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Viewpoint | Closing the gap to save costs

Adam Bennett

After many years of driving costs out of the construction process, is there any more we can do to offer greater value for money?

I would argue that if we persist with the traditional structure that has been embedded in the industry for decades, then scope for improvement is limited. However, ways in which to leverage the skills and knowledge of organisations at different stages for delivering complex projects may yet yield more potential to bring a lot more savings to the process. 

A common example, is where a customer engages a consultant to do some early work, and below that is a designer, then a contractor, and then the maintainer or operator. These organisations tend to be separate and contractually different. They all have their different drivers, business demands and ambitions, and all get involved at a certain stage in the project life cycle.

In my experience of this process, it has been a strong collaboration between the customer, including their representative, and contractors at project outset that has highlighted true potential for programme efficiencies and cost savings, because it is so often that the contractor brings the practical buildability and safety context. 

This is often referred to as “early contractor involvement” (ECI) and there are many examples where this has brought considerable benefits. I believe there is much greater benefit to be achieved for customers by engaging those that “build and operate” much earlier in the process to help shape programmes and achieve improved value for money. 

This is a step change from the traditional hierarchical model and fosters greater exchange of knowledge and innovative ideas between people.

The expertise that contractors can offer is not limited to design and buildability. At Costain we have staff working with Highways England to run their building information modelling change programme; we are involved in supporting customers through behavioural safety programmes; and we are advising on how to manage local stakeholders through development consent order processes. There is a whole range of challenges that we can approach through the mindset of delivery and achieve greater value for customers. 

I am not advocating contractors taking over someone else’s role, however, I am advocating potential for further cost savings and improved knowledge transfer by involving contractors throughout the entire project life cycle.

  • Adam Bennett is Costain’s advisory and consultancy services manager for highways

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