Applying Consistency in Construction Costs on an International Scale

Simon Longstaffe
Comparing yourself against others is a natural human condition, we all do it in some shape or form and client bodies are no different.

They want to know they aren’t paying more than they should be for an asset, that they’re achieving value for money. Within the infrastructure area there is a huge focus on benchmarking, particularly with government bodies as they also want to be able to demonstrate that they are getting value for money, and a perceived easy way of doing that is by benchmarking against other schemes.

Whilst working at HS2 I led a study into the benchmarking of UK High Speed Rail against European schemes, we struggled to get enough information to ensure that the benchmarking was of use. Comparing a km of route against another scheme when you don’t know the topography of the site, whether it is running through rural or urban areas etc. could lead to false confidence in your numbers.

Part of our role at Faithful+Gould is to provide clients with cost information that enables informed decisions. Recent exercises have demonstrated how difficult this is to carry out as the way construction projects are reported and costed varies significantly from one sector to another and from one market to the next.

What our profession currently lacks is a common language and framework for classifying and reporting construction costs.

These differences make it difficult to compare projects within sector, within market and around the world, increasing investment risk and impeding transparency. What our profession currently lacks is a common language and framework for classifying and reporting construction costs.

Help is at hand in the shape of the International Construction Measurement Standards Coalition (ICMSC). This is a growing group of more than 40 professional and not-for-profit organisations from around the world, who have worked together to develop and implement international standards for benchmarking, measuring and reporting construction project cost.

The lack of a uniform approach can lead to confusion and the inability to compare schemes and assets within schemes on a like-for-like basis. ICMS achieves uniformity by standardising the high level presentation of costs on projects by providing global consistency in classifying, defining, analysing and presenting construction costs at a project, regional, state, national or international level.

This project is the first of its kind, bringing together numerous organisations from around the world to create shared international standards for presenting construction costs. This first edition of ICMS focuses on capital costs; however, future editions of ICMS may incorporate other matters such as costs in use.

ICMS achieves uniformity by standardising the high level presentation of costs on projects by providing global consistency...

Consistent practice in presenting construction costs globally would bring significant benefits to construction cost management. Globalisation of the construction business has increased the need to make meaningful comparative analysis between countries, not least by funding bodies such as the World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, various regional development banks, non-governmental organisations and the United Nations.

Construction organisations have been working internationally for many years. Research has shown, however, that different approaches to presenting the costs of construction can vary by as much as 25–30% due to inconsistent methodology and standards. Hence international standards are required to ensure global consistency in presenting the costs of construction projects.

This isn’t intended to replace existing measurement guidelines, e.g. NRM 1 and 2, or CESMM. Instead it’s an overlay for presenting and reporting construction project cost information to clients, stakeholders and funders at all project stages.

The ICMS will take effect from the date it is formally published, expected to be in the Summer, so we as a company need to be ready. To roll this out globally is a spectacularly large undertaking and therefore it is likely to be used alongside existing standards. Overtime as people start to use it and Government bodies ask for reports defined by it the ICMS will become established and eventually be used as the primary standard for reporting on construction cost both locally and globally.