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14 Feb 2024 • Tom Haley

Is the future of quantity surveying now?

As I continue with our #thefutureofquantitysurveying mini-series, I wanted to share some reflections on a recent Docusign report (2023 Digital Maturity) I read. The findings from the research provide evidence that the groundswell of change is happening now, and businesses need to adapt to ensure they attract and retain talent.

In short, the #futureofquantitysurveying is now.

My experience of Docusign’s transformational impact gave the report authority and credibility. I pioneered Docusign on a major international construction project in 2020 and I saw first-hand the way it transformed an administratively burdensome contract execution process making it simple and easy for both parties to the contract.

The Docusign report and its findings

The Docusign report benchmarks attitudes and perceptions to digital maturity among 1,800 business decision makers in the UK and Europe. I had always considered digital transformation to be primarily a productivity and performance issue but what struck me about this research was the people element of this issue, as the research identified that:

  • workers spend 12 hours per week on low-value repetitive tasks, 8 hours of which could be automated; that is one day per week, 20% of the working week, which is being lost.
  • employees want to replace days spent on low-value administration work and replace this with high-impact work.
  • 78% of respondents believe they are more digitally advanced than their organisations, and almost two thirds believe there’s a skills gap in their organisation around technology and digital skills.
  • The report identifies that this pent-up frustration is leading employees to seek new job opportunities, with a third already planning to leave their jobs to work for more digital-forward companies. There are opportunities for forward-thinking organisations to attract the best talent and improve performance and grow shareholder value.

Transformational barriers

I considered the “time and money” barriers identified in the report as the reason business leaders have not invested sufficiently in digital transformation. I am unconvinced this is the root cause reason and it occurred to me that maybe the underlying reason is business leaders do not know how to tackle this part of their business transformation or, even, do not know where to start.

I can see why this might be the case because, for most, these are unchartered waters. There is a lot of advice available, apps, systems, processes etc. The right solutions for a business are not always easy and, in my experience, businesses try to add more whereas my advice would be to work smarter by using what you have already. Often the data is there already and it’s just a matter of working with it to extract the right insights.

Thoughts that might help business leaders

For those leading a team, you may need to think about how you adapt to accommodate this desire for learning and development in this area. There are those, and I have heard people say it, that believe it has always been this way and is unlikely to get any better. This resistance might be effective for you in the short term but, in the longer term, you will suffer a talent drain and you will struggle to attract good people. Inevitably, that likelihood will increase over time.

It can be a daunting risk to manage. If you have managed so well in your career doing things one way, how do you design and open a slightly different path for those coming into the industry? There is so much training available, from structured degree programmes to informal self-help YouTube clips, that it can be difficult to know where to start with designing a suitable training programme. I imagine a lot are grappling with these challenges in some way.

The approach I am taking is to be open minded and show vulnerability. I am curious but I know that I don’t have all the answers. I have turned the leadership of this issue on its head and asked my team to lead me on it. What do they want to know? How do they want to learn it? I provide investment and guidance on where I consider we get best return. The leadership approach needs to be collegiate in my opinion, rather than autocratic.

Thoughts that might help team members

The improvement path is not obvious. You need to guide your business leaders on what you need, how you can do your job more effectively, and the training possibilities that exist.

The next generation needs to learn how to apply data science in a more structured way than the generation that went before. You need to introduce yourself to concepts such as big data, basic programming, and statistical analysis. These are building blocks which will lead you to apply generative AI, machine learning and robotics.

Don’t fear failure. Look at how you do your job currently and what frustrates you because it takes too long. Trial changes and make mistakes. Remember that every failure is a step towards success. The shift will not be achieved by one quantum leap but, rather, a series of small steps achieved through a trial-and-error learning process. Those incremental improvements will, over time, lead to significant change.

That is how the paradigm shift is likely to occur; be part of that change and you will retain control of your career destiny. I can’t emphasise that enough.

Final reflections

We have an opportunity to change because business leaders and team members are aligned and there is, whether we know it or not, a desire to change. Yet, both as a construction industry and as a QS profession, our rate of progress is slower than other industries and professions.

On reflection, the future of quantity surveying could be now, but the groundswell of change is not apparent just yet.

This might be achieved by employers, employees, universities and other training providers, professional institutions (e.g. RICS) coming together to develop structured training paths to improvement for both entry level people and those already in the industry.

As a final reflection, I wonder if this is an opportunity for the RICS to be the glue that holds all those improvement stakeholders together and serves its current and future members by creating the groundswell?

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