What does an intelligent client do to procure construction projects?


Gary Cawley, director, CPC, explains how an intelligent client can deliver better outcomes for construction projects

Search for ‘intelligent client’ and Google delivers more than 136 million results. The term has gained prominence over the last decade, fueled by aspirations to transform the delivery of major UK public sector construction projects by focusing on value for money, whole-life asset management and sustainable procurement.

So, what is an ‘intelligent client’?

According to the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE), intelligent clients are, “firmly at the centre of efficient, productive, value-for-money relationships with the sponsor and supply chain.”

According to Manor Projects, “performing as an intelligent client is not about finding smarter ways to extract value from contractors and the supply chain. It is about wisdom and leadership, a compelling vision, a clear strategy and the ability to galvanise human energy and organisations.”

Delivering better outcomes for construction projects

In February 2021, ‘The Intelligent Client in UK Construction’, a study by Constructing Excellence International in conjunction with the BRE, concluded that the positive outcomes of having an intelligent client for construction projects were numerous:

  • Much higher certainty of delivery on time and budget;
  • Capital cost savings reported typically in the range 5%-20%, up to 50% or more;
  • Time/programme benefits of up to 33%;
  • Environmental benefits including over 90% of waste recycled, 30-50% embodied carbon savings, better energy efficiency and water economy of completed facilities;
  • Quality and value benefits including much higher levels of customer and end-user satisfaction, ‘fit for purpose’ facilities, commercial returns exceeding the business case, much better safety reducing the economic and social costs of accidents;
  • Social value benefits including high numbers of apprentices, local jobs and local firms employed, with wider economic impact in the local community.

So that’s the theory. But what does this mean in practice for time and resource-pressed public sector procurement professionals?


We’ve outlined five ways that procurement professionals working within the local public sector can apply the principles of the ‘intelligent client’ to their projects.

  • Collaborate with others

The smart or intelligent client doesn’t try to work in isolation. Smart clients make it easy for themselves and understand that a change in processes, such as a shift to MMC, isn’t always straightforward and they can work together to improve outcomes. When you are looking to drive value, help is readily available from framework organisations such as CPC.

One example of successful collaboration is illustrated by our colleagues at South West Procurement Alliance (SWPA) who are currently working with Magna Housing, Sedgemoor District Council and Wiltshire Council to deliver new affordable homes in the area. By coming together to form an ‘MMC cluster’ the housing providers are benefiting from reduced risk, lower costs, faster builds and better outcomes for residents. Learn more about how you could benefit from joining an MMC cluster here.

  • Make it easy for yourselves

By ensuring consistency and increasing standardisation across multiple public sector projects, whether for housing, health centres or schools, the whole process of delivery becomes much more efficient. However, flexibility is still needed and the smartest clients understand that standard designs can still be customised to meet various specifications and requirements for different projects.

One example is a housing project for a client that contained five or six different styles of homes in addition to a number of different types of windows, but all were based on the same standardised design that had been customised.

  • Recognise your own strengths and weaknesses

When it comes to MMC, intelligent clients fully embrace the change and give it enough time to become business as usual. Clients are often too quick to give up on MMC but it takes time and persistence to adapt. Also, it’s important to recognise your own strengths and weaknesses. The challenges of adapting to and embracing MMC include upskilling staff, using different materials, managing transport and logistics and adapting to new construction processes and timelines.

Meanwhile, the benefits of MMC are numerous and include speed to build, quality, decreased emissions, less onsite disruption, improved safety and superior sustainability. But being able to demonstrate and communicate these values to project stakeholders can be challenging – and this is another area where procurement frameworks can help.

  • Focus on desired outcomes

Smart clients use guidance such as that in the Construction Innovation Hub’s Value Toolkit to fully assess the social, environmental and health value of projects, amongst others. You can find out more about the Value Toolkit and how it can help your organisation here.

Key to this approach is to focus on the desired outcomes and the whole added value that the project will deliver including wider community benefits, local employment, and short and long term environmental benefits, rather than simply assessing the project using traditional metrics such as financial cost and quality.

The smart client also understands that while aggregating projects and committing to the supply chain can take time, central government policy is fully supportive of MMC and there are a number of funding initiatives and grants available to help you embark on this route.

  • Remember – procurement is a strategic management issue

Smart clients have a willingness to learn, are outcome-focused, invested for the future, appreciate the wider social context and the environment, and provide a structure and vision of direction for working collaboratively.

Embracing intelligent client principles and adopting the Value Toolkit, it can be seen that procurement decisions made by councils and housing providers can have a wide and deep impact.

Procurement should therefore be considered a strategic management issue within organisations, and certainly not a tick-box exercise focused purely on cost, time and quality.

Smart clients consider procurement frameworks as a key option for the delivery of their construction projects. We all know procurement for construction is complex and can be risky; CPC is highly regarded within the public sector, recognised for driving better social, environmental and economic outcomes for our clients and local communities.

CPC is part of the public sector and our frameworks are free to use. Be smart and find out more about how we can help, get in touch here. 


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