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Business continuity management


in large construction companies
in Singapore
Sui Pheng Low

Business
continuity
management
219

Department of Building, National University of Singapore, Singapore

Junying Liu
Department of Construction Management, Tianjin University, Tianjin, China,
and

Stephen Sio
Department of Building, National University of Singapore, Singapore
Abstract
Purpose The aim of this study is to determine whether large construction companies practise
business continuity management (BCM), the type of crises which companies deem impactful for their
organizations and their reactions to certain crises.
Design/methodology/approach A survey of 22 large construction companies in Singapore was
conducted.
Findings The survey suggests that, although the importance and usefulness of having BCM are
clear, the receptiveness of BCM among large construction firms is far from ideal. In todays
unpredictable environment, there is a tendency for catastrophes to occur unexpectedly and to bring
about undesired consequences. A large majority of the respondents did not have any form of BCM
practices within their organization. This is mainly because they were unaware of what constitutes a
business continuity plan.
Research limitations/implications The survey was conducted only among large construction
companies; as such, the results obtained cannot be used to represent the entire industry. However,
focusing on the larger companies is strategically correct for a start, because BCM-related initiatives, if
any, tend to be undertaken by the larger companies, as they have the necessary resources, such as
manpower and finance, to do so.
Practical implications To be successful in promoting BCM in the building industry, the relevant
authorities in Singapore, such as the Building and Construction Authority, should demonstrate to
construction companies how beneficial BCM is for the companys operations, so that they can be better
equipped to meet future challenges more confidently.
Originality/value As with all other businesses, an effective business continuity plan is critical to
companies in the construction industry. Being in an industry that is constantly subjected to internal
and external pressure, construction companies are likely to incur costly errors if they are caught
unprepared when a crisis strikes. This is the first ever study of BCM in the construction industry.
Keywords Business continuity, Construction industry, Singapore, Contingency planning
Paper type Research paper

Introduction
The readiness of a company in reacting to contingencies such as terrorism, the avian
flu pandemic, killer tsunami waves, etc. is dependent on how actively involved its
management is in embracing its business continuity plan. The term business

Disaster Prevention and Management


Vol. 19 No. 2, 2010
pp. 219-232
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
0965-3562
DOI 10.1108/09653561011038011

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continuity plan (BCP) refers to the identification and protection of critical business
processes and resources required to maintain an acceptable level of business,
protecting such resources and preparing procedures to ensure the survival of the
organization in times of business disruptions. Thus the existence of the BCP enables
the company to resume operations at the earliest opportunity without any further
implication on the company in the event of an encounter with such contingencies. In
short, an effective BCP is crucial to every company as it helps to ensure the continuous
well-being of the company.
Business continuity planning is however more than just a simple task of setting out
certain contingency plans and avoiding risks. It refers to its ability to have a focused
response management to deal with the situation once the consequences are known.
However many construction companies appear to lack a proper integrated approach
towards business continuity planning. This is evident from the 1997 financial crisis
where it took the world by surprise, in particular Southeast Asia, with the Singapore
dollar depreciating against the American dollar due to downward currency pressure
from its neighboring countries like Thailand, etc. (Ngiam, 2000). The economy
consequently slowed down with construction companies facing reduction in business
opportunities and financial liquidity (APEC Forum, 1998). Cessations of construction
companies went from a low of 98 in 1997 to a high of 160 in 1998 (Singstat, 1999), as
many companies were either tendering below cost or undertaking too many projects
without adequate financial capability (Balakrishnan, 2003) in addition to the
bankruptcy of several developer-clients who were unable to finance their projects (Foo,
2004).
As with all other businesses, an effective BCP is critical for companies in the
construction industry. Being in an industry that is constantly subjected to internal and
external pressure, construction companies are likely to incur costly errors if they are
caught unprepared when a crisis strikes. A good example was the sudden and
unannounced ban on the export of sand on 9 February 2007 into Singapore by the
Indonesian government. The sudden ban resulted in a shortage of sand supply in
Singapore, leading to an exorbitant increase in the price of ready-mix concrete.
Companies in the midst of their projects faced the prospect of further increase to their
initial project cost estimates; as such, companies without adequate financial resources
were left in a dire state and project progress slowed down or even stopped altogether
(The New Paper, 2007). This situation reflects the competitiveness of the industry as
companies tend to tender at cost price or at a marginal profit or even at a loss (Foo,
2004). This illustrates that in order for construction companies to survive in such a
volatile environment, companies fundamentally require a sound BCP.
In view of todays unpredictable environment, there is a tendency for catastrophes
to occur unexpectedly and bring about undesired consequences. The aim of this study
is to determine whether large construction companies practise business continuity
management (BCM), the type of crises which companies deem impactful to their
organizations and their reactions to certain crises.
Business continuity management (BCM)
A business is termed as an integrated set of activities and assets that is capable of
being conducted and managed for the purpose of providing either a return to investors
or dividends, lower costs, or other economic benefits directly and proportionally to

