Water Journal : Water Journal December 2013
8Letter to the Editor CHALLENGING A CULTURE OF SECRECY Dear Editor, After 42 years in the industry one would think that I would get used to changes. One thing that hasn't changed is that I am just as passionate as I was in 1971. Trained as a civil engineer, but having spent most of my working life as a supplier and contractor in the equipment business, I have seen fashions come and go ... and come again. I have never, however, seen such widespread dissatisfaction among suppliers as I am seeing today. I'm referring to the current procurement system that has permeated much of the Australian water industry. The word "probity" is ubiquitous. Perhaps it is due to our litigious society and our managers' desire to reduce risk, but it seems to me that the reverse is the outcome for which we are setting ourselves up. Someone did tell me that the path we are treading was trodden in the UK for a time, until it was realised that it is not productive. One of the most valuable activities AWA carries out is to facilitate networking opportunities within the water sector and provide the chance to share information with others as passionate as ourselves. At industry events we bore colleagues with our desire to share. We think we are highly informative when we start a dinner conversation about sludge, ef uent or water treatment. For those of us passionate about what we do, it is how we are made up, our core being. Unfortunately, however, this no longer applies to purchasing. In today's market, even if you have just invented the best widget available and want to sell it, you won't be allowed to. No-one is to know what you have. If you bear with me I will explain why. As I said, we [suppliers] are a funny bunch. We might know about how to wash a wet well, how to stop a treatment plant from smelling, how to avoid an algal bloom. Whatever our eld, many of us are almost fanatical about our own little area. Consulting engineers, purchasers and users of equipment have relied on people like us. For widget suppliers, we used to talk to people when we found out about a job. We tried to educate the buyer and main contractor, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. We'd sell to knowledgeable buyers because buyers wanted to know. Not now. It's a secret. Try this example. A tender comes out that contains some potentially disastrous errors. The material speci ed will fail in a couple of years, so you want to offer something that will work. Easy, you might think. Make an offer to the tenderers and explain your reasoning. Sorry, no chance ... the list of tenderers is a secret. So, despite the fact that you only have a small item to offer in the overall tender you go to the compulsory site meeting. At the meeting you ask for a list of attendees. Sorry, that's a secret too. You are all supposed to be anonymous. Having been around the industry for so long I am well known and I have my ways. Another 60-year old supplier I know in the chemical dosing area also has his ways -- although neither of us beats the system every time. He just hopes that no-one is seriously injured or killed when inexperienced contractors put in dangerous chlorination equipment because he can't nd out who is bidding. What do you do if you are a water authority engineer? You can see what is happening -- that you are losing quality, that life controlled by the procurers is almost unbearable, so you come up with an answer. Go through all the procurement pain once, select a panel of four or maybe six, and then just go out to them for the next two years or so. The procurers like panels. There is lots of work setting one up so they are happy. Everyone will know who is on the panel so you are happy. Problem solved. Sounds good, doesn't it, but now you have groups of four to six companies all over the country, all closed shops. But people are honest, aren't they? It will be ne. Hang on though, what about all this secrecy stuff that the procurers brought in? Wasn't that because engineers can't be trusted? If they were right, we have now gone from an open and transparent system to a secret society with no accountability with the players deemed untrustworthy. I don't know about you, but the logic de es me. -- Steve Posselt, Riverview, Queensland ANY COMMENTS? Would you like to comment on this letter? Letters to the Editor are welcome. Please email your response to email@example.com. Please note that contributions are the opinion of the author and may be edited at our discretion. Tenix. Leaders in sustainable engineering water solutions. TX592 -- 0713 Follow us on LinkedIn www.tenix.com Tenix provides cradle-to-grave engineering services for water infrastructure delivery, including project management, design, construction, commissioning, operations and maintenance. Our in-house design team provides strategic planning, detailed design and commissioning with a specialisation in water, recycling and wastewater treatment plants. As a leader in sustainable engineering water solutions we are the rst in Australia to receive an (IS) Infrastructure Sustainability rating for the design of two Wastewater treatment plants in Queensland.
Water Journal November 2013
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