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A Vision for the Future Role of Cost Engineers and Quantity Surveyors

Eugene Seah, Senior Director , Special Projects, Group CEO Office, Surbana Jurong

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There is a saying that “what got us here is not enough to get us there”. For professionals working in the rapidly evolving built environment sector, this is increasingly true.

Cost engineers and quantity surveyors, in particular, face a critical moment in their professional lives as the traditional infrastructure project delivery practices developed over decades transform almost overnight into modern, digitally-enabled, and data-driven processes.

Like every other profession in the built environment, CEs and QSs face a major challenge to redefine their role and stay relevant in this new world; a world in which clients are more demanding, more informed, and expect greater value from every professional service that they buy.

However, unlike many other professionals, they also have a major opportunity to strike out and reposition themselves at the heart of this new and evolving world; driving new level levels of efficiency, creating competitive advantage, and providing the value-added services demanded by modern clients.

To achieve this goal and remain relevant, CEs and QSs will have to change their professional approach and the services they provide, and so redefine the skills that underpin their role. While some of these changes might be considered evolutionary, others will require more fundamental rethinking. 

The Merger of Minds – Birth of the CEQS Profession

The traditional concept of employing a QS to measure quantities and a CE to provide advice on cost is becoming a relic of the past. Modern clients expect more flexibility and broader professional advice; and the professionals must react accordingly.

Today’s client increasingly does not recognize professional divisions. They will instead readily turn to the CE for advice on issues as wide as procurement management and engineering or look to QSs to cost preliminary designs without drawings using their experience, datasheets, and rules of thumb.

Given this blurring of responsibility, a merger of the two professions as CEQS is an obvious win. This new group of professionals would provide a range of services covering cost advice, procurement management and strategic advice, design reviews, facilitation based on risk and value, and perform value engineering exercises.

The role would be transformed from a passive individual to become an effective, central contributor to the client’s entire project team. With an inherent knowledge of design efficiency, combined with a deep understanding of cost drivers and structure, the CEQS will be in a unique position to provide clients with holistic advice on project cost, time, and quality.

A broader view for existing professionals to align with the new global, customer focused clients and ensure the profession remains relevant in a changing world

The Need for a Knowledge Upgrade and Networking

Of course, this transformation would require the CEQS to substantially increase their understanding of construction technology and basic engineering principles. In addition, they would require good knowledge of contract law to help the CEQS offer procurement advice to promote the modern partnering arrangements sought by clients as they seek to boost productivity.

And clearly enhancing skills across the professions will require an environment that actively supports learning. As such, a professional knowledge network would be critical to support and drive the development of required skills across businesses and ensure that the learning and efficiencies gained are shared across the emerging profession.

Similarly, a program of mentoring throughout the new CEQS profession would be vital to ensure that younger professionals can learn quickly from the experience and knowledge of colleagues around them.

Facilitation and the Art of Collaboration

More often than not, CEs and QSs find themselves at the heart of the design discussion, using and demanding information from all design disciplines and ensuring that information is correct and verified. They play a critical role to brings parties together – facilitating communication and promoting collaboration – and a role that is increasingly in demand by modern clients and that could be embraced by the CEQS profession.

The training that CEQSs receive would be necessarily different from that of designers and engineers. This would make them well placed to offer this facilitation role and bring together the increasingly large teams found on construction projects.

The roles and responsibilities of a facilitator are wide but work might include conducting cross-disciplinary workshops for the range of disciplines, skills, and characters found on projects, to help find collaborative solutions or to help the team understand the emerging issues around project risk, procurement, or cost management.

Again, as with other new skills required by CEQSs, special training programs for facilitation would be required, starting, of course, in universities.

The Use of Computational BIM

Technology will be central to the future role of the CEQS profession and specifically as computational BIM, the next frontier of BIM tools, gets set to boost efficiency across the construction lifecycle. Such advanced BIM modeling is already being taught at universities and requires designers to better understand how to interrogate their BIM model and get the best out of the data.

For the CEQS profession, this presents great opportunities due to their inherent closeness to, and familiarity with, the project data. 

But it also presents great challenges, not least from the need for the new profession to accelerate its own understanding of the emerging discipline.

Some form of computational BIM will have to be taught to CEQS professionals so as to expose them to the outer limits of the use of BIM. That will mean understanding how to interrogate models, how to find optimum solutions for value engineering purposes, or how to identify cost drivers.

It will be a big challenge as the speed of technological advancement is so rapid. What once took a design team months to do, can now be carried out in minutes. The CEQS profession must evolve to keep up.

Operating in the Global Environment; Operating in the Virtual Environment

Meanwhile, the world is getting smaller as actual and virtual borders are being torn down. Firms are increasingly moving the main bulk of their measurement activities to more cost-effective parts of the world, leaving traditional graduate roles ‘outsourced.’ 

However, this challenge opens up great opportunities for the young CEQS who will now be tasked with acquiring the new skills required to manage these outsourced, virtual processes. They will, in effect, move further up the project value chain, adding greater client value and so commanding greater reward.

This new world of global teams will also require greater collaboration and greater scrutiny, with more checks and balances to ensure all parties understand the requirements. Virtual communication will mean embracing new tools and virtual or augmented reality models will be critical to understanding- and costing - construction challenges.

Investment in research and development will be essential to drive this technological revolution – and require sufficient fee levels to fund such advancements.

Conclusion

The scale and pace of change sweeping across the construction industry mean that leaders must act now to embrace the new world. While the core skills of cost management and cost engineering will always remain embedded in the QS and CE professions, there is a need to broaden the vision of existing professionals and new graduates to align with the new global, customer-focused view of modern clients.

For a new CEQS profession to emerge, time must first be spent looking inwards to ensure that the profession has the required skills and that they are backed up with a managed approach to knowledge and information sharing.

However, by aligning the profession with the future needs of clients, these new skills will inevitably help elevate and futureproof the profession. It will see the CEQSs will move up the value chain, keeping the sanctity of the profession intact while remaining relevant long into the future.

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