Future of the consulting industry, especially in context of technology is probably the most exciting subject for a speculative mind sitting on a global platform with no real liability of being connected with a billion poor people. Unfortunately, sitting in India, the same question acquires a different tint.
Indian consulting industry has had a nearly nonexistent past and comparative insignificant present. Even after various sectors opening up and creating opportunities, consulting has remained a limited concept, and very often individual-centric. The real need for India is not about the future of consultancy, but about how to create an environment for kick-starting consulting industry.
We are a nation that produces nearly 1.5 million engineers every year, but have not realized that engineers are professionals and thus are those that must own and drive consulting industry. This incredibly strange blindness has turned our engineers into confused job-seekers who have intellect and some knowledge but have no idea about how and where to monetize it. This state of affairs have worked on public psyche over time and has made Indian engineers (and, even more importantly, their parents) not look at their learning as meaningful or applicable and are going through the rigors of education only to become a marketable commodity.
It is incredibly strange that a country aiming for rapid industrialization and infrastructure-building has failed to understand the role of its engineers and has not responded to the dire need of creating native engineering consulting companies.
India, which should have been full of engineering consulting start-ups, is devoid of even a debate on the subject. India could have been a heaven for engineering companies; instead it is becoming a free-for-all for foreign consultants that are lapping up the emerging (and lawless) market of engineering consulting because our policy makers are unable to see and respond to the need of the hour.
As a professional once belonging to this elite cadre, I have always found it difficult to choose between two of the most absurd tragedies caused by Indian policymakers as the worst. One is removing biology, arguably the highest form of engineering from curriculum of those opting to be engineers; and two, not enacting Engineers Act in more than sixty years of legislative history. Former has robbed Indian engineers from getting equipped to deal with the future of engineering and later has prevented them from becoming professionals recognized under the law.
For the limited context of the central theme of Tatva this year, we need to understand how the former, a lack of insight and law is impacting our country and is, possibly, the biggest issue required to be addressed immediately.
India recognizes four professionals through legislation today, i.e. Doctor, Advocate, Architect and Chartered Accountant. These are put in place by special enactments that define the title and create regulating institutes. Engineers have been waiting enactment since ages.
If I borrow some history from the Consulting Engineers Association of India on the subject of “Draft Engineers Bill: Development So Far”, it makes a very interesting but sad reading:
“1970 the Government realized that the lack of Consultancy Services was a serious handicap for development of the country. A committee was set up under the Chairmanship of Shri G.S. Barve with a request to suggest measures which could be adopted to facilitate and expedite the growth of consultancy in various disciplines in the country.
Shri Barve made a number of recommendations, two of the most important of which were formation of one or two Associations of Consulting Engineers which should be given recognition by the Government and the second was to enact legislation for regulation of the profession of engineering.
The Associations of Consulting Engineers were formed but have still to receive recognition from the Government.
Various drafts of the legislation in the form of a draft Engineers Bill were (sic) prepared but the enactment has still to see the light of day.”
It is an incredibly strange reality that, though we have enacted every trivial law possible; from the first draft proposed in 1985 to till date, the Engineers of India have not found any statutory recognition by our lawmakers because the Engineers Bill remains pending in our parliament.
The ramifications of this negligence are many and extremely damaging not just to the cause of engineers but to the nation itself. The subject being complex in nature, I would look at a limited issue, i.e. civil engineering consulting to make a point, as it is not just massive in its economic potential, it is also worst in terms of its impact on how we live.
India, being incredible, has, while setting aside Engineers Act, has enacted Architects Act as early as in 1972. Hence, in real estate sector, which is the largest industry and possibly the biggest market for engineering consulting, we have only one legally recognized professional taking care of the social responsibilities, and that is an architect.
As story from here on is a tragic tale of how two brothers in arms, architects and engineers have been battling it out in the background and destroying not just the consulting industry attach to them but also our homes and cities, we need to have a close look at it.
While understanding this issue in depth, we will also gain an insight in how institutions of our country work, a wisdom that may not have much use for the current practitioners but the young audience of Tatva can use to take corrective action.
