Avoiding the Building Bureaucracy

D G Jones

Rob Ware is Managing Director of the Australian operation, which is based in South Melbourne, and he told us more about the business. His fellow director Peter Richter (founder of the Australian company and still a consultant to it) still has considerable business in Indonesia and as far afield as Japan, but the bulk of work is within this country. “We are not a huge international corporation,” Mr Ware says.

The D G Jones group was established in the Middle East in 1962 and has since grown worldwide. The eponymous founder worked for a long time with Peter, who on returning to Australia was involved, among other things, in Canberra’s parliament house, not to mention resorts in Bali and Fiji and the Rivage Royale in Queensland. Mr Ware comes from a building services and project management background, joining D G Jones some seventeen years ago. Practice manager is Harry McIver, an experienced quantity surveyor who has a particular interest in the area of dispute resolution; he has additional qualifications as an arbitrator and adjudicator.

The company provides a wide range of quantity surveying, project management, and property advisory services, plus claims management and dispute resolution covering each phase in the construction and property cycles. These services include a full range of quantity surveying and cost management throughout the full life cycle of building construction and property investment or ownership. The business also offers a wide range of project management services from managing the construction of a building project through to directing the entire process from conception to handover.

D G Jones can provide property advice through the entire property investment cycle, including due diligence and investment evaluation reports prior to acquisition, condition audits and tax depreciation, life cycle or replacement cost evaluations, and in-house expertise covering all aspects of claims management, including dispute resolution and the preparation or defence of claims.

“Our practice ranges right across the gamut of building consultancy in terms of project management and quantity surveying work – or construction cost management if you prefer – and one of the saving graces in a difficult market is that as building activity contracts, the work we do in paralegal matters and dispute management – on both sides of the fence – increases,” explains Mr Ware. “One of our senior people in Melbourne is a fully qualified arbitrator and is doing an increasing amount of work in arbitration and as an expert witness, advising people on either side of disputes. It has not been a massive part of the business but it does tend to pick up when everyone is struggling. Otherwise, we are finding the market just as tough as everyone else at the moment.”

Mr Ware does not necessarily feel that people are becoming overly litigious, but he explains that there is a lot of room for disputes to arise when people are having trouble paying their bills. He says that, “From now on, if not already, builders and their dependant subcontractors will be quoting [jobs] lower and lower, and that will, unfortunately and inevitably, result in some of them not lasting the distance.” D G Jones recently became involved in a project in Melbourne as a distress project: the builder went broke and someone asked Mr Ware how that could happen when the company had forty million dollars of work on the books. His response was that, “they probably had fifty million dollars worth of work but had only quoted forty.”

If this goes on for long, he says, it will cause a lot of builders and subcontractors to go to the wall. “Advising our clients becomes very difficult because, in many cases, we have people whose jobs are over-budget in the design phase, and they hope that in these tough times they will get better prices, which will be a good thing. Well, it will – unless the builder goes broke on them half-way through the contract. Interesting times.”

Mr Ware is cautiously optimistic in terms of the economy, however. “There are many good things happening and hopefully [the present situation] will just be a bit of a blip. There is a lot of talk of doom and gloom in the media, many people are very nervous, but what we see on the broader scale is that the Australian economy is quite strong; we are still getting work, even if the nature of it changes a little. I don’t see this problem growing too much.”

He points to a recent rise in housing starts and the continuing shortage of housing stock as a positive trend, although his company in particular prefers to specialise in commercial, industrial, and institutional construction consultancy.

To some extent, D G Jones can field aspects of its wide range of services to suit the market in any given phase. Mr Richter, for example, recently went to Brisbane to advise clients on a major infrastructure project over which there were specific concerns. More locally, the company has seen dispute resolution work on the infamous Ararat prison project being built as a public-private partnership for the Victorian government. The business revolves around relationships, Mr Ware agrees: “We have worked with most of our clients over the years either on and off or regularly.”

He and his colleagues are at the coalface, rather than staying behind the scenes, and make it a point to be open and accessible to clients and employees alike. “We made a conscious decision to go down the path where we do not have a very large staff and our clients deal direct with the people running the business,” Mr Ware explains. “We have a number of clients who understand and appreciate that sort of approach. They know that if they give one of us a job, we will be involved in delivering that job.”

Indeed, a number of clients make it a requirement when they put out an invitation to tender for consultancy; gradually, more and more have been writing it into their briefs that senior management should be involved throughout. “I have worked for large companies in the building industry, and some of them are forced to act that way, but it’s not like that with us.”

Internationally, D G Jones has a strong relationship with a major British quantity surveying practice that is huge and for years, the firm wanted D G Jones to be its presence in Australia. They wanted the company to take on dozens of quantity surveyors and become one of the top-five practices in Australia. But Mr Ware said, “‘No thank you. That is not the way we operate.’ That way, you end up chasing work just to feed those mouths, pay those people, and you don’t do that work properly. All you do is create a monster.”

D G Jones is currently at work on a project where stage one is more than $50 million, and has taken on staff as required to do that. “It is entering the construction phase and two of us are handling the whole project at the moment. We are quite capable of ramping up for individual projects as required without wanting all the trappings of a big company. At the end of the day, one is judged on one’s performance,” he says.

He does offer one warning for clients: It is of course vital for quantity surveyors to be able to produce the estimates and accurately sum up the costs; the important thing, however, is not that in and of itself, but rather, “what you then do with that information and how it is presented to the client to be of optimum value. It may sound a little cynical but there is no one in a consulting team – engineer, architect, or builder – who actually stands in a client’s corner, other than the project manager and quantity surveyor.” Everyone else has their own priorities, such as maximising the profit or winning a prize, and is not working for the client, but for themselves. “That is why we feel we can add value to the process in terms of how you can make use of the construction costs advice. For us, project management is not about shuffling pieces of paper; it’s about making sure the client gets what he really needs.

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

January 27, 2021, 3:01 AM AEDT