BCISM aims to be central building-cost information centre for Malaysia

This article first appeared in City & Country, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on November 22, 2021 - November 28, 2021.
The ultimate aim [for BCISM] in the construction industry is to see how, in our own small way, we can  build a better place, a better world and a better Malaysia for everyone, says Sri Kandan

The ultimate aim [for BCISM] in the construction industry is to see how, in our own small way, we can build a better place, a better world and a better Malaysia for everyone, says Sri Kandan

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Before building any physical structure, it is important to know how much you need to spend on materials and expertise. Owing to the pandemic as well as the rising material costs, it is even more crucial to control costs to ensure that prices are still within the reach of the customer. Building Cost Information Services Malaysia Sdn Bhd (BCISM) can help with this endeavour.

Formed in July 2019, BCISM is a collaboration between the Malaysian Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) and the Royal Institution of Surveyors Malaysia (RISM).

“BCISM’s mission is to provide credible cost information to the Malaysian construction industry and also promote transparency and more equitable and competitive prices, as well as provide construction cost information and advisory construction economics to the government, which can be used for policymaking. We also offer construction cost information to the general public,” says BCISM director Datuk Sri Kandan Kanagainthiram.

The partnership between the government agency and professional body happened organically.

“For many years, the RISM has been publishing construction cost information on a regular basis through our own building cost information centre,” says Sri Kandan.

“But being an organisation manned by volunteers, the information is not as complete or substantial as we would like it to be. At the same time, CIDB has over the last 15 years been publishing some cost data. And because it covers a wide spectrum of the construction industry, it would be better if the cost information published involves quantity surveyors or cost engineers as they are the repository of construction costs by virtue of their profession.

Sri Kandan: BCISM’s mission is to provide credible cost information to the Malaysian construction industry and also promote transparency and more equitable and competitive prices (Photo by BCISM)

“CIDB has been publishing some cost information through the N3C (National Construction Cost Centre) website but the catalyst that kicked it off was the Construction Industry Transformation Programme, which went on from 2016 to 2020.

“One of the major thrusts of the programme was on productivity — on how to improve productivity in the construction sector. And this is where reliable cost information became an important tool to grow productivity.

“Many of us quantity surveyors were part of the working groups that worked on various aspects of the construction sector, one of which was on construction cost information. Through that group, it was felt that if we could have a better foundation and base, then it would be better in terms of publication of this cost information.

“And because CIDB has the funding and RISM has the professionals who are involved in construction costs, we thought it would be a good marriage if we put them together, and that is how BCISM came about,” explains Sri Kandan.

Kwan: It is important to look into the life cycle of the project and not just the construction cost (Photo by BCISM)

All information in one place

Prior to the formation of BCISM, obtaining building costs required looking at various sources. However, ensuring that the data was up to date, credible and accurate was an issue.

According to BCISM director Kwan Hock Hai, having all the information in one place increases efficiency and produces more accurate data. “Rather than collecting data from all over the place, here is a centre to validate the data collected, and if the data is wrong, it will be red-flagged and checked to make sure it is fit for use. Because if you don’t ‘clean’ the data, it is as good as useless.”

BCISM general manager Nazir Muhamad Nor explains that the validation of data is stringent. Once the data is uploaded to the N3C system, the system will inform if it is within a +/- 10% range; otherwise, it will be red-flagged. Then, BCISM will check with CIDB for further clarification if the data is correct. Once everything has been checked and verified, the data is published. If for some reason an error is detected, the system is able to unpublish the data and republish the correct one.

According to Sri Kandian, Kwan and Nazir, a diverse range of users can benefit from the use of the BCISM information. They include the government, clients/investors, developers, contractors, quantity surveyors, architects, suppliers, financiers, engineers, researchers, universities and academics.

The types of cost data available include building material prices, labour wage rates, and machinery hire rates and equipment purchase prices. There are also cost and building indices such as a building material cost index, building labour cost index, and building machinery and equipment cost index.

Nazir says the validation of data is stringent (Photo by BCISM)

Culture of collaboration for greater good

BCISM offers three packages — Free, Basic and Premium. The Free package provides limited services but enough for someone to get general information. From now till the end of the year, the subscription for the Basic package is RM500 per year while that for the Premium service is RM1,000 per year. The normal rates are RM700 and RM1,500 respectively. All details of services and subscriptions are found on the MyN3C portal.

Looking ahead, Sri Kandan says the company hopes to include more services and products. One such product is whole-life cost.

“For clients overseas, construction cost is only a part of a building’s life cost. You also have the maintenance costs, which comprise repairs, renewals, changes and so on. For example, with the pandemic, people have to adapt their premises to deal with Covid-19. All these costs are very substantial,” he says.

Kwan concurs. “It is important to look into the life cycle of the project and not just the construction cost. Even before the construction, [we need to know] about where the product comes from, the mining of the product, the efficiency of producing the materials and so on. That is where the whole life cycle comes in. Other than only looking at cost to build and profits to make, we don’t think about other things like the socioeconomic aspects and our responsibility to them. I think this is something [we are looking into] for the long run.

In the future, BCISM wants to also provide forecast construction cost services, which is not available at the moment, says Sri Kandan, adding that in the whole scheme of things, he hopes that BCISM will help cultivate a culture of collaboration for the greater good of all.

“The ultimate aim [for BCISM] in the construction industry is to see how, in our own small way, we can build a better place, a better world and a better Malaysia for everyone,” says Sri Kandan.