we mean bringing new ideas to the meeting; not simply voting Yea or Nay on the ideas of others. Given a community of over 90,000 students and staff, 36 million square feet, three campuses with a footprint of 6 square miles, and several hundred buildings for nearly every occupancy type that operated on dry land, the University of Michigan proved the perfect study unit for an approach that would benefit the US education industry as a whole.
If you think an undertaking like this is the proper work of one or more of the several hundred non-profit organizations servicing the US education industry; think again. By slow degrees, after nearly a decade of shouting from the mountaintops that the education facility industry needed to be at the standards development tables if it wanted to continue claiming it was doing everything to lower cost, it became obvious that none of them were interested in sustaining User-interest advocacy in consensus product* development in any meaningful way. Non-profit, membership organization business models are limited in their capacity for sustaining volunteer engagement of accomplished subject matter experts. The non-profit sector is no less prone to the excesses of capitalism than the for-profit sector.
A look at the roster of conference sponsors will reveal that these trade associations derive significant revenue from corporate sponsorship. Nothing necessarily wrong with that until you find the same corporate sponsors voting against the user interest in the development of leading practice literature. Competitor stakeholders in the US standards system are able to finance their advocacy from the profit margins of the products and services they sell to the education industry. Risk-adjusted, the width of those profit margins are determined by how standards are written, interpreted and enforced.
In public construction markets “It’s everyone’s money”. Cost goes up and hardly anyone knows what to do to stop it. However, you cannot put a price tag on the culture of any nation or locality if the cost of sustaining that culture is, well, integrated into the culture itself.
There are no business models that solve
the wicked problem of participatory democracy.
Long before practical energy conservation became the branded sustainability zietgeist we know today, the decision was made to advocate the University of Michigan agenda for facility construction, operation and maintenance; thereby setting an example for other asset management executives at other educational institutions in the other 49 United States. (New construction spend at the University of Michigan was running at a clip of $500 million to $1 billion annually; a spend rate fairly common among US research universities). If you want to prove the claim that you are the “Leaders and the Best” then you have to withstand the risk of being too early to the zietgest. You have to risk walking alone.
It worked. By collaborating with other like-minded colleges and universities — and incumbent stakeholders; some of whom understood the reasonableness of what we were asking — we were able to achieve possible reductions in the cost of buildings and infrastructure at the University of Michigan which are now shared possibilities for all other colleges, universities and school districts in the United States. We understood that we could not force capital discipline and cost reduction possibilities upon any educational institution — habit and organizational cultures are not to be underestimated — but those possibilities were there for the taking whereas they did not exist before the University of Michigan created them.
We take 100 percent credit for lighting a fire under education facility trade associations to work much harder for their members in the global standards system. While we acknowledge the structural impediments that prohibit the 100’s of trade associations from being wholly effective (lack of shop floor/workpoint sensibility, oversupply of red-tape-making talent; for example) we persist in applying pressure they they do so to the full extent their charter permits. We report on the activity of these non-profit associations during our monthly Education Industry Trade Association teleconference every month. See our CALENDAR for the next online meeting; open to everyone.
We’ve been at this a long time.
We estimate that the original enterprise produced 1 to 2 percent avoided cost opportunities in annual facility operating budgets by negotiating technical and policy compromises using US consensus standards system administered by the American National Standards Institute. The organization might not have taken advantage of construction cost reduction, or the opportunity to avoid re-inventing the wheel, or to avoid organizational redundancy, but those opportunities were secured for everyone. In an industry that spends about $300 billion annually designing, building, operating and maintaining some of the most valuable public assets, a 1 to 2 percent reduction in facility budgets should be meaningful.
Our relationships with other stakeholders have deep roots. In preserving most of the brain trust of the original enterprise, and continuing to add to our cadre of experts, we continue to provide the following:
- Original research.
- Technology and management content for education industry trade associations. Some content is free; curated content that is not in the public domain is accessible to premium members.
- User-interest advocacy in all 50-states for said education industry trade associations. We do it at lower cost and more effectively.
