Letter to the Director of the ASAQS re lack of innovation


(this letter refers to the Note from the President’s Desk, originally placed on www .asaqs.co.za and copied below for reference)

    Dear sir,It is always easy to say “told you so” once somebody else has had the audacity to speak out in public and point something out. It is even worse then not to speak out in support if the point made is so valid as is the case when the president of the ASAQS is honest about the lack of innovation in our profession.

It was observed in 2004 at the ICEC conference in Cape Town, that while the architectural and engineering professions have moved into 3D, the project cost methods have remained 2D.

Even computerisation in quantity surveying has largely only made manual methods a bit faster and removed a spot of menial work out of it, but has not really contributed to the full utilisation of modern information management. There are niched exceptions, but the applications of these are very limited and not improving a total service delivery and product offering.

The president’s remarks put another question mark behind CPD and whether it is then achieving anything. Meanwhile the minister engrosses herself in centralised control and much energy and resources that should be spent on improving the profession’s service and delivery, are absorbed in political wrangling.

We need more honest debate about the direction of our profession and active encouragement of research. And we need real academic credible research that focus on method, on standards and all other technical and hardline product-related issues.

The toning down of building activity that is becoming visible would have negative effects, but would present the opportunity for innovation and improvement to come forward. It is easy to look good in the good times, but when things get tough, quality, efficiency and innovation becomes survival tools.

This does not mean we should lose the best of the old-fashioned tools. In the engineering industry you would see how much there is still to be done to show the value of the best old-fashioned principles of taking-off and bills of quantities to achieve cost control that adds value. Sadly, it is not only engineers who fall flat in this regard, but also many well-meaning quantity surveyors that are unconsciously incompetent to apply the principles learnt from Standard System for Building Work approaches successfully for engineering works, and thus one can not blame some project engineers that act one bitten, twice shy when a “QS” offers his services for an engineering project. Here again: training is inadequate and obviously produces more rules-based clerks than professional quantity surveyors that really understand the underlying principles of what they are doing.

It would be interesting to see how the various firms and the profession in general respond to the challenge and opportunity. Meanwhile its good to see a president speaking out and he deserves the profession’s support.

Leonard van der Dussen

June 2008


I have for many years been bemused by the lack of significant change / innovative development within our local profession. For example, although having been out of the mainstream of QS practice for approximately 20 years, the dire warnings that I received from well-intentioned friends that if I were not to ‘keep my hand in’ I would quickly become ‘displaced’ is just not so. I regularly interact with QS practices and although there have obviously been changes in practice operations, standard forms and documentation etc, on reflection, I am unable to identify even one primary ‘skill’ that is required of a QS in general practice today, that was not normal practice when I left private practice and entered fulltime academia. This would obviously exclude the use of computer technology, but maybe there we have also lost a skill in the rush for standardized documents, model BOQ’s etc – the ability to think laterally in terms of design appraisal and specification composition. In fact, in my opinion, some of the quite useful skills commonly applied in previous years and which could be usefully employed in practice today, appear to be sadly lacking amongst younger professionals locally.

I was reminded of this a few days ago in a chat with a friend of many years, John Powell from the Cape, who pertinently raised the question of what we were doing as a profession to play a leading role in the ‘green movement’ that will undoubtedly be a major future challenge in the building procurement process. I fear that unless we make a real effort, this may be another field where opportunities to become an acknowledged ‘leading profession’ may be lost and we are once again relegated to the position of ‘followers’.

What do we need to do to take our place in front? There are a number of problems to overcome. Firstly, most academic institutions are hopelessly ill-equipped in terms of resources to provide direction. Progress initiated from this source is normally a product of scientific research. Unfortunately, the shortage of academics in the country, as well as a lack of a ‘research ethos’ in our local profession largely closes that door. A further issue to contend with is the nature of our South African practices, which predominantly comprise few qualified practitioners, who, if they want to be at the leading-edge, are practically isolated from like-minded persons.

It seems to me that in order to improve the situation, we will need to draw upon the goodwill of our larger practices with international connections to lead the way. From the Association’s side, we have very recently appointed a specialist committee to provide guidance in terms of QS interest in environmental matters. At present, the group is comprised of Gerhard Brummer (Chair based in Gauteng), and Frans van der Walt, together with Johann Richards who are both based in Richards Bay. At this stage they have an ‘open’ brief. If you are keen to become involved as an active participant in the future development of the Green Movement within the construction sector, I am sure they would welcome hearing from you. Who knows, maybe this will be the key to some of our members promoting our profession as ‘expert specialists’ in a changing property / construction sector.

Rob Pearl

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