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Management consultants and civil engineering firms are starting to do each other's jobs.

Lines blur between disciplines

WHEN BUSINESS consultant Arthur Andersen advertised for people experienced in tackling contaminated land, more than 200 engineers replied. The respondents represented the cream of the industry, says environmental services manager Pamela Shimell.

Andersen skimmed off the top six - 'very experienced people' - recruiting from Hyder Consulting, Mott MacDonald, Knight Piesold, WS Atkins and Enviros Aspinwall. Shimell anticipates more high calibre environmental engineers will join Andersen in the near future.

Other management consultants are also starting to build up environmental expertise. Dames & Moore has recently lost environmental staff to Price Waterhouse Coopers.

Part IIa of the 1990 Environmental Protection Act is driving this recent flurry of activity. When it comes into force in April, it is expected to remove some of the risks associated with land remediation by introducing less stringent regulations.

Shimell predicts a dramatic growth in work involving contaminated land in the coming months.

As a large multi-disciplinary management consultant, Andersen has a wide array of in-house skills at its disposal. This enables it to offer an easy-to-deal-with, one-stop shop service to clients seeking advice on anything from project finance to management issues.

Adding environmental services widens the skill base, further, taking what is generally seen as a pure management consultancy and accountancy firm into an area traditionally occupied by consulting engineers.

The move is 'a logical extension of consultancy in finance, insurance or law. Contaminated sites require economic analysis,' said one senior civils consultant.

Civil engineering consultants are not especially worried about Andersen's incursion into their market.

Arup environmental director Peter Braithwaite says that, in the short term, Andersen and others firms like it will still need help from independent remediation specialists.

However, Braithwaite contends that it is only a matter of time before Andersen diversifies further to provide engineering solutions as part of its service.

As business consultancy spreads into engineering, engineering firms are moving in the opposite direction, offering legal, project management and financial services as add ons to their core disciplines.

The likes of Arup, Halcrow and WS Atkins all offer at least some of these services, through either in-house expertise or established links with external specialists.

Dames & Moore managing principal Steve Laking says his firm is consolidating its presence in contaminated land by developing business consultancy strengths internally.

Arup's Braithwaite doubts whether business consultants and engineering consultants can ever become interchangeable, though.

The strength of a designated environmental engineering consultant lies with its track record and the combined skills and experience of its technical personnel. Though individuals are important, the collective reputation of a company has more buying power, he believes.

Laking agrees: 'In the same way that Dames & Moore will not ever become a fully-blown financial services company, financial services companies will not turn themselves into credible environmental companies.' He warns: 'If they are going to make a big splash, they will have to stage a takeover.'

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