owners, members or participants (Council on Corporate Disclosure and Governance,


2005, p. 3).
On the occurrence of a crisis, many parties could be affected (Elliot et al., 2002).
They can be the company management, interest groups like investors, suppliers, etc.
who have direct or indirect investments in the company. Figure 1 highlights the
diversity of perceptions that must be considered when formulating the business
continuity plans. An example is the shareholders who invest in the company. The
occurrence of a crisis, if not appropriately mitigated, would lead to the adverse effect of
fund withdrawal, which reflects an externality factor. Even though the investors are
not directly involved in the companys operations, they have an indirect influence
towards the growth of the company.
The requirements of the various stakeholders as shown in Figure 1 include the
following:
.
Employees: the life and means of livelihood protection.
.
Customers and suppliers: the defined time lines for the resumption of support and
services; and transparency of operations even in a crisis.
.
Managers: the control of the situation; cost effective solutions to handle impact of
crisis and effects on business resumption; and transparency of operations.
.
Investors: implicitly in good corporate governance; protect image of organization
and share profit (Singapore Business Federation, 2003).

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As in all companies operations, the respective elements as shown in Figure 2, are


present in the operational flow and would include the following:
.
Business processes: how the products or services are delivered to the client.
.
Participants: who are the participants in the execution of the business process.
.
Infrastructure and resources: what is used in the execution of the business
process (Vancoppenolle, 1999; Elliot et al., 2002).
These elements are essential for the effective functioning of the company. Besides the
dependence on internal factors, companies are also exposed to external factors
beyond their immediate control such as electricity, water, telecommunications, etc.
Although such externalities are difficult to control, it is important to mitigate the
impact of such externalities on the companys operations. This is known as extended

Figure 1.
The company and its
stakeholders

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Figure 2.
Elements of a company

enterprise. Thus a companys successful operation is not only solely dependent on


internal but also external risks (Humpidge, 1999).
Business continuity management (BCM), according to the Business Continuity
Institute (BCI) (2002), is the act of anticipating incidents that will affect mission- critical
functions and processes for the organization and ensuring that it responds to any
incident in a planned and rehearsed manner. It is an important management process by
which success is dependent on the collective efforts of every individual within the
company with the emphasis placed on the top management personnel.
The components of BCM, as illustrated in Figure 3, include the following:
.
Understanding the organization using business impact and risk assessment to
identity the critical deliverables, evaluate recovery priorities and assess the risks
that may lead to a disruption in service delivery.
.
Determining BCM strategy identifying alternative strategies available to
mitigate loss, and determine their potential effectiveness to deliver its critical
function.
.
Developing and implementing BCM response developing a response to
business continuity challenges and plans underpinning it.
.
Maintaining and auditing BCM ensuring that BCM plans are fit for use, kept
up to date and quality assured.
.
Establishing a BCM culture in the organization The need to ensure that a
continuity culture is embedded in the company by raising awareness throughout
the key stakeholders, and offering training to key staffs on BCM issues (BCI,
2002, 2007).
BCM is needed to achieve the following purposes:
.
To enable a focused approach in developing a business continuity plan using a
well structured and comprehensive methodology.
.
To develop a pragmatic, cost effective and operable recovery plan to enable the
company to achieve critical business processes during a major disruption to the
companys operations.

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Figure 3.
Components of BCM
.

To minimize the impact of the crisis on the companys operations (OHehir, 1999;
Health, 1999).

Classification of crisis
A crisis is an abnormal situation, or perception, which threatens the operations, staffs,
customers or the reputation of the enterprise (Barton, 1993). Crises can presently be
classified into different categories, namely:
.
Acts of nature: floods, earthquakes, etc.
.
External man-made events: terrorism, evacuation, etc.
.
Internal unintentional events: accidental loss of files, computer failure, etc.
.
Internal intentional events: sabotage, data deletion, etc. (Vancoppenolle, 1999;
Gallagher, 2002).
However, the selection of the crises emphasized in the BCP is crucial. It should be based
on the impact factor instead of the probability element where the occurrence of a
particular crisis is remote and not addressed.
To effectively address the highlighted internal and external crises, appropriate
management control is necessary. It is a controlled environment where personnel
conduct their activities and individual responsibilities in an environment where
monitoring is carried out and modified according to the conditions. Some factors for
consideration are:

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The attitudes and attributes of the Board or CEO (the tone at the top) that
establishes the overall risk control environment.
The analysis of the external and internal risks that might potentially affect the
achievement of the defined objectives.
The controls established throughout the company to mitigate the risk.
The monitoring process, in respect of the controls and control system to ensure
the effectiveness and dynamism of the system (OHehir, 1999).

