Oliver Jones - To prosper in the changing market, consultants must become innovative service providers
During the past few years, the uk building industry has made serious efforts to introduce efficiencies, innovation and dramatic cost reductions.

The message from large and sophisticated customers, from academics and from government has been that professional managers and service providers must lead fundamental changes in building and business processes.

Delivering projects to budget, programme and quality targets will no longer satisfy the more sophisticated customers, who are looking for differential efficiency and much lower costs on each project.

Smart management is required as today's customer will not pay for problems – only solutions. This change is illustrated by a number of trends: the increasing tendency to outsource non-core services; the integration of services to provide one-stop-shops; public-private partnerships; and partnering between buyers and suppliers in which the burden of project and performance-based risk is shared.

The focus today is also on how we will consign to history the traditional inefficiencies that have typified the professional services element of the industry. Consultants in particular have to evolve to become true service providers, with all that entails in terms of being close to the customer, adding differentiating services and offering valuable peripheral benefits.

This is the arena in which we at Citex are operating. However, the real challenge is not in understanding the need to evolve but in making it happen in an industry that is known for a widespread and inherent resistance to change.

As a cultural group, the British are renowned for conservatism, for defending the status quo and frequently deferring decisions or preferring analysis to action. But opportunities abound for the individuals and companies that evolve fastest.

The rapid growth in the scope of technical management is now notable, with genuine innovations in areas of project management, construction management, commercial management and facilities management. Each of these moves reflects a strategic shift in positioning, a move up the service value chain towards the customer by offering more of what the customer is increasingly seeking.

We are all chasing the same people: change agents who understand management and have customer service and financial skills

These developments include:

  • Underwritten capital and operating cost savings of 30% and more, developed through close partnerships with aligned suppliers
  • Top quality people at all levels of the process as a result of the skills enhancement of many expert professionals within the industry
  • A single point of contact to handle the complete process, demanding larger multidisciplinary firms, and more project-based and strategic alliance consortiums
  • Substantial data management and internet/IT capabilities able to distil data into decision-informing core criteria
  • A high level of confidence that cost, time and quality targets will be met – a factor that can in practice only arise over time and through bold risk management.

The practical problem, however, is that both contractors and consultants alike are now heading for the same market. We are all chasing the same people: those exceptional change agents that will make the difference, those who understand technical management and have customer service and financial skills.

For us the solution will come through changing people: to start with, by investing in training and development, but then if necessary by trading up skills through recruitment from other sectors.

The top financial rewards will only be for the leading players, on the buyer and supplier side alike, but I believe that many will struggle to get there alone.

Inevitably, experienced players will recognise that collaboration rather than competition may be needed and more medium-to-long-term alliances will emerge.