The post-modern QS: to be or not to be?

Now I don’t profess to be technologically minded but having recently had a discussion with an overseas client of mine about the changing landscape of cost and project management on a global level, the future of the QS in the face of advancing technology is something I’ve been thinking about recently. Given my own career pivots on the existence of and furthermore, the shortage of qualified quantity surveyors, it’s a critical topic!

The changes that challenge the role of the traditional Quantity Surveyor are two-fold.

Firstly, we need to look at the intersection of the PM and the QS role and how they work together. The particular consultancy I am working with that sparked this conversation is based in the USA and I work with similar businesses in Australia, all looking to educate their clients on the role of a cost consultant and its importance in the development process. This is something that the commonwealth countries have not embraced as much as here in the UK. Bringing a cost consultant into the piece earlier on in the development process to help manage costs from the outset, not just firefight when the project runs into trouble, is an uphill battle for these countries where the cost consulting market is simply not as revered or indeed ‘advanced’. In the US and Australia, for example, it is often the architect that appoints a QS for a project rather than the end-client and doing business this way very much renders it a commodity market. There is always someone that will do things cheaper. As a cost consultant in the UK, you are highly regarded and very much considered to be an autonomous professional entirely integral to the development process rather than simply an add-on service when the money runs short.

The UK PQS market is very unique and something quite special in this regard, entrenched in tradition and resilient to change. By challenging the nature of the way things are done elsewhere, can this be mirrored and the same reverence placed on the role of the QS elsewhere in the world? Or, is it this same resilience to change that will be the downfall of the QS in general? It is not a new opinion to suggest that only those consultancies embracing of progression and innovation will survive as a business. But what if the very essence of what a QS does is threatened?

The comparative lack of importance placed on the role of a cost consultant in the commonwealth construction industries, for example, where the Project Manager or Architect pull rank, begs the question; who is really in charge of a project? Will the role of a PM/QS merge and become one? Will the once stand-alone professional QS become all together obsolete?

Afterall, to quote my client, ‘surely it really comes down to decent cost intelligence, well executed design documents, smart procurement strategy, a solid contract, a good contractor and a well-behaved owner!’ Should the offering, therefore, not be quite simply a well-rounded ‘construction consultant’ instead, with nuances of cost or programme specialisation? Is this the direction that my US client should be taking in terms of disrupting the industry over there? Looking ahead and pre-empting the obsoletion of a QS rather than trying to educate developers to bring one in earlier on?

Secondly, the very pertinent backdrop to all of this is, of course, technology. AI is a serious game changer when it comes to the new directions bound by the construction industry as a whole. With reference to cost management specifically, just a few years ago the likes of CostX was seen as progressive cost management software, for example, but with the introduction of cloud based technology such as Itwo, the beginnings of big data and its interference with the traditional construction industry model are becoming very prominent. These developments will be paramount to the role of a QS in future years.

To play devil’s advocate, the shortage of experienced cost consultants is still a very real issue here in the UK and the push to attract young people into the industry a serious undertaking….but ultimately, the question should be asked, will the jobs still be there at the other end?