Specialty contractors become virtual makers

Today, specialty contractors capture value only after they have installed the physical product. This arrangement subjects these subcontractors to the same potential financial sinkholes around budget and timeline faced by general contractors.

With the adoption of productization, specialty contractors will see their business model evolve as they embrace new roles and revenue streams by shifting to so-called “virtual makers.” Virtual makers contribute to the virtual twin by applying trade-specific knowhow in the upstream design and simulation phases. They collaborate on a single model of a construction project in a virtual environment along with fellow specialty and general contractors — and are compensated accordingly for their time, expertise and continuous access to their virtual creations and intellectual property.

It’s important to note that as the productization transformation unfolds, specialty contractors have the opportunity to continue to offer existing trade-based services at the off-site manufacturing and assembly phases. The newfound virtual maker role will be a second function to perform as industry-wide change progresses in the coming years. Over time, the physical installation work will take a backseat to the virtual work.

Virtual makers are positioned to collaborate more strategically with owners and GCs and to contribute to a more successful construction outcome. An experiencebased understanding of trades is incredibly valuable and contractors can be compensated proportionately for contributing this knowledge upstream. With the rules of a trade virtualized and integrated into a virtual twin of construction, specialized skills can scale.

How to Become a Virtual Maker

As module interfaces are standardized, trade-based knowledge will be less and less necessary on site. However, greater upfront engineering knowledge provided during the design stage can actually drive development of more sophisticated solutions. By decoupling engineering from production, construction teams invest in more advanced products.

For many specialty contractors, there is already a push to digitally capture the knowledge of tradespeople retiring or otherwise leaving the workforce. This knowledge is a key source of efficiency. Looking at a broader scale, this digitalization of knowledge enables this new business model for specialty contractors.

With productization, specialty contractors can provide their virtual knowhow to the GC and module configurators at the earliest possible moment. In this way, specialty contractors are no longer “too late to the game” on projects to drive true value. Virtualizing their knowhow allows them to offer trade-specific knowledge through solutions such as BIM plugins that inform project constructability. It also allows specialty contractors to capture value from this process prior to product installation.


Contractors dream to know how to optimize and streamline their purchasing and logistics. Suppliers dream to know how to maximize their order pipeline.

This article is excerpted from THE PRODUCTIZATION EFFECT: How integration-ready modules will transform the roles of general contractors, specialty contractors and the entire construction value chain. This white paper maps the path to productization and defines how general contractors, specialty contractors and the entire construction value chain can leverage virtual twins on an end-to-end collaboration platform, transcend the limitations of classic industrialization and leapfrog to personalized construction.

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Akio Moriwaki

Akio Moriwaki

As head of global marketing for the AEC Industry at Dassault Systèmes, Mr. Moriwaki launches and promotes groundbreaking Industry Solution Experiences including "Optimized Construction," "Façade Design for Fabrication," and "Civil Design for Fabrication." He is a member of buildingSMART.