At the first CIMCIG Chairman’s Debate this week, the question on everyone’s mind was what could we do to streamline procurement processes and procedures across the supply chain.
How could we make it more efficient for both the public and private sector and keep the necessary rigor while still delivering quality?
Fortunately, a panel of construction industry experts, representing government, the skills and materials supply chains, the client and the contractor, were on hand to give us their view on the key procurement issues. The invited audience of senior players, from mainly specifiers and contractors, were keen to hear what the panel thought lay ahead and what we should all be doing about it.
It was an evening of lively debate refereed by CIMCIG chair Ian Exall and fuelled by comments from government chief construction adviser Paul Morrell, CPA communications and external affairs director Simon Storer, ECA president Diane Johnson, NHS Procure 21 senior policy and performance manager Cliff Jones and Argent Group director Tony Giddings.
There was a general consensus that a huge challenge lay ahead in how to satisfy the client while meeting the low-carbon challenge and still delivering enough profits to the supply chain to keep it viable. There was a suggestion that the previous good times in construction have allowed us to get a bit too comfortable with the status quo.
Realisation has finally dawned that if we as an industry can’t meet the challenges that lay ahead many of us won’t survive the downturn. It was clear that everyone in the room was there because they felt that things need to change - and not just for them and their clients but for the sake of the whole industry.
The common themes that ran throughout the debate included:
- The need to eliminate wasteful procurement processes - cutting down on time-consuming tendering and prequalification processes that waste resources and threaten to exclude SMEs;
- Running projects in fully collaborative BIM;
- Developing an integrated approach to procurement that would bring the whole supply chain on board at the earliest stage;
- The need to introduce value engineering into the process as early as possible - to the benefit of client and supply chain;
- More transparency and openness at every stage, and at an earlier stage, to engender trust and better relationships across the supply chain;
- Getting everyone involved in the process to take some responsibility for changing it in order to move the industry forward - it’s not just down to the clients or sections of the supply chain. As an industry we need to ensure that the client has the necessary training and guidance to make informed decisions;
- How to work collaboratively while remaining competitive;
- How best to ensure security of payment for the supply chain so that SMEs don’t get caught up in the financial fallout of contractors;
- How to make better use of the knowledge pool in the supply chain to ensure the clients get what they need;
- What to do about the ageing workforce and the dwindling skills pool. Are we sleepwalking into a skills shortage or are we relying on SMEs to train the workforce of the future?
There was much to talk about, but the biggest consensus was in the need for the integration of the whole supply chain into the procurement process. It’s clear that no one group has all the answers, so if we are to move forward we will have to work together to develop solutions that work for everyone - clients and supply chain.
The other thing that was made abundantly clear was that we can’t continue to sit around waiting for someone else, like the government, to sort it out for us. Although these are challenging times, and it’s not going to change any time soon, we are in a position to change our industry processes to meet the challenges.
It’s good that we can have the debate but it’s definitely time to stop talking about it and work together - client, supply chain and trade organisations - to make it happen. We know our industry, and its needs, better than anyone and it should be us, not the government, that puts in place the reforms we need to keep the construction industry healthy and viable.
The ideas are there and maybe what is lacking at the moment is the leadership to move it forward. We need to be less parochial and more collaborative on initiatives that will improve procurement for the client and the whole supply chain; address the issue of our ageing workforce and the dwindling skills pool; and support the SMEs that are at the industry’s foundations. These can only be good for the industry but they needs to happen now.
The report from the first debate will be available on the CIMCIG website shortly.
Deborah Rowe, principal consultant of Sheba Marketing, is a member of the organising committee for the Chartered Institute of Marketing Construction Industry Group (CIMCIG).