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Qualifications Based Selection on the Rise: Procurement system favours best and brightest engineering minds

Matt Brassard
Matt Brassard
On the heels of a recent announcement by Metrolinx (formerly the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority) of their move to using the Qualifications Based Selection (QBS) process, Matt Brassard is in a celebratory mood. Matt is an engineer at Urban Systems and the President of the Consulting Engineers of Alberta (CEA). “QBS is good for engineers and it’s good for communities and taxpayers,” he says. “Metrolinx’s decision to move to QBS procurement is a huge step forward for consulting engineers across Canada and we should be excited to see another major client adopt this procurement approach. It’s something for our industry to celebrate.”

What is QBS?

Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS) is a proven step-by-step process that facilitates selecting the right professional design firm based on overall merit. One thing that makes this process unique is that firms don’t include a price in their original bid but compete based on their qualifications and design approaches. Only once a winning firm is selected do price negotiations begin. This system creates a fair competition that highlights the qualifications of a firm and encourages creativity, innovation and deeper thinking about the entire lifecycle of a project.

Why is QBS Good for Engineers?

The QBS procedure makes it easier to think about an engineering problem without obsessing over bidding at the lowest dollar figure possible. It allows engineers to consider the most creative and ultimately effective (and often the lowest costing in the long run) solutions to problems. It favours the best and brightest minds in the engineering community, rather than simply those with the lowest initial bids.

“It favours the best and brightest minds in the engineering community, rather than simply those with the lowest initial bids.”

Matt explains that because Urban Systems is uniquely interdisciplinary, this system works especially well for them. “Urban thinks about problems much differently than other firms. We consider things like land use, planning components, architecture of the space itself and more. We take holistic community approach and don’t just see things as engineering problems. The QBS process facilitates this wider perspective.”

Why is QBS good for Taxpayers?

At first glance it could appear that the QBS process costs more, but Matt explains that taxpayers and clients actually end up paying less in the end. “When firms are chosen based on price alone, there’s less incentive to think about operations and maintenance over the lifecycle of the project. That can lead to a much higher cost of operations in the long run.”

Matt explains that engineering services typically run around 2% of the lifecycle cost of a project and that this isn’t a useful area to try to drastically cut costs. “In trying to reduce engineering fees, you’re trying to save 10% on 2% instead of thinking how to improve overall operations and maintenance, which could equal far more significant savings over a project lifecycle of 40 to 50 years.”

What’s next?

Matt is keen to spread the message that QBS works, and to change provincial legislation to make it a requirement.

“We want to raise the awareness level of government and show them that significant clients are using this procurement method. One of our main business objectives is changing procurement legislation in the province. Right now we’re working to broaden the message and get people’s awareness levels raised. We believe this process encourages the best and brightest minds and is absolutely the right thing for our communities.”

“We believe this process encourages the best and brightest minds and is absolutely the right thing for our communities.”

Matt and his team have written draft guidelines for the legislation for procurement of professional services and hope to be on the spring 2015 legislation agenda. Their hope? To tip the balance in Alberta so that provincial and municipal governments recognize QBS as a standard best practice when it comes to procurement.

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