Armed with Architects Act, architects appear to have better footing as consultants, as one of the core empowerment available in consulting is quasi-judicial status that grants authority. Unfortunately, architects of India, or rather Council of Architecture constituted through Architects Act, has probably misread this empowerment and attempted using it to usurp engineering consulting under its banner. Hence, without a faintest idea about what is bending moment of yield strength of steel, as per proclamation of CoA, “…Architecture has generated specializations such as Structural Design…”(from CoA “conditions of engagement and scale of charges preamble”).
While CoA assumed that lacking enactment, engineers will be forced to accept this stand of CoA meekly, allowing architects to capture the consulting market as lead players, engineers found a way to fight back using National Building Code, a technical document with statutory recognition.
When the National Building Code was revised in 2005, it was being done through committees with nearly 600 engineers and 6 architects. This allowed engineers to strike back and recover not just lost land but claim right over the territory of architects. Hence, with not a single subject connected with how humans use a built habitat in their curriculum, engineers now claimed right to design all the building types that architects can designed and more.
At this point in time, in India, architects (who are trained to integrate human need with a built form) and engineers (who are trained to integrate technology with a built from) are at loggerheads.
This infighting has a huge impact that our policymakers are not noticing but is getting increasingly evident to all of us, and that is increasingly lawless real estate sector that is building chaotic habitats.
The concept of professional consultant has a deep human connect. Every professional, be it a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer, has greatest power to impact our lives. Consultants are knowledge bearers and thus are able to see beyond the objective of the individual they are serving. A professional consultant is a guardian of the collective interest, hence, when he/she is undermined, the sector loses its soul. The outcome of this is evident from the state of Indian construction industry and real estate development.
Lack of appropriate law-making and compromised institutions have self-destructed the largest consulting sector of India. If left to its devices, this segment of consulting has no real future. The disorder has prevented growth of the local players in this sector that is playing to the advantage of foreign consultants. While local players are busy fighting each other, outsiders are capitalizing on our eternal love for anything foreign and picking up large projects.
As Indian economy becomes bigger, Indian consulting industry faces another big problem, and that is of financing itself. We have no special understanding available in any financial institution to cater to specific needs of professionals. In case of architecture, CoA’s absurd ideas of disallowing companies other than those owned by architects only prevents architectural firms to deal with financial needs of large sectors that demand huge investments for capacity building for providing service in large projects.
If we look at insurance sector, we have no appropriate product that provides much-needed indemnity protection. While we are rapidly enacting laws that create liabilities on consultants, we lack insurance protection mechanisms that understand the needs of each consulting sector.
Another area of great concern is sanctity of contract and availability of sector-specific technical arbitration that consultants require when seeking judicial protection and remedy. India, even today, treats most technical disputes as civil disputes that run in regular courts where technical aspect of the matter is difficult to communicate.
Indian consulting sector is, thus a mixed bag of enormous potential but little hope till wide-spectrum corrective actions take place on the ground.
Not just for the sake of future of consulting sector, but for the sake of our nation, we need to take a serious look at engineering consulting and reform it as under:
1. We need an Engineers Act that provides engineers professional status and have a regulator looking at their profession.
2. We need well-defined policies in place that remove conflicts and allow smooth coexistence of all professionals by putting in place National Engineering Code.
3. We need reinstating of technical professionals as powerful quasi-judicial authorities that are also held responsible when violation of collective interests takes place.
4. We need a clear policy for nurturing native engineering consulting through mechanisms that provide first preference to local consultants and demand local partnership and transfer of technology in all large projects where foreign participation is unavoidable.
5. We must align sectors like finance and insurance with the specific needs of consulting sector.
6. We need to put in place a mechanism that can resolve technical disputes with sector specific knowhow.
7. We need to increase contract sanctity across the board.
India has a great future ahead, if we can understand these issues and support and nurture consulting sector. It is a sector where we can not only become self-reliant, we can actually be world leaders as we have huge amount of untapped intellectual potential. Instead of wasting this resource and allowing others to use it for their own value-addition, we need to reap benefits of this wealth that is, right now, remaining un-invested or exploited by outsiders.
Tatva IIMA: 2015-16