Practice Partnering Paradigm
Before they formed Insight Alliance, the member firms knew they had something to offer to projects beyond their particular specialty, but the overhead involved in maintaining an international presence outside their niche made it difficult for them to connect with these opportunities.
The new alliance, with its combined resources and revenues, will rank among the five largest architecture firms in the world, offering architecture, interior design, planning, and consulting services to clients in over 130 countries.
Yet Insight Alliance has been careful to avoid creating a single, unwieldy entity. "We sense clients' growing frustration with the formidable infrastructures and bureaucracies of the mega-firms," says Roger Neuenschwander, CEO of TVS.
Benefits to Clients
"Companies, like all consumers, seek customized, responsive services." Because the member firms retain their individual identities within the alliance, they retain the organizational strength and sense of focus that are essential to their success.
Early response to the alliance from clients has been positive. Excel Legacy Corp., developers of a mixed-use project adjacent to Disneyland in Anaheim, California were looking for a firm capable of handling their multifaceted project. "The ability to retain the Insight Alliance — and to get the top firms in their fields — made a difficult decision easy," says Bill Stone, a vice-president at Excel.
In contracting and delivering services, the alliance works with clients in a conventional way. "We're trying to keep our structure very simple," says Holecek. Clients contract with one of the member firms, whose services are supplemented by the resources of the others. "We're not trying to find a new way of doing business, but rather to find new ways of bringing value to clients through traditional delivery methods."
In addition to a single access point to the diverse expertise and talent of all member firms, advantages to clients include the potential for cross-pollination among industries. At Insight Alliance, Callison's strong sense of retail branding could benefit WATG's hospitality clients. WATG's experience creating places that express their cultural setting could benefit TVS's convention facility clients.
By pooling its resources, the alliance gains the capacity to invest in research without a specific client paying for it. The results of this research become a resource in helping clients predict where their businesses might be heading, how they might position themselves, and what the implications will be for the type of environments they will need.
For several years, Callison, in cooperation with sponsors, has been investigating changing trends in work environments. Future research initiatives might investigate the value of design to the client's bottom line and other avenues of inquiry that none of the firms acting alone would have the resources to explore.
Clients can also expect to benefit from an alliance's experience of collaboration. Project-specific joint ventures often have a steep learning curve as participants try to mesh their disparate corporate cultures into a working unit. An on-going alliance of firms, self-selected for compatibility, eliminates the time and expense of that learning.
Implementing a New Idea
Before launching Insight Alliance, the member firms consulted extensively with firms in alliances in other industries. From those experience, several factors emerged as critical to the success of an alliance. It is essential to have the concept for the alliance clearly formulated. Then that concept must then be clearly communicated both externally, to the market, and internally, to employees.
"It's very important," says Ron Holecek, "that each organization understand the concept and that incentives be properly aligned towards working as an alliance with people who might previously have been competitors.
Insight Alliance is still in the process of presenting its concept, setting up the infrastructure of the new entity, and educating its employees as to its rationale. "There are some exciting prospects out there," says Holecek. "If we are successful, and I believe we will be, we can be a leader to something that will help our clients and our profession as well."
Katharine Logan is an assistant editor of ArchitectureWeek.
Vallco Fashion Park, Cupertino, California.
Image: Insight Alliance
FlatIron Crossing, Broomfield, Colorado, designed by Callison Architecture.
Photo: Chris Eden
The Grand Gateway, Shanghai, China, designed by Callison Architecture.
Photo: Chris Eden
McCormick Place, Chicago, designed by Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Associates.
Photo: Brian Gassel
The Salt Palace, Utah, designed by Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback &
Photo: Brian Gassel
The Palace of the Lost City, Sun City, South Africa, designed by
Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo.
Photo: Ivan Muller, Peter Vitale, courtesy of Sun International
The Ritz-Carlton, St Thomas, US Virgin Islands, designed by Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo.
Photo: Bruce Stanford
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