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Pacific Association of Quantity Congress for 2019

The Pacific Association of Quantity Surveyors Congress for 2019 (PAQS 2019) was recently held in Kuching, Malaysia. David Gifford (VIC) and Melanie Cumming (WA), recipients of the AIQS YQS PAQS Scholarship for 2019, attended the YQS program which promotes collaboration, networking and learning for future leaders of the industry in the Pacific region. They were joined at the main conference by AIQS President Prof Anthony Mills and Vice President Mark Chappe who also attended the PAQS Board and Committee Meetings, strengthening the collaboration with our regional neighbours.

PAQS 2019, An Overview by David Gifford and Melanie Cumming 

The theme of PAQS 2019 was "Human Wisdom Amidst Emerging Technologies", a timely theme given the technological changes, and business conditions nowadays, often misunderstood as likely to put us 'Quantity Surveyors' out of a job. The speakers aimed to excite, reassure, and shock attendees so that we would be inspired to embrace new technologies. Delegates and educators were encouraged to teach new concepts, bridge the gap between the industry and academia, investigate these emerging new technologies and identify the opportunities to use such technologies in our workday today.

Overall, a wide range of topics were discussed, but for the sake of clarity, we'll focus on two main sections.  The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Future of Technology considers the potential of emerging technologies and our position (as humans) within such technologies. Naturally, these topics lead into discussing what this may mean for the future of quantity surveying and the construction industry, with further thought towards potential advantages, mistakes and the results of filtering down.

In 2015, the founder of the 'World Economic Forum' released a report proclaiming we were on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This is a prediction, essentially, that new and previously unimagined emerging technologies will change the way our world works, on what is predicted to be a larger scale than even the First Industrial Revolution - the one near the end of the 18th Century, where steam power made mechanisation possible.

But what exactly does that mean? The report (and presenters talking about the report) talk about a potential future merging of the physical, digital, and biological. There's a suggestion of exponential growth (where previous revolutions have had more linear growth) which is almost certainly powered by the continued exponential growth in computing power. This will increase the rate of ‘disruption’ – new technologies and business models beyond our current systems and capability to react to them.  Overall, the promise is that there will be several emerging technologies - technologies we haven't yet invented, or that haven't yet hit the mainstream, and design solutions that could change anything and everything.  That said, caution is advised.

Many presentations highlighted that, there were some flaws with the 4IR methodology. It's often harder to differentiate big revolutionary trends when living in them, and the impact of the Third Industrial Revolution was only named and recognised in the mid-90s, over twenty years after the revolution 'started'.  Being on the cusp of something is also a nice way of saying that nothing has happened yet. Various technologies have been suggested as the emerging technologies that will define our tomorrow - however, at this stage, various of them are more gimmickry, and in most cases, the full benefits are potentially yet to be realized.  Not to mention, a lot of dead ends will need to be explored, and that costs money, time, and will be very risky.  There are also the inevitable scams and dramatically overhyped items, as anyone who invested in bitcoin in late 2017 will attest.  When we're looking at these technologies, it is critical to ensure we keep relatively cool heads... and at the same time, be careful of the major technological downsides.

The future will bring new possibilities, but there are no guarantees all these possibilities will be good. The predicted rise in automation could lead to significant job losses and changes in how industries function. As big data - especially personal data - becomes more accessible, it has become more possible for others to steal it. Plus, artificial intelligence is only as good as the biases and limits of those who built it - this too has led to mistakes, sometimes fatal ones, and reliance on technology has left us open to significant manipulation. This does not mean the rise of new technologies should be stopped - in fact, they likely will not stop regardless. Rather, it means that in addition to being sceptical of what may happen, we must as quantity surveyors, proceed with caution and attempt to mitigate adverse effects were possible.

As previous industrial revolutions have occurred over the past few hundred years, so too has quantity surveying, and the profession of quantity surveying was also a key topic at the conference - fitting given the fact it was a conference organised for and by quantity surveyors. Quantity surveyors have evolved throughout time since as early as the 1600s according to the British model. From the measurement of construction works to bills of quantities to cost planning and the bulk of services we offer today. Yet there are a number of regional variations spread across the world as the profession has evolved in tandem with regional construction industries. This invariably makes it harder to offer similar products in different countries and can make it harder for the profession to have an influential voice and adopt new technologies.  This, among other things, has flow-on effects for how the profession will continue.

The construction industry, and in turn the quantity surveying profession are indeed tricky areas to be in. Margins for construction companies, apparently on average sit at between 2% to 3% in most of the world. This makes it harder for all but the largest companies to invest in research and development, and hence slows the take-up of new technology. Quantity Surveying firms are in a similar position, where typically it is the global firms that have the greatest technology usage, and ability to adapt and evolve. At the same time, venture capital firms are entering the marketplace with technology-based offerings, further increasing the potential for technological offerings.  That doesn’t mean smaller firms can't compete, but it does make it harder for them to.

Technology is still expected to change and evolve our profession even more. The key technologies discussed included infamous BIM, big data and modular construction. For the purpose of not boring you further, we are going to assume your ears are still ringing from previous BIM discussions, and gloss over that one. Big data, on the other hand, is somewhat less talked about and presents the opportunity to use our rate libraries to establish and track more accurate rates, bench-marking data, and enable more accurate cost tracking. Research indicates Australia has among the highest estimated returns in big data investment over the next 5- 10 years. Pre-Fabricated Pre-Finished Volumetric Construction – where whole apartments, hotel rooms, and similar units are prefabricated and have finishes completed, off-site before installation on-site - has also been talked about for some time, and is already used in countries around the world, however the concept presents ongoing opportunities with the advancement of construction systems and equipment. From cost exercises already done, we know the gains don’t come from the construction cost typically, but instead the opportunity to reduce waste, and site assembly time – however as noted by one speaker, there is still the untapped potential of streamlining modular construction with some manufacturing processes.  The discourse indicates clients are becoming more demanding – expecting more for cheaper – globally, and technology potentially offers part of the way we can rise to this challenge.

The Quantity Surveying profession will and is expected to evolve with new technologies. Such evolution will be challenging but presents many opportunities to add value to projects and better our systems. Through collaboration with PAQS and other such organisations around the globe, the AIQS can facilitate and encourage research in this area, and disseminate the findings through our membership to better individuals and the profession as a whole 

Should you wish to hear more about the 2019 PAQS Congress and our takeaways, please feel free to reach out to us (via LinkedIn). We are very grateful to our companies and the AIQS for enabling us to be part of such an educational forum, and we are looking forward to future opportunities to represent the AIQS at PAQS events.

Please note, this article has been supplied by David Gifford and Melanie Cumming.
Posted 19/09/19

If you are a journalist or researcher looking for a comment or require information, please contact:

Anthony Lieberman
Communications and Marketing Manager
Australian Institute of Quantity Surveyors
+61 2 8234 4009