Early Contractor Involvement in infrastructure projects



International Association of Dredging Companies, The Hague, The Netherlands


A new concept that aims to better inform the procurement process

What is Early Contractor Involvement?

The preparatory work for large infrastructure projects often consumes an extraordinary amount of time, money and human resources and is not particularly cost-effective. Some of this inefficiency is caused by traditional procurement methods which bring contractors into the process after many key decisions have been made. The clients and consultants are asked to make design decisions with insufficient information and know-how as to the available technology, equipment and potential innovative solutions.

Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) provides an efficient means of designing and planning infrastructure projects in a cost-effective, more efficient and less adversarial structure. Using ECI with a properly executed contract that reflects a partnering relationship should increase transparency and therefore reduce risk, increase shared responsibility and limit the reasons for litigation.

How do traditional procurement methods work?

With traditional procurement a client/owner must make many decisions before accurate information has been collected, especially from the contractors – who will ultimately be responsible for executing the work. The experiential knowledge of contractors is rarely requested in the planning stages and is therefore seldom used. This ultimately leads to inaccurate conclusions, which reflect badly on the clients, consultants and contractors. Project designers – who often do not know how to scope and cost – come on board first. Secondly, the contractors, who are the experts, are brought in. Getting involved when a design has already been determined forces contractors to be reactive instead of pro-active. By telling the contractor what to do, by taking the lowest price and negotiating it downwards, the situation worsens. Rather than negotiating the price downwards, prices rise and performance decreases.

In fact, often when project performance on a major infrastructure project is less than optimal, the reputation of the construction industry in general is harmed: The public’s perception (and the clients’) may be that time schedules are not trustworthy, budgets are running wild, technical solutions are failing more often than not and the government, the authority and the industry just seem to have difficulty getting it right.

Is ECI always a better choice than traditional procurement systems?

No, ECI is not always the best choice. For instance, for repetitive work such as routine maintenance dredging, ECI does not offer a specific advantage. These types of projects – which are done more often, where data is fully available, where environmental assessments have been conducted in the past and where the contractor has a long-term agreement with the port or authority – do not require unusual or extensive operational planning.


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