January, 2000

Executive Director's Notes

The Value of Professional Engineering

By Neil Windsor, P.Eng.

Sound engineering practice requires that engineers receive proper training -- usually starting with a university degree, followed by on-the-job training and mentoring by other seasoned professionals -- before qualifying for professional registration status and the right to use the designation P.Eng.

Life-long learning, to ensure continuing professional competence, is a part of a professional's career path in order to ensure up-to-date engineering in a rapidly changing world. Engineering is one of the professions given the privilege of self-governance through an Act of the Alberta Legislature.

Users of engineering services may have professional engineers on staff, while others outsource their engineering needs to private sector consulting engineering firms. The users of engineering services rely on the experience, qualifications, reputation and demonstrated capability of the professional consulting engineer to deliver modern technology, innovation, quality and service. The value to the user of professional services is the assurance of project safety, reliability and efficiency.

Purchasing Professional Engineering Services

Users of engineering services should select a consultant on the basis of quality of service, references, track record on research and development, qualifications, previous relevant experience, performance demonstrated by an in-depth understanding of the client's needs, ability to meet schedules, and ability to bring innovation and cost savings, rather than just cost.

The particular task or project determines the type of consultant required. It is important for users of engineering services to know consultants' qualifications. Consulting engineering firms invest significantly in developing technology to stay at the forefront of their profession. They may also engage the services of other specialized consultants to bring the best team to a project.

A practitioner who is not well versed in the particular technology being applied, or who has not made the appropriate effort to ensure continuing technical competence, may offer services at a lower cost or at a lesser fee. Unless the user is very knowledgeable, has a clear understanding of the nature of service being provided, and the engineering services are limited in scope, the user will not be well served in considering price alone.

Other issues that need to be recognized in the consultant-client relationship include:

Clear communication and trust between client and consulting engineer, this is paramount for optimum results.

The scope of work could change after the consultant selection, potentially requiring a fee re-negotiation.

Competitive price bidding may result in selection of other than the most qualified consultant and produce less than optimum results.

Bidding may cause adversarial relationships to develop with clients.

Adoption of conservative "proven" designs in favour of custom work could lead to higher capital or life-cycle costs.

Selection of services based on price competition does not ensure provision of best technical expertise.

Consultant Selection

Selecting the best-qualified consulting engineering firm is paramount to the successful completion of a project. There are a couple of methods that can be utilized to hire a consulting firm -- sole source selection or the two-envelope bidding process. Regardless of the method chosen, the process should be open and fair in providing consultants with opportunities to participate and be objective in consultant selection, screening and evaluation.

Sole-sourcing provides a timely, cost-effective method of selection and focuses on establishing the appropriate scope of work and developing long-term, successful business relationships with one consultant. The user of engineering services should select consultants by inviting credentials and preparing a short list. A draft terms of reference can be prepared with the assistance of an engineering firm, if required. A preferred engineering firm is selected and the terms of reference are finalized. The fee and terms are negotiated with the consultant and a contract is entered into.

For very large or complex projects, where the need for innovation is significant, the proposal approach to selection may be appropriate. Detailed terms of reference should be prepared possibly with the assistance of a qualified and experienced independent consultant. Proposals should be invited from a maximum of three engineering firms based on previous knowledge and experience with these firms. Consultants should be made aware of the evaluation criteria in advance, including project understanding, methodology, team qualifications, applicable experience, references, and other relevant information. The proposals should be in accordance with the terms of reference. The best-qualified engineering firm should be selected on the basis of competitive ranking and interviewed to confirm suitability, following which the consulting fee should be negotiated using the APEGGA/Consulting Engineers of Alberta (CEA) suggested fee schedule as a guide.

In the end, the consumer is best served by the selection of the best qualified consultant offering the most innovative and cost-effective solution based on life-cycle costs.

Neil Windsor, P.Eng., is APEGGA's Executive Director and Registrar.

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