Building Partnerships Through On-Call Engineering
Perspectives from Retired Managers and an Engineer
There are varying degrees of relationships with on-call services, from a turn-key solution to one of “waiting in the bullpen.” Trends are showing more communities procuring for on-call-type services. We engaged four of McGill’s staff to dig deeper into this topic; three previously served as County, City, and Town Managers:
- Doug Chapman, PE, Hickory Office Manager
- Robert Hyatt, Business Services Manager
- Gary Jackson, Financial Services Analyst
- Greg Kelly, Business Services Manager
Benefits of Utilizing On-Call Engineer(s)
Efficiency is the common denominator used to describe one of the many benefits of utilizing an on-call engineer. Unforeseen emergencies, along with minor technical problems, arise in which issues need to be addressed quickly, without going through normal procurement. Selecting more than one firm increases your chances of getting issues resolved expeditiously.
Perhaps more importantly than efficiency is the partnership established, building a lasting relationship. When you utilize a firm, such as McGill, that offers a wide array of services (such as water, sewer, surveying, civil / site, stormwater, roadway, MEP, electrical, and land planning and recreation) you have professionals at your fingertips to address your needs. Through these trusted relationships, the engineers can dive deeper into capital needs and bring forth solutions – possibly even funding options – to move projects forward.
“In my manager days, I viewed engineers much like attorneys. Their advice was usually more valuable on the front end, before I did something on the back end, which required their help to get me out of a mess,” stated Hyatt.
Setting Expectations, Building Trust
McGill serves as the Town Engineer for several communities, including the Town of Blowing Rock, North Carolina. McGill is an extension of Blowing Rock’s staff: attending meetings, troubleshooting problems, preparing monthly reports, assisting with regulatory items, and addressing issues with citizens. In addition, services include typical project-specific design, permitting, bidding, and construction. Similarly, McGill has been selected in an on-call capacity for numerous communities. In many of these relationships, the community typically has the technical staff to plan and provide oversight of its capital improvement plan and developing issues. However, it needs a firm to implement the project. McGill stands ready to assist and provide a proposal upon request.
“McGill serves as an extension of our client’s staff, providing whatever is needed for any situation,” Chapman explained.
Demonstrating Transparency Through the Procurement Process
While on-call relationships can fulfill most of a community’s needs, there are instances where it is still best practice, and often required based on the project fee, to release a specific request for qualifications (RFQ). For more costly, high-profile projects that are unique and complex, it is generally best to procure services. This demonstrates transparency and provides an opportunity to get stakeholders engaged in the selection process. Furthermore, some communities place more emphasis on raising opportunities for minority-owned businesses.
According to Jackson, “the process of ’good faith’ hinges upon open and competitive procurement for professional services.”
Movement to Utilizing On-Call Services
Procuring on-call services often fulfills procurement laws. This reduces the issuing of RFQs for every project, saving time and money. Additionally, with aging infrastructure and often neglect of infrastructure due to financial reasons, more communities are faced with problems arising at any moment. As infrastructure needs grow, along with the complexity of the regulatory environment, more communities are realizing they need professional help, not just for large projects, but on a daily basis.
Know Your State Procurement Laws
Procurement laws vary from state to state. Ordinarily, they provide for on-call, small procurement, and emergency procurement procedures that are less intrusive than requiring the formal advertising and RFQ process. In Virginia, for example, on-call procurement is a way to allow localities to initially go through the formal procurement process to select one or more firms to be available for services as the needs arise.
Greg Kelly added “It is still good policy and practice, from a manager’s perspective, to go back out through the formal procurement process for large and specialized capital improvement projects that well exceed the normal small procurement limits. These larger scale and specialized projects will bring multiple thoughts and fresh eyes to the table to ensure management is totally transparent and is attempting to find the most qualified, effective, and efficient firm for these large and specialized tasks.”
Avoid the Pitfalls
While there are benefits of these relationships, there are several pitfalls to avoid in on-call contractual agreements. Be cautious of staff becoming too dependent on one firm that does not have the breadth of capabilities and resources required. This might limit the ability to explore different technologies, new innovations, or more cost-effective delivery of services. Additionally, be careful not to engage on-call service providers for projects that can be done internally, which saves financial resources for other projects. Finally, an organization might find that it has entered into an agreement with a firm for a set period, to realize it is not satisfied with the service provided, which can be addressed within master services agreements by a “termination for any reason” clause.
Ready to Assist
McGill provides on-call and general services for many communities in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. We routinely respond on short notice and, in many cases, after normal working hours, partnering with staff to provide a solution to a particular issue or problem. Reach out to Doug Chapman, PE, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828.217.3609 to learn more about on-call services and discuss your community’s needs.