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Feature article
RMIT Swanston Academic Building by Lyons is an exemplar novated D&C GMP project. Photograph: John Gollings

Frameworks for Procuring Architectural Services

WORDS BY Alan Findlater

I have approached this discussion piece from the perspective of a client side project manager with experience in the procurement of architectural services and different procurement methodologies for large institutional projects.

As the Scottish comedian Billy Connelly says ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothes’. It is with this in mind that I have picked up on the themes in the opening editorial and comment as follows:

Alternative procurement methods

Alternative or ‘new’ procurement methods are commonplace and generally work well when everyone understands the rules, when there is a willingness to work together, and when quality practitioners execute it. However, these alternative methods generally don’t work well if the rules are not well understood, there is a lack of trust, or those executing lack experience and the required level of capability.

Also, alternative procurement methods come and go (like the weather) and seem to rise through becoming fashionable. Novation is perhaps the new black! But they seem to fall from favour over time through bad execution. I think it is the bad execution that tarnishes a new approach and makes people believe that the method doesn’t work. Remember, there is no such thing as bad weather.

Novated contracts

Novated contracts are becoming more prevalent and seen as a standard option for clients to select due to the apparent flexibility it offers them. Novated contracts offer increased cost and time certainty by transferring risk away from the client, and quality can be protected though good contractor design management and transparency.

The Swanston Academic Building (Building 80) for RMIT University by Lyons is an exemplar of a novated Design and Construct (D&C) Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) project. Excellent quality outcomes finished ahead of time and under budget.

Lyons’ Melbourne Brain Centre and the Peter Doherty Institute by Grimshaw Architects and BillardLeece Partnership, both for the University of Melbourne, are also success stories with both projects being finished on or ahead of time and on budget.

However novated contracts can be problematic on a number of fronts if they are not well understood, or not well managed in the pre or post novation phase by the contractor. I think most practitioners are aware of good and bad novation experiences, which can polarise opinion about whether novated contracts are good for clients and the industry.

Peter Doherty Institute for The University of Melbourne by Grimshaw Architects with BillardLeece Partnership

Photographer: Peter Bennetts

Contracting the documentation phase to other service providers

In the relentless drive to reduce costs, contracting the documentation phase to other service providers may well gain traction. Delegation may work better for simple projects but the more complex the project, the less likely this is going to be a value for money outcome for the client. The design process is holistic and not just a set of discrete tasks that can be salami sliced and distributed to different parties. Good design and good outcomes tend to come from integrated approaches rather than disaggregation.


Calling tenders for architectural services at nearly every phase

I do not see the overall benefit to the client of calling tenders for architectural services at nearly every phase, and generally I cannot see circumstances where I would recommend it. Changing horses mid-course or even more frequently adds cost and time to the process, undermines depth and continuity of thinking, and is likely to increase the extent of client and user consultation to the point of frustration.

It is unclear what is driving this phenomenon. Is it probity, staged financial approvals, lack of certainty of projects proceeding, or perhaps just lack of good thinking and an aversion to responsibility?


Clients get what they deserve

Experienced clients are more likely to seek out quality advisors and practitioners, which lays the foundation for successful outcomes. However there seems to be an increasing number of clients who are ‘in a rush’. Time pressures for various reasons mean that what was a fast-tracked approach on the last project becomes business as usual on the next project.

Procurement can also get lost in the ever increasing complexity of getting projects started. The requirement for business cases, gateway reviews, probity compliance and other such requirements can leave the procurement process unresolved or not integrated into everything else that is going on.

Clients take advice from various sources including internal and external advisors which through experience, both good and bad, colours views. This can result in a likes and dislikes approach which may not be the best fit for the specific project requirements.

I came across a recent survey into procurement practices which identified that there are a lack of procurement specialists, certainly in the public sector. In recent times, this has manifested due to ongoing outsourcing which has reduced the pool of skills in the public sector.

Finally, inexperienced clients are more likely to be tripped up by the attraction of apparent cheaper upfront costs or may not invest in a robust procurement process at all. This increases the likelihood of them paying the price in the long term. As they say:

‘a golf ball that is 5 degrees off at the tee ends up a long way away from where it should be’.