Presidents Message

May 2021



Dear Colleagues,

I’m six months into my Presidency and it still feels fresh and very much challenging. I’m also sitting here thinking about my message for the May ACostE journal and it seems slightly strange and something that I’m really not used to as yet – it’s only March. But the whole world is in a slightly strange sort of ‘limbo’ at present as we wait to see if our respective lockdowns will be lifted. Even if my lockdown is lifted my neighbours might not be, but collectively we live with hope.
As project controllers and cost engineers we need to focus on the end game, look for things that we can influence and recognise those things that are out of our control and find mitigations. But, are they truly out of our control?
I was watching a TV programme the other day and was being told about the bi-products of chimney sweeps – soot – or should I give it its refined name ‘carbon black’? My mind was taken back to something around 1985 when I was introduced to carbon black through a ‘material price claim’ being brought by a Jaguar Cars Ltd supplier because the cost of carbon black was going through the roof.
Carbon black (soot) was used in just about every piece of black rubber in a car. It clearly provided the products’ colour but it also provided some mechanical/environmental resistance; mainly it was a ‘low cost’ filler, substituting for the expensive natural and synthetic versions of rubber. In addition, it made up around 30% of the material costs of these products. Its cost hype was an unforeseen expenditure. The cost increase was due to social impact: the trend towards domestic central heating and the resulting demise of the open fire in the grate, which resulted in the demise of the chimney sweep and the source of the carbon black.
If you are still with me, there is a lesson to be learnt by all project controllers and cost engineers – look behind, around and within the ‘detail’ that is in front of you. A social/political change outside of your normal horizon might lead you to a forecastable impact on the project that you are responsible for. Something that we tend to refer to as a ‘risk’. Now might be the time to review the underlying data behind the key parts of your project. Interrogation of this ‘secondary data’ will allow you to become an influencer rather than just a reporter of what has already happened. (I was published in the September 2020 journal reviewing just this aspect of project control and cost engineering. It might have focused on automobiles but the principles apply to all projects.)
On a slightly less inspirational note, in my last President’s Message I raised the prospect of an ACostE Conference, possibly 7–8 July 2021. I have to confirm that within hours of writing that message and as a result of the then new government guidance, Birmingham City University need to extend their teaching year with the knock-on effect that we lost our potential conference slot. I hope to be able to provide better news by the time of our next journal.
Best wishes for 2021.

Dr Robert Mills, President ACostE (