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Engineering & Design – Division 17 changes everything

Division 17 is changing the way we design, construct and manage facilities. Take the time to educate yourself on this new model -- or risk being left behind.

September 1, 2000  

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Division 17 is a comprehensive model that enables telecommunications systems to be effectively and efficiently designed into a building from the demarcation to the desktop, or as some have termed it “the last 100 feet”.

This model is changing the way we design, bid on, build and manage buildings. And it has become a necessity, because the communication distribution systems in today’s buildings no longer consist of just the wires in the tenant spaces.

In addition to the voice and data systems in the tenant spaces, we must now consider the building-wide systems such as HVAC, security, energy management and roofing. Each of these building systems, with potentially thousands of “nodes” sensing and transmitting information, will be connected to a building-wide network. In turn, the building itself will be a node on a larger network: the Internet.

This means a diagnostic report on a component under warranty could be transmitted directly to a manufacturer and facilitate an advance replacement process. Or a faulty component could automatically generate a service request that could be sent directly to the contractor with the maintenance agreement. All of this could be done with or without the intervention of the building owner or occupant.

We have all heard the “futuristic” claims of building automation. Yet, we should really remove the word “futuristic” and realize that these claims are now becoming reality.

Today, many telecommunications systems inside of a tenant space have been designed and installed to meet the minimum requirements for Category 5 performance. However, few buildings in which these tenant spaces are located have been designed to support a connection from the tenant space through the building to a desired service provider. Even fewer have been designed to support building-wide systems on a building network.

Given that the future is now with respect to “smart buildings”, and that many buildings lack the required systems and infrastructures to support the required intelligence, Division 17 is the necessary solution.


Division 17 will require the telecommunications consultant to prepare the system design in a format that differs from the traditional RFP. Yet the three main deliverables of the consultant will still be specifications, cost estimates and drawings.

Division 17 is a model that organizes technology infrastructures in a manner consistent with the MasterFormat. The MasterFormat, jointly published by Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) and Construction Specifications Canada (CSC), is a master list of numbers and titles for organizing information about construction requirements, products and activities into a standard sequence. It was introduced in 1963 and the most current edition was put out in 1995. Architects and other design professionals use this MasterFormat to organize the requirements for a new building or renovation.

By adding Division 17 to the model early in the planning phase of a project, the telecommunications systems can be integrated into the process of designing, constructing and maintaining a building.

The benefits of incorporating telecommunications requirements early on include better space programming, improved coordination during the design of the other building systems and, ultimately, buildings that are more useful to both owners and occupants.

Contractors and consultants in the telecommunications industry are aware of the well-developed standards for the spaces, performance requirements and the administration of telecommunications systems in a building. Unfortunately, many of these standards, and even the organizations that produce and maintain these standards, are unknown to the traditional design and construction industry participants.

One of the goals of the Division 17 initiative is to educate building owners and design professionals about the tools, standards and professionals in the telecommunications industry that can help with the design and construction of “smart buildings”. The challenge, ironically enough, is to establish communication between the two industries.


Division 17 also provides the structure for organizing project specifications. It must be understood that those in the construction industry often require much more detail than is traditionally seen in telecommunications RFPs for products or services. In addition to the MasterFormat, there are two other format documents that define how information is organized and presented on the page. These two documents are the SectionFormat and the PageFormat.

To further familiarize yourself with the procedures and methods used by the construction industry, obtain a copy of the Manual of Practice (MOP). The MOP consists of two binders full of information. One binder contains four modules: Fundamentals and Formats, Specifications Practice, Product Representation and Contract Administration as well as a Key Word Index. The second binder contains the MasterFormat, SectionFormat and PageFormat documents, as well as the UniFormat. (Visit CSI’s web site at for more information).

