Getting the measure of global standards

27 March 2017

Alan Muse FRICS on moves to establish global measurement standards for construction.

Alan Muse

As business becomes more global, professional practices are also increasingly demanding global rules. We have seen this in the accounting arena, with International Financial Accounting Standards (IFRS), and, with 70% of global wealth in land and property, valuation, measurement of property and ethics are ripe for international standards.

Construction is a large contributor to world GDP and is recognised as having a significant “multiplier” effect on national economies. It is also increasingly a globally mobile industry, in which investments in, and the implementation of, projects is carried out on an international basis. Global investment in construction is also rapidly changing and standards are required in emerging and developing economies.

However, uncertainty, or risk, is a significant drag on investment in construction and infrastructure. In turn, uncertainty is often caused by a lack of comparable, consistent and collaborative cost standards.

The lack of international measurement standards means that comparison of the cost of construction works between countries is inefficient and inconsistent, creating uncertainty and adding risk to investment.

The International Construction Measurement Standard (ICMS) coalition was established by non-profit organisations representing professionals in more than 140 countries to fill this gap. 

The group aims to create an overarching international standard that will harmonise cost classification to enhance comparability, consistency and benchmarking of capital projects in buildings and infrastructure. It has 43 members, including, in the UK, RICS, RIBA, ICE and CIOB.

The ICMS standard principles will integrate and overlay with detailed measurement standards in accordance with local market jurisdictions (for example, the New Rules of Measurement in the UK) to ensure they are adopted.

The standard has been drafted by the ICMS standing setting committee and the first public consultation ended in January 2017. A second public consultation will be undertaken in February and March 2017, with a view to publishing the standard in July 2017.

Increasingly, governments and industry are engaging to shape the standard. At an ICMS panel debate in February representatives from Arcadis, Arup, Balfour Beatty and Faithful & Gould emphasised that ICMS will be an important part of their internal cost processes. Not only will it allow consistent cost presenting between global markets, but it will also allow a standard cost classification for emerging digital practice using BIM.

It was recognised that large multi-use projects, such as HS2, will benefit from a standard that allows cost data to be compared internationally to establish robust benchmarks. This would allow a “design to cost” approach rather than “cost a design”.

As overseas developers continue to invest significantly in UK property and the construction industry and professional services are seen as key to the UK post-Brexit global export potential, ICMS is as relevant to solely UK practitioners as to international professionals.

It will, though, require some new thinking.

Alan Muse FRICS is global director of built environment at RICS. For more information email, or visit

Image: Les Cunliffe/

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