Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management

ISSN: 0969-9988

Article publication date: 6 September 2011


McCaffer, R. (2011), "Editorial", Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, Vol. 18 No. 5. https://doi.org/10.1108/ecam.2011.28618eaa.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Article Type: Editorial From: Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, Volume 18, Issue 5

ECAM 18.5 has papers on the subjects of improving a nation’s construction industry, relationship development in alliancing contracts, simulating the supply chain in a tunnelling project, risks in public-private partnership (PPP) in China, developing manpower capability and a review of the literature on ethics. The research methods employed include focus groups and the two-stage Delphi technique and in-depth interviews. These all indicate a direct dialogue between the researchers and the practitioners with a greater involvement in the research by the practitioners. Hopefully this has generated a greater understanding of the issues by both researchers and practitioners that simple surveys cannot provide.

It took 15 authors to produce the papers in this issue with two each from Indonesia, Australia, China and the UK, three from Hong Kong and four from Canada. One paper is a joint paper between two institutions in China and Hong Kong. One paper is produced jointly by staff from a university, a city council and a company. Joint papers between academia and practitioners provide good evidence of the relevance of the research.

The papers in this issue are as follows.

Wirahadikusumah and Pribadi report on Indonesia’s efforts to improve the quality of the national construction industry. The research conducted is an attempt to evaluate the Government’s requirement to certify professionals and skilled labourers. The study used focus groups as the main source of data and information. These focus groups were carefully constructed with representatives from professional associations, construction companies’ and consultants’ associations and the Ministries of Manpower and Public Works.

These focus groups identified root problems in the certification process such as the numerous types of specialist licences, the authority of non-governmental bodies and the inadequate control of Government. The recommendations arising include putting back more authority to Government, distinguishing between voluntary and mandatory certification and establishing an independent licensing board. This paper examines an existing system intended to improve the quality of Indonesia’s construction personnel and it found the systems had great weaknesses. The resultant recommendations may well correct some of these weaknesses, only time and trying them will tell. This approach seems to be developing the systems required incrementally. Maybe in practical terms that is what is possible. Whether there are more fundamental issues relating to society, attitudes or expectations are not addressed here.

Davis and Love explore whether value can be added through relationship development in alliance contracting. Alliancing and partnering is intended to unleash the benefits of collaboration between the various members of the supply chain and so improve the quality and performance of the projects. These benefits can only be achieved if the alliances build and sustain relationships between the parties. Easy to say, difficult to achieve and the contribution of these researchers is to provide a model to help develop the relationships. The data sources were 49 in-depth interviews with experienced practitioners from different backgrounds such as clients, contractors, design consultants, construction lawyers, and alliance facilitators.

From this the researchers identified a recognisable structure to relationship development underpinned by specific themes. This framework provides a model that aids relationship development. The importance of individual relationships, trust and organisational development are highlighted. Some time ago companies groped towards collaborative alliances. Frequently these only worked well when a strong, capable and well-informed client was driving the alliance. It seemed that alliances needed the client to force issues of organisational development and raise expectations on trust. As the functioning of alliances develops, research is now explaining how they work. This gives the prospect of more, or perhaps all, of the parties involved having a better understanding of the process they are in and creates the opportunities for relationship development being more widely understood, accepted and pursued.

Ebrahimy, AbouRizk, Fernando and Mohamed have researched the supply chain of tunnelling construction projects using simulation. The researchers developed a detailed simulation model of a real life tunnel together with its supply chain of liner segments and demonstrated the importance of modelling the whole supply chain in the planning stage. The importance of issues such as storage space, lead times and quality control are highlighted. This paper is a demonstration that simulation is an important tool in supply chain management.

This paper appealed to me for nostalgic reasons. As a student working in my summer vacations the very first job I was employed on a small (2 m diameter) lined sewage tunnel. I was one of the team that was shooting lines and levels for the miners (pre the use of lasers). This was a pressured role as the tunnel miners, who were all much bigger and stronger, earned their bonus by how fast they drove the tunnel. Stopping for setting out was not welcomed. Also we planned out the delivery sequence of the liner segments as storage space was limited. It all looked good on paper. But when the early segments arrived and were bolted together the flanges of the reinforced pre-cast segments cracked. Quality had let us down. We did not have a simulation model to help us plan but one would have helped.

Ke, Wang, Chan and Cheung try to improve our understanding of risks in China’s PPP projects. Using a two-round Delphi approach with experienced practitioners the researchers identified the key risks encountered in China’s PPP projects. Surveys were used to provide the data for evaluating relative risk and to calculate a significance index score. The researchers identified the top ten risks and the consequences of these were further evaluated. This has allowed the authors to provide comments on commercial principles and contract terms.

This is an interesting paper in the context of China. Whether the risks are significantly different than elsewhere is not clear nor whether the probability of the risks and their consequences differ from elsewhere is also unclear. The authors base their work on China’s decade of experience of PPP. However PPP has been practised elsewhere for longer. So what I would really like to see would be a paper that brings experiences from round the world together highlighting how the risks mutate with time and experience. I have the feeling that PPP here in the UK is not being embraced with the same enthusiasm as it was. I think what is driving this is the realisation of the long-term costs suggesting that PPP may have saved public money at the front end but that the ongoing costs are really much too high.

Elgrari and Ingirige have examined the privatisation and manpower capability development from the Libyan house building market. Given the rebellion in Libya in 2011 it is fair to conclude that the conditions that prevailed when this research was conducted no longer prevail. So the decision is to determine the worth of this research. The argument for publishing is that the case studies based in Libya at the time represent a model for other countries and regions engaging in joint venture housing projects in developing countries where manpower capability is in need of a step change. In developing countries the need for housing is great and this manifests in Government targets that cannot be fulfilled because of a lack of capability in manpower. The researchers argue for a tripartite strategy between the Government, foreign investors and local house-building firms to enable an integrated strategy to develop manpower capability.

Ho reviews the literature on ethical decision making in an effort to improve ethics management in construction. The author reviewed the critical literature from 1980 to 2008. Ethical business is now expected and I have seen evidence of companies refusing to do business with another company because of unethical conduct. This research aims to close the theory-practice gap.

The author identifies three research focuses and goes on to highlight the management role in bridging the theory-practice gap. I sense that this is a research field that will grow.

Ronald McCaffer