- Cross-cutting perspective and recommendation for action on global technical and management standards relevant to the safety and sustainability objectives of the education industry. Standards are highly interlocked and cross referencing. Many technical committees are unaware what is happening elsewhere because of the sheer velocity of ideas. We have our finger on most of them; or know people who have their finger on them.
- Support for ANSI accredited standards developers who need documentation of user-interest outreach and engagement for the 5-year audit ANSI conducts for conformity to its due process requirements.
- Specific code advocacy. If a prescriptive requirement is nonsense financially we go to where the “buttons” are. We have a lengthy portfolio of success.
- A “sherpa” service to organizations whose goals align with the user-interest. ANSI’s Central Staff already does this to a large degree already but we can supplement ANSI guidance with peer-to-peer insight specific to the education facilities industry based upon where we have succeeded in the past.
- Studies and reports on standard of care and best practice as reflected in accredited standards.
- Anticipatory intelligence for strategic safety and sustainability planners.
- Accurate information about the development status of existing or new consensus products from accredited and open source standards developers.
- Faster access to network of subject matter experts in most building industry disciplines.
- Consultation and support to the legal community to fill gaps in their own understanding and status of relevant codes and standards. We do not provide expert witness services but we provide technical support for legal staff that may need the most current information.
- Education. We find that most faculty is engaged in seeking funding for their next research project. We provide support to faculty who are not exactly in the loop on the current standards action in a variety of disciplines. We support faculty who have teaching grants for standards education.
We are not a non-profit.
We are not a blog.
We are not a proxy for incumbents.
We are not standards evangelizers.
We get results.
Visit us next to the University of Michigan campus.
We hope our selection of images provides a mirror; a way to see what others are doing. Relationships are important. There is likely not any other industry in the United States that requires sensitivity to as many points of view.
Our field of vision encompasses the complete life cycle of consensus products that contribute to the safety and sustainability agenda of the education facility industry including product development, adoption, market recognition, utilization and adherence.
We “keep the door propped open” every day at 11 AM Eastern time to answer questions about anything have to do with codes, standards and regulations that affect the education facility industry. It has to be done this way because so many “commentable” draft consensus products are copyright protected and because, when you slice horizontally through nearly 250 organizational “silos” they way we do, the space changes on a near-hourly basis. You have to see it to believe it.
Use the login credentials at the upper right of our home page.
The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are those the authors and do not reflect the official policy of the University of Michigan, a trade association or standards developer.
Retweets are not endorsements.
Corrections are gratefully received. Anyone who finds a content error will receive free access to our Premium Content for 30-days.
 The US National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995 is the parent legislation for that supports the standards setting and conformity assessment activity administered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the American National Standards Institute. Parts of this legislation — especially the overall intent to inspire innovation in the private sector — is found in public laws all nations; thus our attention to the education industry in all nations. For a detailed explanation of the terms Producer, General Interest and User, refer to ANSI Essential Requirements: Due Process Requirements for American national standards.
 We refer to the 250-odd ANSI accredited standards developers as “silos”. Keep in mind that there are hundreds of other open source and consortia standards developers that are not ANSI-accredited.
* Consensus products are codes, standards, guides, recommended practices which are developed by workpoint subject matter experts and administered by accrediting agencies (such as the American National Standards Institute), open-source, open-standard communities and similar consortia that can, and should supercede government action through legislation. The US Technology Transfer & Advancement Act of 1995 requires that federal agencies reference privately developed consensus products because (and, in our own parlance) the standard of care asserted in privately developed consensus products is relatively free of “market-making” by incumbent stakeholders. See Footnote 
 The great deal of the energy put into “standards evangelism” is essentially sales energy for conformance revenue by vertical incumbents. In many, if not most cases, conformity organizations oppose the User-Interest in education communities by design in the U.S. Voluntary Consensus Standardization and Conformity Assessment Infrastructure. To repeat: No one gets into the standards business to make money on best practice literature. They get into the standards business to make money on enforcement and evangelizing (teaching); thus our claim that “standards are the seed corn for compliance revenue“. It is not a perfect system but beats having red-tape makers miles away from the workpoint set the standard.
© Standards Michigan Group, LLC