Quantity surveyors are building a new identity in the Middle East region
In the wake of the global financial crisis, commercial viability is now a key consideration for any project developer around the world. The need to control and monitor costs is no less apparent in the Middle East region. Coupled with the fast-paced execution of ambitious, complex projects – such as the $1.2bn Kingdom Tower in Jeddah and the $2.7bn Dubai Parks & Resorts – and it seems that quantity surveyors have become a greater priority for developers than ever before.
“Clients these days take more notice of us and our cost advice than they did in the past,” Ralph Hodgkinson, managing director of Trafalgar Technical Services (TTS), says.
“The Dubai market for quantity surveyors has changed a lot over the last decade. Developers have begun to understand that we have a certain method of operating which should not be altered, and they are now more cost-conscious than they were before.”
Hodgkinson’s colleague Richard Taylor, senior quantity surveyor at TTS, backs up this sentiment. “We were just a bank figure earlier,” he says. “If the client wanted to build, he would find a builder who could do it for him, and everyone else was in the background.
“But we’re listened to a lot more now, and some of the clients we work with really engage with us rather than setting us into a corner, as was the case back then. We have a lot of knowledgeable clients who understand where we’re coming from. This approach was missing previously.
“America still struggles with fully understanding what a quantity surveyor does, but thankfully we look like we’re overcoming that hurdle here.”
However, many in the region would beg to differ; despite growing acknowledgement of their role, quantity surveyors still tend to be confused with cost consultants by some sections of the construction market. Erland Rendall, director for Currie & Brown’s operations in Dubai, plays myth-buster to explain the difference between the two.
“One of the common generalisations about quantity surveyors is they are ‘brick-counters’. Indeed, even clients and occupiers/users have strong views of construction, with the two main parties – designer and constructor – recognised for either having created the design or enabled its construction. Quantity surveyors are viewed as secondary and perhaps adding little value to the end product.”
Rendall argues for quantity surveying to be fully appreciated as a professional discipline. “Surveying is undertaken to manage all costs relating to building and civil engineering projects, from the initial calculations to the final figures,” he says.
“Quantity surveyors seek to minimise the costs of a project and enhance value for money, while still achieving the required standards and quality. They lead in the process of procurement, tendering and contract award.
“The role will then move into the post-contract stage which, dependent on contract form, will either administer the contract or support the employer’s representative or engineer in the administration of the contract.”
As with most construction trends, it takes the backing of a developer to promote a new product or construction practice.
Taylor explains how an increasing level of due diligence from developers has reduced the impact of cost and time delays on projects in the region.
“Quantity surveyors prepare a bill of quantities [BoQ] after the final design has been approved. However, clients in the past were accustomed to altering designs while the BoQ was being repared, leading to duplicity and increased costs. Clients are more engaged nowadays.”
The size of a development firm may also influence the perceived value of quantity surveyors. “Small-sized developers tend to be easier to work with because they are seeing the bottom-line results, which is not something a large-sized developer might immediately think of,” Taylor says.
“Quantity surveyors can act as middlemen between the various construction parties and ensure that the project targets are met.”
Do quantity surveyors and cost consultants perform exactly the same role on a project? Not necessarily, according to James Parker, projects director for Mott MacDonald and RICS Valuation Professional Group member for the MENA region. “The functions are similar in many ways: prediction, control, forensics and the production of information to enable decisionmaking,” Parker says.
“However, determining the true benefits case and driving out the value proposition of the asset and long term potential ‘in-use’ savings is more associated with cost consultancy than quantity surveying.”
Parker says the interchangeability of the terms can be attributed to the many similar activities between the two disciplines. “Cost consulting seeks to advise clients about the cost of their proposed asset throughout its lifetime. Quantity surveying, by its connotation, is much more related to project development, determination of capital expenditure and construction contract administration.”
The distinction between cost consulting and quantity surveying has also blurred over the years, due to surveyors aiming to enhance the market perception of their services.
“Individuals and businesses have looked to rebrand themselves as construction cost consultants rather than pure quantity surveyors,” Rendall says.
“Evidencing the enhanced portfolio of services that are offered whilst seeking to remove a traditional label and ensure a more attractive and contemporary image. The functions do overlap, with quantity surveying providing the foundation skillset and expertise.”
However, Rendall asserts there are nuanced differences between the two functions. “In contemporary construction environments, the demand is generally for cost consultancy.
Quantity surveying forms a part of that overall service and provides the core discipline and skillset on which cost consultation is then built.
“The addition of specialist strategic advice, business and financial planning, optioneering, value and risk management, specialist procurement, contract and legal advice, project delivery and operational aspects of project costs results in a subtle but clear differential between the two service offerings.”
As is the case with most disciplines in construction, technology is playing a pivotal role in advancing and altering the services provided by quantity surveyors in the GCC.
Parker states: “Increases in computing power, in terms of applications and data volumes, and the use of BIM mean that far more information can be created and possible design options analysed beforehand. Furthermore, big data capability is now allowing for more information to be captured. Therefore, cost modelling has the capability to become far more structured and predictable.”
Rendall reiterates Parker’s views on BIM, commenting: “It is now a key trend due to the ability to sequence time and cost into the digital model prior to actual physical construction taking place. The requirement for workflows to operate effectively within the digital environment is a prerequisite.
“With new methods of designing and constructing including robots and 3D-printing, the continued development and evolution of the quantity surveying and cost consulting industry will be maintained in a Darwinian fashion.”
Rendall concludes that the opportunities are there for the taking if quantity surveyors are willing to ignore market stereotypes regarding their role, instead focusing their energies on harnessing technology to improve their trade.
“Advances in technology and service offerings result in the development of quantity surveyors into cost consulting and then across the whole asset life. This has enabled surveyors to form a new lead role which is respected and valued across the whole life of a project.”