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March 2016

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As a great philosopher once said, it appears to be "Deja-vu all over again."

So it is not surprising that we in this industry seem to continue to replay yesterday’s issues, causes and themes. When we were researching the history of the OGCA for our 75th Anniversary, it was interesting that Board Agendas and minutes from each decade had the same key issues.

Issues such as safety, apprenticeship, contract clauses, fairness and transparency of tendering continually repeated themselves. While the issues remain, the details have kept time with new technology or procurement practices that have developed. Or have they?

The OGCA is not alone in experiencing this phenomenon, as many other of our fellow stakeholders recount the same re-occurrence of key issues relative to their members.

Recently the OGCA has been responding to more and more complaints of public buyers reverting to old habits that, when you question them, they actually believe are new. They often claim that the processes and systems they are putting in place are better and have not been tried before!

Reality is quite different. As procurement of design and construction services has benefited from new technology such as BIM and electronic tendering, the integrity, ethics and ultimate goal of designing and building have not.

Yes, we are developing better ways to improve but that should not be at the expense of our ethics and honour.

Why are we seeing a return to past bad, discredited and rejected practices like Best and Final Offer, Target Pricing, Reverse Auctions and seeing established industry practices ignored? Last year the OGCA spent a great deal of time defending the use of two stage closings even with some owners who had been using it for years!

Have we learned nothing in all of these decades about fair, open, transparent and reasonable procurement practices for design and construction?

What has happened to collaboration and working together? Why are these harmful and wasteful practices resurfacing in our industry? Why are buyers, including some that we have had long standing relationships with, reverting to old ways without talking? Not to mention some who are adopting methods and practices harmful to the industry and to themselves without consultation?

We have seen, in recent times, the rise of a purely academic tendering process from the States being released by Ontario Universities without any real consultation. Since when do U.S. academics know more about the Canadian system of tendering than our own academics and more importantly, our own architects, engineers and contractors?

Why did the Ontario government adopt an electronic tender system without consulting the industry - a system we and many forced to use reject as cumbersome and inefficient. Why are Third Party Verification companies gaining acceptance despite all evidence showing they are simply paper gatherers and do no due diligence for an owner? Could it be that today’s owners only look at the bottom line, that by outsourcing they are saving money and can reduce staff levels? Do they care so little for the lives of the people who build their projects?

Does all this seem familiar? Lack of collaboration, focus on low price, outsource responsibility and transfer risk ... have we learned nothing in the past decades about the uniqueness of design and construction? Or are we just too willing to ignore the past, forget the lessons learned because we think we are smarter than our predecessors?

I wish I had answers for you. Some have suggested it is a lack of expertise on the buyer’s side, a lack of corporate memory. We don’t deal with works departments and engineers anymore. We deal with procurement staff. Some say there are too many silos operating in many buyers’ organizations.

We ourselves are just as responsible for failing to take a stand against obviously bad situations, always having an excuse of "well, someone will bid" or "I had to make a business decision."

It is always easy to find excuses because to lead and stand for something can be lonely and yes, risky, but if no one leads then we can be assured that things will only get worse.

It is said that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. We in the construction industry are seeing a return to some of the most onerous and unfair tendering and procurement practices which sadly are not new!

While we still have success with a number of owners, those willing to meet and be collaborative, and while many procurement people we have met through procurement day and other outreach efforts, we are only treading water and the tide is rising once again.

As I begin my fifteenth year at OGCA it real does feel like "Deja-vu all over again."


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