Three decades ago Clive Cain started work as assistant architect with Coventry City Architects. Today, as director of quality at Ministry of Defence department Defence Estates, he designs not so much buildings as the processes by which they are delivered.
Cain is the principal architect of Building Down Barriers, a DE initiative that has anticipated Government-wide commitment to making procurement of buildings and civil structures more efficient. His materials are contractors and suppliers. His design methodology is about supply chain management and delivering value for money to the client, not just in construction but over the life of a structure.
The outcome of Cain's work at the drawing board is two partnering projects - Building Down Barriers - that have defined the term prime contracting and promise to deliver dramatic savings to client and contractor alike.
One of the projects, a training and recreation facility for Aldershot Garrison, with Amec as prime contractor, went on site last week and should deliver savings of 15%. 'That's half way to Latham,' says Cain. 'Not bad for a first attempt.'
As a result of the initiative Cain predicts contracting and supply chains will become more integrated and the distinction between them increasingly blurred. The term 'prime contracting' will be replaced by 'prime supplying' as materials and services are increasingly delivered by one firm. Differences in specification and build quality in a structure will be removed.
That the construction industry was short-changing not only its clients but also itself dawned on Cain when he was an architecture student in the mid-60s, labouring on construction sites during college vacations. He was struck that designers and engineers almost never called on the skills and experience of the tradesmen he was working alongside.
An opportunity to do something about the problem was offered in 1978 when Cain became project and design team manager within the Department of Environment Property Services Agency. He represented the PSA on a contractor- led research team appointed by the Department of Environment to identify faster, more efficient procurement routes. The group recommended a design, develop and construct procurement path, which Cain subsequently trialled on three projects.
In 1983 Cain was promoted to PSA Midlands regional design manager. In command of an annual turnover of £5.4M and 120 in-house staff, he created the PSA's first dedicated project management unit with increased authority to ensure it 'was in full control of events and not controlled by events'.
Cain evolved a 'customer first' approach that involved extensive consultation with the client before design took place. As a result, he says, the buildings delivered were tailored to fit the client both when they took possession and over a lifetime of occupancy.
In 1989 Cain was appointed director of technical standards at the Defence Estate Organisation and it is from there that he has made his strongest mark on the construction industry with the introduction of prime contracting.
There is work to do in reinforcing the prime-contractor culture within DE, across Government and in the construction industry, says Cain. He is concerned that the industry could lapse into inertia without continued crusading and, approaching retirement, he is looking for a successor.
However, his contractors have been marketing supply chain management skills learned through Building Down Barriers. That, and the competitive edge it lends them should, says Cain, 'be enough to put the fear of God into the industry'.