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Let's get personal


Competitive dialogue: is it a short term procurement fashion or a genuine solution to the age old problem of finding the right partner in life.

Certainly the feedback from winners and losers following the Olympic Delivery Authority's (ODA) pioneering use of the process is overwhelmingly positive - it's tough, it's expensive, it's hugely disappointing if you fail to win, but ultimately it's a helpful addition to the bidding process.

Whatever the outcome of the ODA's recent competitive dialogue, the teams and individuals on both sides of the contract seem to have gained from the intensity of the gruelling two week love match. At worst they emerged more aware of their own strengths and weaknesses.

At best they were genuinely inspired by the experience.

It is not unusual for teams to have to 'live and breathe' any important bid over a long period. You are unlikely to win any major contract nowadays without substantial effort and input from a huge number of people. What appears to have been different here is that the face to face competitive dialogue process made the individuals 'feel' more involved. It clearly all got very personal.

Getting personal in construction is no bad thing, particularly when it comes to a job as important as the 2012 London Olympics. After all, success in construction depends heavily on people and personalities.

Having spent time over the summer judging the British Construction Industry Awards, I am acutely aware of the contribution that the right combination of individuals makes to the success of the overall project.

Our judging visits consistently highlighted how a well functioning delivery team, from client to contractor to designer to sub-contractor, will overcome adversity. It doesn't always happen. The industry is still sadly still littered with the results of teams that didn't gel and struggled to fulfil their briefs.

So any procurement process that helps clients find the right teams to solve their problems must surely be applauded. The more you know about potential partners in advance the better.

And crucially, any process that ensures the same team of individuals that bids for and wins the tender actually turns up to run the job cannot be a bad thing for the industry. How often do clients see jobs awarded to an 'A-team' only to be handed on to the 'D-team' to deliver?

Already, Scotland is dipping a toe into competitive dialogue on the M74 - albeit to refi ne the bid after contract award.

So should we now see the competitive dialogue process rolled out across the industry?

Well perhaps not.

The Office of Government Commerce's on-going review of the 2012 procurement process will shed more light on the pros and cons. But I suspect it will rightly conclude that while there are very clear benefits to be won from such an open and revealing process, in particular on very and complex big projects, it is not necessarily the complete panacea the industry has been long seeking.

And competitive dialogue is not, as the ODA makes clear, the sole measure of a bidder's worth and will not be appropriate in all procurement cases. It is time and resource consuming.

Clients - and bidders - will have to judge whether it is worth committing to.

That said, the industry would certainly benefit from more emphasis on the 'touchy-feely' relationship building aspects of the business. If competitive dialogue can help then we should be encouraging it.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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