The idea that involving specialist subcontractors early in a project makes for a more efficient delivery is nothing new. It is a topic that has been discussed in the construction industry for many years but, it is also a topic which remains incredibly relevant today. Even last month, Construction News reported that a strategy of direct commissioning of specialists and early collaboration can improve project outcomes.
This is something that Transport for London (TfL) recognised several years ago too, with its shift away from the traditional design and build procurement model - where the main contractor works up designs produced by TfL - towards working directly with specialist subcontractors as part of its Value Enhancement Specialist Framework Agreement. This framework, and others like it from the Environment Agency and Highways England, are looking to create greater efficiencies by narrowing the gap between themselves and the specialist organisations that have the relevant experiences and that are closest to the continuing changes in technologies and best practices.
With the conversation about early engagement continuing, Stuart Fawcett - business development manager at SOCOTEC Monitoring, formerly ITM Monitoring - discusses why it is still something the industry should strive for.
The typical current procurement process
There are a number of different ways monitoring services are procured, depending on the client and the sector. Often, a main contractor will go out to market with a monitoring specification, and a number of monitoring specialists will respond to that specification, with the most competitive price likely winning the contract. In this case, subcontractors are in the position where a budget and an approach have already been committed to, without them having the opportunity - as specialists - to evaluate site constraints and offer advice as to the best solution. Essentially the process is a transactional one and there is little or no room for innovation.
At SOCOTEC Monitoring, we have also found that a specialist subject, such as instrumentation and monitoring, is not always well understood and that this can then lead to insufficient attention being given to that subject. This can mean that specialist niche contractors – such as SOCOTEC Monitoring – are not engaged at an early enough time, which again reduces or removes the opportunity to add real value.
Often, contractors also fragment monitoring by discipline, with different teams within that client’s company then being responsible for selecting a monitoring specialist to handle that specific area of monitoring. For example, subsurface monitoring, structural monitoring, environmental monitoring etc. may all be treated separately. What clients don’t realise, and therefore fail to realise the value of, is that SOCOTEC can advise and manage all forms of monitoring, irrespective of discipline.
There are a number of risks involved in this approach to procurement of monitoring services. For a contractor, if the monitoring requirement is overestimated, there will be a negative impact on the competitiveness of their bid. But, equally, if provision for the subject is underestimated, it can have a significant negative impact on their bottom line.
Other risks include unreliable performance of the monitoring system producing inaccurate data, unnecessary redesign costs and non-compliance with a planning condition or specification, all of which can all have direct and indirect cost and programme implications.
How early engagement could help reduce these risks
Engaging a specialist instrumentation and monitoring company earlier, at the bid stage, means they can offer consultative technical and commercial advice and make recommendations for the main contractor’s monitoring specification based on their specialist knowledge. Drawing on experience of a vast array of scenarios, ground conditions, infrastructure types, clients and instrumentation options, when SOCOTEC Monitoring is involved at bid stage, a main contractor can be sure that they have a realistic provision for programme and cost within their own tender.
SOCOTEC Monitoring involves its team of senior project managers and technicians right from the outset in order to assess a site in advance, to understand what the issues might be and what specific instrumentation and systems can be installed to ensure precise monitoring. This holistic approach ensures that the client receives accurate data and effective alerts which can be used to make crucial decisions throughout the construction process.
Other benefits of early engagement
The benefits of this kind of approach can add value beyond just cost savings and the provision of a fit-for-purpose monitoring system, such as:
- Creating a project culture of collaboration and teamworking
- Reduced risk due to better and more experienced understanding of specialist areas
- Gives the main contractor and the specialist subcontractor a chance to familiarise themselves with each other’s ways of working before the project commences
- Potential issues can be identified earlier, which allows design to be influenced in a beneficial way
- Minimises unforeseen delays
- The subcontractor will have a better understanding of the project over a longer period of time and as a whole, so client objectives are better met
- Allows the forward planning of work programmes and resource allocation, so delivery teams can be more quickly mobilised
- More time and opportunity for the specialist to develop innovative solutions
- Safety risks can be identified and designed out.
Projects that can benefit from early engagement
All types of projects benefit from early engagement, at the very least that engagement can inform on current availability of a desired solution within the industry as a whole. More complex projects, i.e. those that include multiple disciplines and/or stakeholders, will always benefit from early engagement of specialist subcontractors, such as SOCOTEC Monitoring, due to the multiple risks and opportunities that can be reviewed and managed.
Ultimately, what the team at SOCOTEC Monitoring aims to do is ensure that a monitoring system is compliant with all of a project’s requirements, provides high quality and reliable data and is cost effective. Our clients can then make informed decisions at bid stage and have absolute confidence at the project delivery stages. Collaboration from the outset is crucial to this.
If you would like to discuss how SOCOTEC Monitoring can help support your next bid, please get in touch.
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