RICS, Infrastructure and the Role of the Commercial Manager

Andrew Covell
I was delighted to be asked to contribute to a campaign by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) to promote the value of the Commercial Manager on infrastructure projects and why RICS qualifications matter to the role.

As part of this campaign I have joined a number of peers from across the industry in being profiled on the RICS website, providing my perspective on what the role involves and why it is a critical element for infrastructure projects. The RICS are now planning to produce a video to capture my thoughts on film in support of this campaign.

Commercial managers look at things proactively and advise on potential issues with a real emphasis on driving and achieving value. Controlling costs is at the heart of how we do this. For example, a margin of error of 5% on a £10k project probably won’t break the bank – but when it's on a billion pound contract that is a very difficult conversation with the Project Director.

Commercial managers look at things proactively and advise on potential issues with a real emphasis on driving and achieving value.

It is important that we get the estimates right on these projects, projects that are underestimated are rarely delivered successfully as budget problems lead to delays, redesigning and late changes. Therefore it is crucial that we track the estimates and designs along the whole programme cycle. You also have to remember that there is a fine sequencing arrangement in place on these projects. A small delay on one contract could mean you lose weeks and then the whole programme and budget is at risk. There are great opportunities now for commercial managers on all sides of a project, including the contractor side.

This is in part due to the increased length of projects that are now being undertaken and the broader role that a commercial manager undertakes. For example, on a typical building project the standard length of contracts could be 12-18 months, however for something like Hinkley Point it's 10 years. In terms of career progression RICS qualifications could really help a professional working on these longer timescales to progress from assistant commercial manager to lead commercial manager on the same project.

There is a perception that infrastructure is all about civil engineering and that people working in infrastructure are “ditch diggers” to use an old phrase, however this is far from the truth. The perception issue does exist but things like the Crossrail documentary on the BBC really help the profile of the industry. Infrastructure offers a range of professional career paths and the opportunity to work on some fantastic ‘once in a lifetime’ projects.

Collaborative working drives “best value” and “best value” is what leads to successful projects.

Infrastructure is a very different sector to work in. For example we know how to build a house – it's a standard product. But for projects like bridges, power stations, stadiums there is no standard template and lessons learnt have to be adapted from other projects. There is a need for skills, and a need for people who can have a rounded strategic view of a project. BIM has a major part to play as well. We need QS’s but also people with related skills such as IT and data management.

Additionally there is more collaborative working in the industry, so people need to be team orientated as consultants and contractors now increasingly all work alongside each other. Collaborative working is the way forward - these are lessons learned from the Olympics, Terminal 5 and other such projects. Collaborative working drives “best value” and “best value” is what leads to successful projects.

RICS, for me, is about trust. Clients and investors recognise the brand and know that is stands for quality. On a personal level I think that the RICS qualification brings competence, focus and discipline to the estimating process. This really helps me in my day to day role. Looking forward I believe that the work RICS is doing on international standards is really important. Infrastructure and construction would really benefit from consistent and agreed standards.

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