The Consultant and Delivery through Partnership

David CollingsThe following article is written by CJI project manager David Collings, M.Sc., and was featured in the July 2015 ACEC BC Young Professionals Group Quarterly Newsletter.

Simply put, a packaged delivery model is one where a company coordinates multiple disciplines of a construction project. This can add the responsibility of design to that of construction (a design-build or DB). It can further add long-term operation or maintenance of the asset (design-build-operate-maintain or DBOM). If adding financing responsibilities to the mix, it morphs into public-private partnership (P3 or DBFOM). These terms are commonly used in the infrastructure industry here in western Canada.

However, it quickly gets confusing when you move industries or countries. For instance, engineer-procure-construct (EPC) is similar to a DB, but used more commonly in the resource and energy industry. A private finance initiative (PFI) is the UK’s term for a P3.

But enough of boring terminology. Of greater interest is the dynamic these delivery models create between organizations and how they adapt to the move away from traditional design-bid-build contracting. The owner cedes much of its former project responsibilities to a private partner. The contractor is elevated from a pure “doer” role (building stuff) to coordinating the engineer and driving innovation between construction methods and design. The concessionaire provides the overall leadership, financing and input into long term life-cycle costing.

The most profound role change is to the engineer. Research in BC has found that consulting engineers participating in P3s and DBs need to alter business practices to keep up. Engineers will need to adopt less hierarchical and more decentralized organizations. This makes sense because of a fundamentally changed role. Their client shifts from an owner to a contractor; they operate in a more dynamic “fast-tracked” environment with a higher degree of complexity (more relationships between diverse and often international partners).

To illustrate this, picture yourself as an engineer embarking on a new P3 assignment. Your team is awarded the job and immediately backhoes start pushing dirt around. You are expected to produce construction drawings at light-speed and at the same time innovate and dream up new groundbreaking ideas. Wouldn’t it be nice to speak directly with the project manager and other engineers, and avoid all the usual bureaucracy? How else would you know that your new idea is going to work for everyone else on the project? Imagine waiting for head office approval of a new idea while a construction crew is waiting for your drawing?

Perhaps the most exciting change for consulting engineers is the abundance of new opportunities within the DB/P3 project. These complex projects need all parties to understand the technical challenges, while many may lack the expertise to do so. Hence owners, contractors, concessionaires, banks and lenders all hire engineers within their team. As the industry evolves and dabbles with progressive new ways of getting things built, consulting engineers will be relied on to address the problems of the entire industry, not just produce designs.