SES was established over 40 years ago as part of the privately owned Shepherd Group. Today it provides the design, installation and maintenance of M&E services for multimillion-pound projects in the public and private sectors.
The company employs about 700 people and has an annual turnover of £100m, 27% of which comes from the education sector and 17% from healthcare. Projects range from PFI and ProCure21 schemes to city academy and Building Schools for the Future projects. Chris Symeonides, commercial director, explains how early involvement is the key to a successful project.
The modern methods of procurement like PFI mean we can add value to the design because we are selected early on. Good specifications are the ones where there is no divorce between the design and installation. Even if we are the install-only contractor we’ve got to understand the design and liaise with the designers and consultants. Often, when things go wrong, it is when specification is done before we’re involved and it’s too vague.
The big PFIs we’ve done are examples of where we’ve been involved for a year and a half before the main contractor hits the site. This means when you get to site, the entire specification has been sorted out already. People have to remember that engineers have to interpret the specification: the more straightforward and self-explanatory it is, the more chance there is of getting it right.
A lot of healthcare projects are challenging because of the number of different facilities under one roof. You get multiple clients within one organisation and have to sit down with each to find out what it wants. The technically challenging projects aren’t always obvious, as those that are complicated M&E-wise get a lot of the attention. It’s the easy ones where they don’t employ specialists early enough that get complicated and ones where there is a catch-all specification because they don’t know what they want.
Although there are talks of recession, the healthcare and education sectors are still busy, making resourcing a big issue. It will be interesting to see the effect of the Olympics and projects like the next phases at Heathrow on things like labour.
The global market can also have an impact on things like raw materials. We saw this with China, and India will be doing the same. Before, on big M&E projects, we wouldn’t look more than a year ahead when we were ordering materials and plant. Now we’re looking three to five years ahead.
Interestingly, we don’t source more stuff from China than we did before. We keep an eye on what’s available globally, but there is a danger of buying a widget that on paper looks cheap, only to find it doesn’t get to site on time and holds up operatives for a day. With labour being so expensive, it is about getting it to the right place at the right time. You’ve also got to think about the availability of spares and the lifecycle cost. That’s probably been the biggest change in the industry in recent years – you can’t just think about the cost of individual components, you need to think of the whole equation.
The world according to …
My dream specification is …
A clear and concise brief we’ve influenced. Then the most complicated job in the world can be a dream.
My nightmare specification is …
One where we are involved too late and is woolly and vague. That’s when things start to go off the rails.
The one product I swear by …
Multi-service modules that allow hot and cold water pipes, ductwork, sprinklers, fire alarms and even parts of the structure to be prefabricated. You have to make sure you have enough there to make it practical.
The worst piece of red tape is …
Unnecessary contract amendments that don’t focus on what you’re trying to do. People put in clauses without looking to see what they are trying to achieve.
The biggest issue in the future will be …
Resources. If you’re going to go after a project you first need to check out what other projects are going on around it.
My one piece of advice …
Specification isn’t a problem if you get into the design and understand it. Attention to detail and risk management are words people should live by. You shouldn’t leave it to luck.
Specifier 20 March 2008
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SES: All wired up for M&E