New direction International standards can help provide stability in uncertain times

July 17, 2017

It’s fair to say that things are looking a little uncertain in the UK at the moment. We have a second hung parliament in seven years, with no party commanding a majority in the Commons after June’s general election,
and this could further delay vital decisions that had already been put on hold during the election campaign.We need clarity on a range of issues, including the construction industry’s access to skilled labour and the UK’s future relationship with the single market. A priority is to organise an effective government approach to provide confidence and certainty both at home and abroad, creating a stable platform for real estate, infrastructure and construction. Greater and more effective collaboration is required; but how do we achieve that amid such uncertainty?Global collaboration is also critical, but international businesses demand international standards. The recent launch of the International Construction Measurement Standards (ICMS) is a great example of 42 professional bodies working together in buildings and infrastructure across key global markets. Standards do work – and construction needs them for global alignment.

Common language
As the UK works through Brexit, international standards may assume greater significance. Providing a common language for businesses to interact globally encourages foreign investment in property and infrastructure.

Global businesses are seeking success by standardising the ways in which they work, to create greater efficiencies, encourage collaboration across regions and service lines, and reach a greater number of clients.
Combined with digital disruption, international standards in construction make the need for new ways of working even more apparent. The industry is ripe for disruption, as projects grow more complex and increase in scale. It will be even more important for everyone to be talking the same language, working to the same standards and embracing new technologies. However, the construction industry has not only been slow to adopt process and technology innovations but faces continuing challenges when it comes to fixing the basics.

BIM boost
The built environment sector is beginning to see the value of building information modelling (BIM) as it is adopted internationally, and so the case for international standards is becoming clearer. ICMS can support BIM and help provide a common direction on how far the technology develops in different countries. It will enable:

  • harmonising cost, classification and measurement definitions, to achieve comparability and consistency
  • providing real data for construction projects to inform decisions on the design and location of construction projects
  • gathering clearer benchmark data
  • helping our investors to make better-informed decisions.

For me, one of the most exciting aspects of ICMS is that they will help with the globalisation of the quantity surveying, cost management and cost engineering professions. Global recognition and promotion could lead to huge opportunities for professionals, creating an inclusive culture that attracts a more diverse workforce.

The challenge, however, is to balance a standardised service that offers increased transparency and reduced costs with a commoditised quantity surveying service where businesses can offshore more work and leverage different price points. Transactional cost economics come into play.

This won’t just benefit the global giants in construction, but also the smaller companies and software providers, as well as developers, users, professionals, governments and financial institutions.
As the built environment grows, so does the risk of uncertainty arising from inconsistent data, costs and ways of working. Our focus must be on building trust and collaboration to benefit the construction industry globally.

Bryony Day is Associate at Arcadis and 2016 winner of the Real Estate, Infrastructure and Construction category in the Women of the Future Awards. This article appeared in the RICS Construction Journal (Sept/Oct 2017).