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#ThoughtLeadership #1 - future skillsets and Client facing business model(s)

Inspired by an RICS webinar held on 25.03.20, detailing the institutions own journey of Digital Transformation, hosted by Neil Shah and delivered by Paul Kirkpatrick – CTO, RICS, this note is offered with reference to the transatlantic discussion that took place and should be considered a “statement of intention”, written in first person.

“…. Our vision is to be recognised in key international markets as the leading body that develops and enforces professional standards and offers access to the most sought-after professional status….”

Neil Shah – MD, RICS Americas

Essentially our role as Chartered Surveyors is to promote excellence in professional standards in land, real estate, construction and infrastructure which we have been doing successfully, since 1868. Through the promotion of our standards, and with reference to our core objectives, we aim to:

  • Protect the public

  • Grow the profession [and promote diversity]

  • Increase the profile and credibility of the profession

  • Support Members [recognising the diversity of the talent pool]

  • Take the latest industry thinking to inform governments and policy makers

However, as of March 2020, we are in the midst of a perfect storm that – regardless of our professional Pathway – will ultimately require that we further develop our client facing skillset(s) and deploy ‘new’ (more dynamic) business models. The decision as to whether or not we engage in this new way of thinking has suddenly been lost to a series of ‘relevant events’ that many of us were rendered powerless to control. Regardless of our traditional deliverables and/or comfort zones of professional practice, our (un)defined beliefs and/or cultural biases, as a forward-thinking profession – we must maintain a firm desire to achieve better Client facing outcomes. And, as we arrive safely, at the end of the first working week of our #NewNormal in the UK, the time for decisive action is now (effective immediately; 27.03.20) through the lens of a ‘global’ profession.

Never before has the profession been presented with such a wide-ranging, multi-faceted opportunity to effect real and sustainable change, in the interests of both our Clients and the wider public realm. Whether you are a Building / Commercial Real Estate / Environmental / Facilities Management / General Practice / Project Management / Quantity or Valuation Surveyor; our skillsets are being refined – literally as we speak – principally by the impact and co-existence of technology and climate change. Amidst the current paradigm-shift we are now obligated to relocate our ‘back-office’ architecture and support structures into ‘the cloud’, to effect a seamless transition to allow us all to work from home. Despite the industry not having a say in this immediate, over-night requirement – as a profession – we appear to have responded well although, the true resiliency of our traditional business delivery models ‘BDMs’, will continue to be tested and challenged in ways that were not even conceivable at the beginning of 2020. The #NewNormal is the virtual Client, collaborative office, agile design team, all required to work without contention, on some semblance of a digital twin. So, as a Quantity Surveyor and with reference to #PQS2030, I want to begin to contextualise some of the risks [or ‘inverted’ opportunities] that have been presented, in particular to the role of the construction Cost Manager. For clarity, the term ‘QS’ and ‘Cost Manager’ will be used interchangeably to describe my role.

Just as Alan Jones, the 78th President of RIBA has challenged every practising Architect to determine “….What is core? What is needed? Not needed?...” such a bold move has stirred my own creative waters, and unleashed a particular gripe of many in the Surveying profession; see Alan’s challenge here. Convergence between the professions has (and will continue to) see the design process becoming increasingly democratised through ‘friendly collaboration’; such as the recent evolution of the Plan of Work 2020 by RIBA. Additionally, here is yet another example of a ‘disruptive’ technological tool, destined to support the architectural community, where “….RIBA International are on the lookout for members in practice and architecture schools with expertise in Artificial Intelligence (AI). This could include working with Big Data to create intuitive environments, planning Smart Cities and the use of smart materials, a Parametrics Design approach or advanced visualisation skills in both projects and research….” The closing date for submissions is 3 April 2020. Source: RIBA

The common denominator to all parties to a construction contract [i.e. the payer and the payee]; the evolving role of the Cost Manager has been destined to change not least because of the impact and presence of data rich BIM models. Driven by the need to better articulate the management of vast quantities of [largely unstructured data] into readily accessible, intelligent information that we both create and have access to, the future QS must be better equipped with and empowered by emotional intelligence too. Machine learning and artificial intelligence ‘AI’ will feature greatly in the delivery of our future role both as a team player with a common core and as the custodian of cost and value during the construction process.

However, our ethical and technical judgement will remain critically important, given the myriad opportunities being created, which continue to be positively influenced by the ever-increasing convergence between the demands of the built environment and growing tech sectors. The growth of Internet of Things ‘IoT’ and simultaneous emergence of digital twins, yielding smarter buildings, has also meant that the importance of accurate cost modelling, particularly whole life cycle costs – as part of an early stage project feasibility – provides Clients, comprehensively, with the comfort that [but for the unforeseen / force majeure] the project(s), as designed, should remain cost effective to maintain over the designated economic life. Such clarity, will also ensure that the anticipated ROCE is not only achieved [in real time] but accurately measured and benchmarked against other similar assets, possibly across the globe. Such was the need to create the increasingly successful ICMS benchmarking tool.

