Sensum: Early Contractor Involvement

April 30, 2020
Sensum: Early Contractor Involvement

By: Hettie Watkinson

Editor: Sarah Paterson





What’s ECI?

In simple terms, early contractor involvement (ECI) is a type of procurement that directly engages the builder before the design stage is complete.  

When is ECI is best?

ECI is ideal for projects that are: 

  • Complex/mega infrastructure 
  • High risk 
  • High importance placed on price certainty or a fixed fee commitment 
  • Opportunity for innovation in the design process 
  • Require availability of the right resources and materials 

Why do the Wolf Pack love ECI?

Early contractor involvement establishes a strong, shared foundation for success echoing Sensum’s relationship-based approach to project management. Long term, this will result in fewer construction variations, shorter delivery times and increased cost effectiveness. 

It reduces the intensity of the tendering process and the potential waste of resources that may occur in this stage. Issues related to scope and risk are also resolved during the design phase, ensuring project objectives and interface requirements are clear to the contractor and suppliers up front. Furthermore, ECI provides leverage for innovative and efficient construction to tackle unique design challenges. By the delivery phase, risk has been significantly minimised as a result of gaining a thorough understanding from the outset of the projectThroughout the process, interpersonal relationships are prioritised.   

ECI allows principals to gain early input from contractors whilst the design is being developed, reducing the risk of issues further down the track. It ensures greater transparency on pricing and provides the opportunity for discrete parts of the work to be performed before all elements of design have been finalised. Contractors in these settings are better placed to oversee and contribute to the design process and can assist with planning applications on matters that relate to the build phase, such as waste disposal, traffic movements and surrounding nature preservation.  

Early Contractor Involvement encapsulates Sensum’s passion for end to end project management services. 

Are there risks involved?

Early contractor involvement isn’t ideal in every scenario. For example, whilst ECI provides principals with flexibility to undertake the next stage with different contractors should they desire, this may have negative repercussions. Naturally, there is a loss on time, costs and resources as the new contractor must get up to speed. If the changeover involved major relationship breakdown or high staff turnover, performance is significantly impacted. Hencewhy such heavy reliance on built relationships, repeat contractors and suppliers. 

Sensum’s Experience

Recently, the opportunity for Sensum to utilise an ECI model has arisen for a project, where the initial concept and requirement resulted in financial and delivery timeline deficits 

With the desire to take a modular construction approach, the client asked us to review the existing project documentation and explore alternatives to a conventional build and procurement modelSensum provided a full design and construct planwhich would involve commitment to share early design ownership to the engaged contractor. Initially, the client was reluctant as they wanted to retain control and maintain separation between the design and delivery phase. Due to their existing consulting team lacking modular construction experience, they have considered engaging an external Tier 2 builder to sub-contract the modular design element to an architect. Whilst this decision has not been finalised, it demonstrates the varied nature of approaches to ECI. In this instance, we have recommended the implementation of ECI with our assistance because it mitigates the risk of exceeding the budget or timeline. By bringing the delivery arm into design phase, issues that may arise on construction phase are identified early on. 

Encouraging an early contractor involvement model means a focus on information and education when planning with our clients.  


Early contractor involvement can be significantly advantageous for the efficient delivery of projects. It can provide a comprehensive framework that equips shared parties to tackle oncoming challenges whilst reducing overall risk, costs and completion time. 


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