Engineers call on public buyers to become 'intelligent clients'

Gurjit Degun
20 February 2014

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20 February 2014 | Gurjit Degun

Taking an engineer's approach to procurement could help the UK government improve the management of public purchasing projects, according to a report by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE).

Research by the RAE said government buyers must become “intelligent clients” to improve the commissioning of major projects.

“Those who manage procurement projects for government departments need to have good knowledge and understanding of the sector from which they are commissioning, and consider the entire life-cycle of projects when considering tenders,” said the RAE.

The report recommended taking an approach where a contract is broken up to allow several smaller contractors to take part. It also said having a clear vision and understanding of the purpose of the procurement is “vital”. The study explained this is the case for everyone engaged in the project. “Both the client and the supplier communities need the right skills to understand the vision and purpose,” it added.

The RAE recommendations include treating procurement as part of a wider project; steering away from monolithic IT contracts and infrastructures; and putting more trust in innovation.

“We wanted to support the positive but unfinished work undertaken by successive governments to improve procurement practice,” said Phil Sutton, of Imperial College London, author of the report. “By focusing on best practice in engineering projects, we found a great deal that can be directly translated into government process.”

John Armitt, chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) and a member of the expert panel behind the report, added: “Procurement needs to be included within the whole project planning process and not left to last once budgetary decisions have already been made.

“The success of the ODA, for example, was due to the extensive planning, faultless execution and commissioning. The project timeline of seven years included two years of planning, four years of construction and one year of commissioning trials and final logistics. 

“Although it might not always be possible to work on such timelines, including procurement in the planning stages of any project is likely to bring benefits.”

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