Yet, despite the obvious benefits and increasing Client demands for greater transparency of the process and even more accountability for our own actions, there are practising Surveyors in our profession that outwardly oppose even the slightest mention of or reference to a ‘gamechanging’ industry development, called 5DBIM. As an early adopter – as far back as 1994 – I am not a complete traditionalist and remain totally committed to delegating the more mundane elements of my ‘traditional skillset’ to those that are better equipped to undertake and complete them. For over 350 years, as stated above, the role of the QS has pretty much revolved around ‘core skills’ being the measurement, quantification and pricing of construction work and not just individual buildings; in many cases entire cities at anyone time have been designed and built. The evolution of the fee-paying commercial offer being ‘measurement and pricing’, has in many cases, been indirectly outsourced to an array of software vendors, much of which is 'free to use’. There are plenty of examples of software firms all of whom are attempting to ‘add-value’ to the initial or early stage financial viability of a project, focussing squarely on the project’s construction cost, even at a very high level. That enhanced functionality can be swiftly acquired via online subscription to much of this readily available software, is a sure sign of things to come, which in many cases are capable of interacting with other design tools, that collectively [albeit with some challenges] both interpret and engage with design data in a meaningful way. Historically, it was the QS that had been at the core of the initial ‘quantification process’ but many informed Clients are now beginning to push the boundaries, referring to other open-source platforms in seeking to test and ‘dry-run’ an array of viability stacks / option appraisals that ‘check and/or verify’ the validity of the construction cost, akin to services still offered by the traditional Cost Manager. To evidence this growing aspiration, informed colleagues over at industry Client: Quintain are developing an interesting 7DBIM solution on a scheme over in North-West London.

Predicated on machine learning and AI, a similar trend has emerged with the advent of the Automated Valuation Model or 'AVM'’ which continues to have a profound impact on the professional role of the Valuation Surveyor [or Appraiser as is referred to in the US]. Akin to the ‘future skillset’ required of the QS, many in the Surveying profession will need to be more proficient in the use of technology, and willing to relinquish the more mundane and time-intensive elements of our work to other resources amongst our professional toolkit. Industry publication Estates Gazette commented in July 2019, via their online presence EGi – stating “….Valuation is an art not a science. But data-driven automated models are a powerful new tool we should embrace, albeit with a healthy dose of human will and empathy…” Henry Morten, EGi.

With new market entrants and strategic relationships being forged across the globe, between established tech giants and more recent start-ups, like that between Amazon and Realogy, the future direction of travel for AVM’s has been charted and is further reviewed here by RICS.

To the extent that the evolution [by way of technological disruption to] the Surveying profession, is somewhat inevitable, I am of the opinion that, ‘traditional elements’ of the role of the Cost Manager, specifically ‘quantification and measurement’ will progress and remain at risk of a similar trajectory to that of the AVM, resonating quite possibly with a variation of the ‘Freemium’ model. By relinquishing such labour intensive and time consuming business processes to appropriate third parties that are better placed to administer them (ordinarily the terrain of the QS) will actually release the Cost Manager to proffer and assist fee-paying Clients with higher-value transactional work and strategic advisory. Other key issues that continue to envelope the over-arching administration of the entire construction process, including the calculation of embodied carbon and/or pre-manufactured value, will suffice along with critical insight of the functioning supply chains and project risk. To achieve the above, with such an aspirational level of ‘cloud-based’ autonomy, it is increasingly likely that truly collaborative projects will [sooner rather than later] have to be procured and delivered with a ‘smart contract’ overlaid on a blockchain that will forensically administer and record an array of mission critical tasks – for the economic life of the project – all, in real time and optimal pursuit of a non-contentious project environment.

In summary, it is time that we take stock [again!] of our auditable processes, making those necessary areas redundant (in accordance with professional standards and PI obligations), innovating elsewhere in the Clients best interests, particularly in an environ fraught with uncertainty. Wherever ambiguity exists, arising from a geographic footprint of ‘remote’ activity that has increasingly become global, with risk management at its core – it is incumbent upon us to recognise and implement, new ways of working to mitigate such risk(s). For me, the only tangible option in 2020, is to continue to interrogate the war chest of big data, innovate where appropriate and celebrate the big data successes; whilst recognising and learning from any failures along the way. Mindful of the cultural needs of Gen Z as the next generation of industry leaders, most of whom will be demanding new ways of working – and rightly so – we must not forget that our Clients [and the planet itself] simply deserve the best that we can muster. Time is no longer on our side; over to you.

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