Delivering engineering services in a changing digital world

ACE has taken a key first step in practically articulating some of the emerging industry thinking and trends about how services are delivered on a project in an increasingly digital and collaborative environment. Richard Shennan explains.

When the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) embarked on an update of its highly popular Schedules of Services for Civil and Structural (C&S) and for Mechanical, Electrical and Public Health services (MEP), it soon became clear that the new edition would need to address a number of industry changes, with a key primary focus on improving overall efficiency. It also takes account of the need to embrace the growing focus on the performance of buildings in use, as evidenced by the introduction of Government Soft Landings, based on the principles established in the earlier BSRIA publication.

The result is a contractual document that is clear and up-to-date regarding what and how services and deliverables are commissioned, whilst remaining flexible enough to accommodate a range of procurement and information exchange methodologies. Both C&S and MEP schedules identify core and optional deliverables at each stage of design development.

It’s all about information

A major challenge was related to BIM. The option of identifying BIM or non-BIM pathways through the schedules was considered, from various perspectives. Our approach was to focus on the purpose and value of the information to be delivered at the various stages, which from most clients’ perspective is the information that they need to make well-informed decisions as they progress through the stages of their project. Whether this information is derived from, or delivered in, a model-based format or through the more established medium of drawings and specifications is something that can be agreed between the parties, but it does not change the fundamental requirement to fulfil the required purpose.  

Options for procurement

The preferred procurement method will always vary, depending on a range of factors that are specific to client and project profile, such as size, complexity, risk allocation, project financing structure and the particular experience of the client. A common driver is the pressing need to reduce waste and duplication of effort, seeking a seamless interface between the work of the consulting engineer and various contractors, fabricators and specialist suppliers that are an essential part of the design effort. 

The new edition aligns with the RIBA Plan of Work 2013 in making reference to common procurement methods and identifying the work stages at which tender would typically take place for each but stimulates an early conversation about the content and purpose of the information provided by the consulting engineer at each stage to suit the agreed method. 

In the MEP context in particular, there was a need for clarity on the level of definition in the information delivered to the client through the work stages.  For this the schedule takes advantage of the availability of industry-standard definitions of content. The preferred definition in UK is the two-strand Level of Detail (graphical) and Level of Information (non-graphical) developed by NBS aligned to the current PAS 1192 series, but the American Institute of Architects LODs could also be used. Once again the emphasis of the schedule is that the purpose of the information is paramount and it can be delivered in different ways to suit the parties.

Allocation of design responsibility

Putting together a building of almost any level of complexity requires the skilled inputs of a wide range of participants, ranging from consulting engineers through to contractors, fabricators and manufacturers, much of which might be classified as ‘design’. As all parties increasingly work around common information sets, there is a great opportunity to increase overall efficiency and deliver better value to the client if each party can be clearly responsible for the things that they are best suited to do, collaborating together for the common project objective. 

Careful thought is required at the outset to see that design responsibilities are properly allocated for each stage of the process so that the services captured in the agreed schedule fit together without gaps or overlaps with those services provided by others, to meet the overall best interests of the client. Consultation with BSRIA on the ongoing development of BG6 has been of particular value in the context of MEP services. 

Collaboration and Leadership

In producing the new edition, ACE has consulted widely and has actively engaged with other organisations that are moving their own ideas and publications forward, with the aim of helping the industry to work towards an integrated set of publications that together help all parties to collaborate and deliver project objectives as efficiently as possible in an age where waste is not affordable. 

Richard Shennan is global BIM leader at Mott MacDonald and a member of ACE’s schedule of services working group.