Opinion

Measure construction’s real value five years after handover

5 September 2018 | By Ann Bentley

The Andover North Site project for the MOD Prime programme is an example of a built asset performing well in operation

As well as looking good and being well constructed, a project team should ensure the built asset does what the client and end-users want. Ann Bentley, author of Procuring for Value, explains.

Ann Bentley

I have been banging the drum about procurement for a while now. The demise of a construction giant such as Carillion came as a shock to the nation, but as little surprise to many of us in the industry.

The Procuring for Value report, produced by the CLC’s Supply Chain and Business Models Workstream that I lead, and released in July, felt cathartic in its ability to talk openly about some of the issues that we know are rife in the industry.

It also came at a time when change is in the air and felt like the beginning of a dialogue with the supply chain – up and down – to make the procurement process more relevant to what clients and end-users want to achieve.

Procuring for Value states loud and clear that “construction matters”. Not just to those who work within it but far wider and broader. Over 10% of the UK workforce is employed within construction and allied supply and maintenance industries and its value to the economy is estimated at almost £600bn a year.

Productivity, risk and accountability

How do we change our industry to ensure that it, firstly, maximises its productivity, secondly, deals with risk and, thirdly, holds people accountable? This is key to how we move forward. Focusing on the first of the “three prongs” of Procuring for Value, we need to look at whole-life value and performance rather than our own individual piece of the complex system.

At present, procurement represents a fixed moment in time. With designers and constructors passing over the responsibility for maintaining the asset to another contractor, their focus is on completion rather than use of the built asset.

Working piecemeal without looking at whole life and performance is short-sighted and increases the likelihood that a built asset won’t meet the client’s long-term expectations or deliver the functionality it was originally commissioned for.

Clients, consultants, designers and all of us involved from planning to fulfilment must look ahead at how the built asset will be used – say, over the first five years – and feed that back to the start of the procurement process.

“We must take responsibility not just for the quality of our work, but for the quality of the outcome it delivers. We should look at the long game.”

There has to be an honest discussion where, instead of protecting the boundaries of tasks and fees, the team plan collectively with the common aim of ensuring the project is agile enough to evolve into an asset still relevant, robust and reliable on completion and beyond. 

Instead of the contractor’s and designer’s financial reward being dependent on a task fulfilled – handing over the design or building – we need to give more thought to how the built asset performs in operation.

So, as well as looking good and being well built, let’s ensure it does what the client and end-users want it to do. RLB has worked on some great projects where this has happened – some of the much-maligned PFI programmes, including Building Schools for the Future, produced very good, effective buildings.

The MOD Prime programme, including Andover North Site and Project SLAM, were hugely successful. The approach that large retailers take to their property portfolios very much has their customer satisfaction in mind.

With the government’s Construction Sector Deal wanting better-performing buildings that are built more quickly at a lower cost, working as an aligned team must surely help bring us one step forward to this ambition?

Responsibility for whole-life value and performance lies not only with the government but with all of us – clients, consultants and contractors – who work in the industry. Construction plays a major role within the economy and the workforce but we must take responsibility not just for the quality of our work, but for the quality of the outcome it delivers.

We should look at the long game when it comes to procurement. This way we will be setting the scene for a more robust and reliable construction sector going forward.

Ann Bentley is a global director of Rider Levett Bucknall and a member of the Construction Leadership Council

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