Webinar shines light on consulting engineer selection process

28 Jun 2022

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The latest event in FIDIC’s ongoing webinar series on 28 June 2022 offered important and topical insights into some of the ever-evolving practices for the selection of engineering consultants, writes FIDIC communications advisor Andy Walker.

Evolving practices for the selection of engineering consultants was organised by the FIDIC Business Practice Leadership Committee and speakers at the webinar stressed that correctly selecting an engineering consultant will have a major bearing on the value delivered, quality, whole-life project cost and the timeliness of delivery of projects. Speakers also made the point that getting the selection process right also has a beneficial impact on public safety and realising the commercial benefits associated with infrastructure and superstructure projects.

Introducing the event, which was attended by around 250 industry professionals, FIDIC president Tony Barry said that selecting an engineering consultant was one of the most important decisions an owner or client makes when they embark on a project. “Every project is unique, each with their own challenges, and at the start of most projects, it can be difficult for clients to perceive and understand the complexity of their project or the extent and scope of professional services that may be required to develop a solution,” he said. “That’s why appointing the right consultant – in the right way – is absolutely crucial and it’s always why FIDIC has for many years been producing guidance on the selection of consultants for use by clients, both private and public,” said Barry.

Barry also said that FIDIC lived in the real world and recognised that cost is also a consideration for clients when selecting their consultant. He said that speakers at the webinar would address this and highlight how, when cost is a selection criteria, “you can still maintain good project outcomes and avoid cost considerations becoming the discriminating factor when it comes to selection”.

The webinar was chaired by Andrew Read, managing director of Pedersen Read in New Zealand who is also the chair of FIDIC’s Business Practice Leadership Committee and the speakers included Mark Steiner, principal consulting advisor at the American Council of Engineering Companies, Tesfaalem Gebreiyesus, lead procurement specialist at the World Bank, Mahmoud Khliefat, director general of the government tenders department in Jordan, Bisher Jardaneh, executive chairman at Arabtech Jardaneh Group and Fatma Colasan, owner and managing director of GEN-TES Engineering.

First speaker Mark Steiner, principal consulting advisor at the American Council of Engineering Companies, said that today’s projects were ever-more complex and that the consultant, working as part of a team, was crucial in navigating this complexity. “Clear selection criteria helps considerably when choosing a consultant,” Steiner said and made the point that the selection process should also encourage efficiency and innovation. “The objective should be to create a partnership,” he said. Steiner also highlighted that the selection process was not the place to make significant cost savings on a project.

Tesfaalem Gebreiyesus, lead procurement specialist at the World Bank, spoke about the bank’s core principles and how these affected procurement. “Some of the key selection methods we adopt for consultancy firms include quality-based selection,” he said. Gebreiyesus said that the quality element was around 80-90%, showing that the bank considered this a key requirement when procuring consultants. He also made the point that once a shortlist had been prepared there was a ‘two-envelope’ approach adopted by the bank to assess technical quality and cost. To enhance transparency and integrity, the bank gives unsuccessful consultants the opportunity to raise issues and there was a full review of the process undertaken, he said.

Mahmoud Khliefat, director general of the government tenders department in Jordan, gave an overview of the standard bidding documents and government procurement approach in Jordan. He talked about the procurement complaint review that was available for consultants to use if they were unhappy about selection decisions made. This was a first for Jordan and he hoped that it would include the procurement process. This was being backed up by capacity building training to ensure that those implementing the process were supported and the gradual introduction of e-procurement would also help in this area too, said Khliefat. He also said that Jordan had avoided going for a ‘lowest-price’ approach to selection and pointed out that procurement was “one of the most important tools” at the government’s disposal.

Bisher Jardaneh, executive chairman of Arabtech Jardaneh Group, highted that there were different approaches taken to procurement and selection depending on the sector, especially in the oil and gas area. “Having said that, it is good to see countries like Jordan looking to improve matters and address best practice procurement, while still considering cost,” he said. He welcomed the third edition of FIDIC’s guide to the selection of consultants and said that he was “more and more hopeful that transitional methods would be adopted” on the journey to a full QBS-based approach.

Fatma Colasan, owner and managing director of GEN-TES Engineering, spoke about FIDIC’s recommendations for the remediation of QCBS applications in order to improve project outcomes. She highlighted some of the procurement concerns of consultants, which included the preparation of shortlists and longlists and the potential discrimination against smaller or less well-established firms. “Invitations for shortlists should be announced publicly and during shortlisting consultants should be evaluated on the basis of their past performance,” she said.

Limiting the number of shortlisted firms, with a minimum of three and a maximum of seven, was also advisable, she said. Shortlisted consultants for projects should also be made public to improve transparency, said Colasan. FIDIC had listened to feedback from the industry and a number of these procurement concerns had been taken into account by FIDIC in preparing its QCBS guidance on consultancy selection, which Colasan hoped would be beneficial to the industry and would help in the project procurement process.

The speakers’ comments provoked many questions from attendees during the discussion about the different approached to procurement across the global industry. Summing up the discussion, FIDIC president Tony Barry thanked all the participants and said that the insights and experiences the speakers had shared had shed more light on the crucial issue of consultant selection and offered some sage words of advice for attendees.

Click here to view details of future FIDIC webinars and to book places

A recording of the webinar is available below.

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