Specifications define the quality requirements for the desired products, while estimates and budgets manage the costs. Drawings are the most effective method of showing the location and quantity of the telecommunications requirements on a project. These drawings are not the typical napkin and logical drawings often seen in the telecommunications industry. As with the other facets of the construction industry the key again is detail, but this time it is in the form of scaled CAD drawings dedicated to telecommunications. (For more information on “T” series drawings, visit

And, just as telecommunications standards are foreign to the construction industry, drawing standards and conventions are foreign to the telecommunications industry participants. You can learn more about the National CAD standard at


Now that we have covered all the basics of the issue, you are probably wondering why it would be worth investing the time and energy required to learn a new way of doing basically the same thing. The reason is that if you do not learn the new way, you probably will not be able to compete.

Buildings, like everything else, are going to get more intelligent. That means the intelligence will be designed and built into the building. Technology and telecommunications systems will no longer be an afterthought or a post-construction event. Buildings must now be designed and built to support the evolution of technology systems that will run them. As a result, professionals will be needed who can design the telecommunications systems and infrastructures. Skilled and competent contractors who can build and install the systems will also be needed.

This brings us to what will be required of the telecommunications contractor. The telecommunications contractor will now be able to “bid” on a project as a prime contractor. The big difference is that the bid will be based on an actual design with detailed specifications and drawings versus the current process of bidding on a glorified RFP. This will require learning how to read a drawing and understanding how information is organized in a project manual. It will also require learning standard forms of contracts, such as those published by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Engineers joint Contract Documents Committee (EJCDC). Coordination drawings, submittals, field orders and change orders, applications for payment and record copy drawings are just a few of the new elements and activities that will be expected of a contractor who is building or installing a telecommunications infrastructure.

Suppliers will also have to prepare product specifications in the CSI format for use by the design professionals when preparing project specifications. Getting specified as the design-make for a particular product will
become a critical objective, because the alternative will mean being grouped with all the other suppliers in the “or equal” group. The burden of proof then falls on the “or equal” product to prove to the consultant that they are truly “equal” in all aspects. This will require new or additional training of a sales force on how to call on consultants and engineers, when to call on them, and with what.


As with any system, building owners and occupants must also get involved with the planning and design of the telecommunications systems. This means the IT and IS departments must get involved much earlier in the process than ever before and may need to organize and present their requirements in a format that can be understood and used to design and/or construct the required system. Construction budgets will have to include capital dollars for telecommunications. Operational IT and IS budgets will also have to be in sync with the capital budget for a building to ensure that nothing is left out. The Division 17 organizational model provides an effective outline for identifying and preparing these budgets.

Owners and property managers will have to learn about entirely new services that must be offered to building occupants if they intend to be competitive. And this is really what it all comes down to. Intelligent buildings with flexible and scalable telecommunications infrastructures are becoming much more attractive to the market and will eventually be a basic requirement of a building, much like electricity, HVAC or plumbing. Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International ( has recently published a great resource for building owners and property managers called “Critical Connections” that will bring them up to speed.

A building without a telecommunications infrastructure will not be able to compete in the marketplace. Building owners know this and are now investing time, energy and money to learn how to make their buildings competitive. The more they learn, the more they will require design professionals to include telecommunications in the scope of the building’s construction or renovation activities.

Architects will respond by offering the design of telecommunications in the scope of their activities. To offer this service, architects will require the assistance of telecommunications design professionals who understand both telecommunications systems and the construction industry.

The successful telecommunications consultant will use Division 17 as an organizational model when preparing design documents as a participant involved with the design of a new building or renovation project. And the telecommunications contractor will need to learn to read “T” series drawings and specifications based on the Division 17 organizational model.

Everybody involved in the industry must take the time to become familiar with Division 17. It will all be necessary as this model continues to change the way we design, bid and build in the years to come.CS

Tom Rauscher has over 12 years of experience in the cabling industry and is currently President of Archi-Technology, Rochester, NY. Archi-Technology, LLC is a “smart building” consulting firm that provides web-based design and documentation services for telecommunications infrastructures, based on the Division 17 organizational model.

For more information, visit


Division 17 is a comprehensive model that enables telecommunications systems to be effectively and efficiently designed into a building from the demarcation to the desktop, or as some have termed it “the last 100 feet”.

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