Not everyone, of course, has the opportunity to move into a new, custom-designed skyscraper. Retrofitting remains the norm for many companies, for reasons that include cost, location and convenience.
In addition to supervising the technological aspects of Kirkland & Ellis’s new office building in Chicago, CIO Steve Novak has also overseen numerous renovations and retrofittings at the firm’s half dozen other offices in cities such as New York, London and Munich.
“Retrofits are harder to manage in some ways because they’re usually about trade-offs,” he says. “You have to accept that there are going to be some limitations, and the challenge is to work within those limitations.”
The key, he says, is to make sure management understands what’s possible in a given space and makes decisions with those facts in mind. For instance, physical limits on things like load (the amount of weight a floor will support) and cooling also limit the kinds and amount of technology that can be installed in a given space. And unless a landlord is willing to make fairly substantial infrastructure improvements, there isn’t a lot that can be done to change the situation with the existing space.
A common problem in many older buildings is dead cabling—that is, the miles of unused cable installed in a building over the years by long-gone tenants—that continues to clog riser closets and passageways. This problem, like many retrofitting problems, is correctable but at a price.
“I think generally it’s more expensive to retrofit because of the ongoing possibility of business interruption and also because you’re always working around an existing problem or situation,” says Novak. “You have to carefully weigh the cost benefit as you move through the process.”
Time also becomes key. “Time estimates are harder with retrofits because you never know what you’re going to find when you open up a ceiling or wall,” says Novak. “It’s a discovery process for everyone, and you have to account for that in the plan.”