We all use it – but should Google be the source of specification information?

The fact that “To Google” has become a verb that we all recognise just shows how much we rely on the search engine to answer so many of our questions.

That late-night specification just before the project goes to tender, for example.  Where else to find the product information you need right now?

As manufacturers we all recognise the lure of internet information and do our very best to build a friendly website with design details, performance criteria, product and installation images, test data, all set out for quick and easy download.

Is it a help? Absolutely.

Is it the answer?  Absolutely not.

Websites are tools the way a pen is a tool.  It’s shiny and attractive and you’re just aching to pick it up.  Once you have, you can use it to write great novels, sketch unforgettable designs, sign contracts that will change your life.  But without the person behind the pen it’s just a piece of plastic.

Interpretation, creativity, empathy – we need all of these to turn the vision of a building into a reality that works, and websites are pretty short on all of those.

Car configurators provide a great example of the good and bad points of online specification.  You pick a selection of paints, tyres, specific modifications. The manufacturer site then shows you something that looks great and amends the price to something that looks achievable.

What it doesn’t tell you is that those tyres are custom and only available from one factory worldwide.  You’ve selected exactly what you wanted, but if you ever need another one, it’ll take three months and cost a fortune.

So just for the record, here are my top five reasons why relying exclusively on websites for your specification decisions is a really bad idea.

  1. They can’t spot when you’ve overspecified: the performance looks great but is there another option that does the same for half the price or in half the time?
  2. They won’t share your vision and understand what you’re trying to achieve.Will there be an unforeseen interface detail that you’ll have to work around later?
  3. They don’t understand the challenges faced by your contractors, and how some simplification in the product range will really reduce site problems
  4. They can’t work with you to design a bespoke solution.Not every option is online – a lot can be achieved through experience.
  5. They find it really hard to explain how system warranties will meet current legislation and where the liability lies.

When I’m faced with a specifier struggling to write the detailed technical specification needed for the tender stages I’m usually meeting someone who has spent ages trying to solve their problem with Google searches.

But the availability of information does not necessarily make for clarity. Too much can be as challenging as too little and the people who can guide you through it all are the experts.  When it comes to products those experts are the manufacturers.

Interpretation is everything and, to borrow a phrase: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble.  It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” The role of a good specification manager is to ask the right questions. Giving you the solutions you didn’t know you wanted is something an empathetic expert can do.

And a website can’t.