People in charge of government procurement must become 'intelligent' clients in order to improve the commissioning of major projects, according to a new report published today by the Royal Academy of Engineering. Those who manage procurement projects for government departments need to have good knowledge and understanding of the sector from which they are commissioning, and consider the entire life-cycle of projects when considering tenders.

The report recommends that each project is overseen by strong and consistent leadership that adopts a systems approach, an especially important safeguard where a contract is disaggregated to allow several smaller contractors to take part.

It also highlights that having a clear vision and understanding of the purpose of the procurement is vital not just for commissioners, but for all engaged, and that both the client and the supplier communities need the right skills to understand the vision and purpose.

"The engineering profession is well versed in procurement," says Professor Phil Sutton FREng, of Imperial College London, author of the report. "It is in fact an essential skill linked to the success of any project regardless of its scale."

"With this report we wanted to support the positive but unfinished work undertaken by successive governments to improve procurement practice. By focusing on best practice in engineering projects, we found a great deal that can be directly translated into government process."

The report focuses especially on construction, infrastructure and ICT and draws on real life examples to illustrate successful approaches.

The report's recommendations include:Leadership and vision must be stable for the life of the project. The implementation of a systems architect or design authority to oversee the entire project is an important component in this process.

  • Procurement should be treated as part of a wider project, with distinct contracts each contributing to the overall project objectives and a systems approach being taken throughout. 
  • Steering away from monolithic IT contracts and infrastructures towards more agile and modular systems and commissions.
  • Process alone is not enough. All players need to be motivated to engage in the right behaviours.
  • More trust in innovation. Although it carries risk, it can also deliver big wins in the long term.

Sir John Armitt CBE FREng, former Chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority and member of the expert panel behind the report, said: "The report highlights that having a holistic approach or, in terms more familiar to engineers, a systems view of procurement projects, is the basis for success. Procurement needs to be included within the whole project planning process and not left to last once budgetary decisions have already been made.

"The success of the Olympic Delivery Authority, for example, was due to the extensive planning, faultless execution and commissioning. The project timeline of seven years included two years of planning, four years of construction and one year of commissioning trials and final logistics.

"Although it might not always be possible to work on such timelines, including procurement in the planning stages of any project is likely to bring benefits."

Notes for editors

  1. The report, Innovation in Procurement, is available to download:
    Public projects and procurement in the UK (330.69 KB)
    The importance of the intelligent client - engineers share good procurement practices
  2. Royal Academy of Engineering. As the UK's national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering. We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK's role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK's world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook. We have four strategic challenges: Drive faster and more balanced economic growth; foster better education and skills; lead the profession; promote engineering at the heart of society.

For more information please contact:

Giorgio De Faveri at the Royal Academy of Engineering 
Tel: 020 7766 0655
Email:  Giorgio De Faveri

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