With construction industry growth having remained subdued since the start of this year and government spend on large construction projects having declined dramatically, there has been a trend towards lowering consulting costs to win new contracts and remain competitive, says multidisciplinary engineering consultancy firm WSP Africa MD Mathieu du Plooy.
“Firms are really looking at how they can differentiate themselves and build strong relationships in the industry to remain a professional service provider of choice.”
Du Plooy stresses that this trend is putting the entire industry under strain and is having a particularly adverse effect on medium-scale consulting firms. He explains that, while small firms can cater to niche market demand for smaller consulting contracts and large firms enjoy the power to apply their abilities across multiple client bases, medium-sized firms are being priced out of the market and are currently hit the hardest.
However, he notes that, while the decline in service pricing is undoubtedly a significant industry challenge, it is also an opportunity for the uptake of new global approaches to consulting engineering. “This challenge has resulted in WSP’s focusing its efforts on the adoption of the latest global technology to optimise project efficiency.”
The company has focused on providing a service that remains a value-add to clients and their projects by focusing on project efficiency and the uptake of value-add technologies that enhance project quality, explains Du Plooy.
For example, the uptake of sought-after global technological and consulting trends – such as virtual project visualisation technologies, using composite materials and detailed asset management – has allowed for greater client involvement, improved total life-cycle costs, significant project efficiency and asset longevity. This allows WSP to collaborate more effectively with clients and project teams, and ultimately to ensure a more successful outcome.
Du Plooy says the implementation of innovative approaches by consulting firms has increased significantly in South Africa, which he attributes to an overwhelming interest by local clients to be involved in low-impact design projects.
“The impact of how engineers are designing and building is consistently a conversation that is now taking place in South Africa’s public and private sectors. Conversations, such as how the industry could design a clean coal-fired power station that respects water constraints, are really changing the way consulting firms approach clients’ design challenges.”
Du Plooy states that the shift towards global innovative design approaches came to the fore in the past decade in response to the global refocus on environment-conscious building and the adoption of new global design techniques.
While WSP is locally focused and well established in South Africa, it has a large range of tried and tested international technologies and expertise that it can apply to local consulting and design challenges. The company prides itself on integrating its extensive understanding of international best practice with its vast local industry experience, he concludes.