Precis Commissioning (PrecisCx), founded in 2014 by Kari Anne Donovan, PE, CxA, provides independent facility commissioning and qualification services focusing on safety, quality, and operation. PrecisCx is a WBENC Certified Women’s Business Enterprise and third-party certified Woman Owned Small Business (WOSB). PrecisCx employees are over 40% women.

Kari Donovan is a licensed Professional Engineer in 7 states, a Certified Commissioning Authority, is OSHA 30 trained, sits on the International Board of Directors of the BCxA, and is Past-President for the BCxA National Capital Chapter. She holds a Bachelors and Masters of Architectural Engineering from Penn State.

Kari began designing mechanical and plumbing systems, and providing on-site commissioning before joining Precis Engineering, Inc. as their first employee. Kari quickly advanced within the company while supporting the growth of a dynamic, boutique-style engineering firm. She became a principal before seizing the opportunity to spin-off a new company, focused on commissioning and qualification services.

Now, as President of PrecisCx, Kari is responsible for the operation of PrecisCx, overseeing diverse projects in pharmaceutical/biotech, R&D, healthcare, university, and commercial industries. Her experience building teams with owners, design professionals, and contractors affords the ability to consider all stakeholder concerns throughout project delivery. She is dedicated to establishing a culture of inclusion, collaboration, and support, where the highest standards of excellence are defined by the work.

We asked Kari about her motivation for choosing commissioning as a career, company milestones, how she evaluates entry-level job candidates, advice for new entrants to the profession, and one thing no one knows about her (hint: it started with the wallpaper…)

PrecisCx Milestones

In 2018, the company was awarded #25 of the top 100 fastest growing independently-owned businesses in the greater Philadelphia area, in the Philly 100.

In 2020, Kari was recognized as a Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) Star by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBEC), the nation’s largest certifier of women-owned businesses and leader in women’s business development. The WBE Star Award is the nation’s premier recognition for excellence among women-owned businesses, honoring 14 women from across the country who are leaders in their local business communities and respective fields.

Education, Value, and Communication

PrecisCx was awarded its largest Tier 1 contract by a core client to utilize new technology to achieve electronic simultaneous and attributable commissioning documentation. Their internal procedures had been predominantly paper-based, driven by industry standards. This new technology provided a risk-based alternative to the standard practice of volumes of paper. Where possible, PrecisCx advocates using technology to achieve communication, collaboration, and transparency and this solution was a huge departure for our client.

That PrecisCx was entrusted to educate and shepherd all stakeholders through this new process is a testament to their proven performance. The project benefited from the ease of exporting facility data into their existing software platforms for asset management, calibrations, and preventive maintenance, and provided real-time data to escalate issues in the field to appropriate decision-makers.

The firm’s objectives are to:

  • Provide third-party measure, value, and confidence to projects of all sizes;
  • Enhance project relationships for all members of the extended commissioning team;
  • Provide innovative solutions utilizing current technology;
  • Ensure value engineering does not value out quality; and
  • Meet the quality requirements of our clients.

“We solicit feedback on our services, not just from Owners but all members of the extended commissioning team. Understanding each party’s pain points and their experience with other commissioning providers allows us to refine our approach to best meet the needs of the team and be as effective in our work as possible,” says Kari. “We seek out opportunities to educate team members on their role in the commissioning process. We focus on Value-Add to our clients’ projects and those relationships foster business growth. Some companies checkboxes. We drive results.”

What drives/motivates you every day as a rewarding aspect of working in this field?

  • Adding Value to the project and making things work.
  • Educating Owners, Designers, and Contractors to the value of Commissioning Process and their unique role in its execution.
  • The rule is, “If it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.”

What life experience(s) led you to commissioning as a career path?

I loved Physics in high school and my father was an Architectural Engineer who worked at Penn State. When I was older, I realized he didn’t actually work on a railroad (Penn Station), and learned more. I applied to the Penn State AE program. I really enjoyed learning about all of the building systems, each discipline, the design and construction process, and how they all work together. And it’s what I love most about commissioning.

While in college I interned for several years with Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant Continuous Commissioning and Central Control System groups. That early exposure led to a desire to pursue both engineering and commissioning and an understanding that (almost) all things come back to controls and preventive maintenance.

When hiring new CxPs, how do you evaluate entry-level candidates?

  • Do they care?! We can teach them anything, but we can’t teach them to care.
  • Are they detail-oriented and can they work collaboratively as well as independently?
  • Are they comfortable with asking questions?
  • Do they have the drive to understand how things work?

How do you think the CxP role might change as a result of the current pandemic?

As most of our work is in regulated industry, we grew as a result of the demands of our clients in BioTech/Pharma. Our clients issued letters for their contractors to carry with them in hopes that it would assist them to get to the job site when businesses were shut down and getting from one location to the next was scrutinized based on essential worker status. There was a need to move projects in their infancy forward at great speeds. Commissioning Providers played a large role in identifying and mitigating the risks that came along with that.

Now more than ever the CxP needs to be able to assist clients in assessing the needs of the facility and its ability to achieve them.

What advice do you have for people entering the CxP profession?

  • Your ability to effectively communicate is your key to success.
  • Understand how building systems work as a whole.
  • Build relationships with the extended commissioning team as you will see these folks many times in your career. No matter their role, each member brings a viewpoint and specialty that helps to resolve issues.
  • Importance of design knowledge. Understand what information was available to the design team when the contract documents were generated and you will quickly be able to find the gaps that need to be addressed.
  • Never stop learning. Get involved in your profession outside of your daily job.
  • Recognize “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” as the siren song of misadventure.

What’s one thing no one knows about you?

I completely gutted my first house all because I couldn’t get the wallpaper off. In a fit of frustration, I tore the drywall down to find the house (affectionately referred to as The Urban Hunting Cabin) had no insulation, cloth wiring, and a shotgun hole in the living room ceiling. I quickly had to learn to rewire the house, install flooring, windows, a new roof, kitchen, and bath. I made fast friends with the staff at Home Depot who started hugging me when I came in.