Owing to the risks arising from a crisis, measures have to be taken to prevent the risk
level from escalating to avoid affecting the companys progress and the pursuit of new
business opportunities. There should not be any uncovered areas within the
framework that will increase the risk level. Hence, the following issues have to be
considered before formulating the framework:
.
Policy formulate a policy statement at the managerial level to signify the
companys attitude towards a particular risk and prescribe the objectives of such
a policy.
.
Methodology analyze the assessment processes involved in evaluating a crisis,
and to promote greater commitment for the company to proceed with the plans.
.
Accountability establish individual accountability for managing the risk and
ensure that the nominated person have the appropriate technical expertise and
authority to manage the risk.
.
Management support determine the companys current managerial attitude or
process towards assessing and managing the risk, without which the company
will not have the initiative to implement BCM in the company.
.
Dependencies define the scope of the BCP clearly so that every individual is aware
of the dependencies involved, whether it is external or internal (key supplier,
personnel, operating system, etc) to successfully mitigate the specified crisis.
.
Be realistic educate the management that a crisis brings about certain risks
and to mitigate them require certain costs. The management should be ready to
accept certain risks and should be prepared to spend the necessary costs to
mitigate the risks involved.
.
Future actions determine the appropriate business processes to be implemented
or to be refined to reduce the risk to an acceptable level and the assignment of
responsibilities and milestones.
.
Performance measures establish measurement indicators to enable assessment
and monitoring the effectiveness of risk management which can be proactive or
reactive. Proactive action is recommended to prevent occurrence.
.
Independent expert appoint an internal or external qualified independent expert
to determine the adequacy of the response to the crisis such as regular meetings and
reporting with the higher management to signify the importance of BCM.
.
Contingency plan establish an alternate plan for unforeseen circumstances not
being provided for (OHehir, 1999; Eternity Business Continuity Consultants,
2007; Civil Contingencies Secretariat, 2007).

TR19: Business Continuity Management (2005)


The national standard, Technical Reference (TR) 19 for Business Continuity
Management was developed by the Singapore government and published by
SPRING Singapore in 2005. TR 19 aims to provide a framework for an organization to
build up its resilience and capability to develop an effective response to safeguard the
interests of the companys key stakeholders, reputation, brand and businesses
(SPRING Singapore, 2005).
TR19: 2005 was developed in relation to the business continuity planning
methodology advocated in the UK by the Business Continuity Institute (Business
Continuity Institute, 2002), the US Disaster Recovery Institute International (Cornish,
1999) and the British Standards on Business Continuity Management (BCM) (BS
25999-1: 2006).
To integrate the six BCM areas (namely Risk analysis and review; Business impact
analysis; Strategy; Business Continuity Plan; Test and exercises; and Program
management) and the four components (namely Policies; Processes; People; and
Infrastructure) effectively, TR 19: 2005 recommends a matrix framework which allows
for potential shortfalls within the companys BCM effort to be identified and located.
As shown in Figure 4, the matrix is used to explain the implications of selecting a
particular recovery strategy to that of the corresponding policies determined by senior
management. Simultaneously, the implementation of the recovery strategy will be
supported by corresponding infrastructure, training of recovery personnel and
establishing the associated recovery processes.

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Research methodology
To reiterate, the aim of this study is to determine whether large construction
companies practise BCM, the type of crises which companies deem impactful to their
organizations and their reactions to certain crises.
A survey was conducted in June 2007 among two groups of contractors to examine
their perspectives towards BCM. In Singapore, public sector contractors are registered
with the Building and Construction Authority in different grades. Grades A1 and A2
contractors are considered as large contractors, while Grades B1 and B2 contractors
are considered as medium-sized contractors, followed by Grades C1 to C3 contractors

Figure 4.
TR19: 2005 BCM matrix
framework

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which are considered as small-sized contractors. For the survey, the targeted
contractors were the Grade A1 (with unlimited tender limit) and Grade A2 (with up to
S$65 million tender limit) construction companies. There are a total of 48 companies
within these two grades.
The survey questionnaire was divided into five sections. Each section is designed
specially to incorporate the fundamentals of BCM into the survey. The first section
consists of issues pertaining to the relevance of BCM to the respondents company. The
second section is an assessment of possible crises in accordance to their severity. The
third and the fourth sections refer to the respondents opinions and possible
counter-measures against terrorism and the avian flu pandemic respectively. Lastly,
the fifth section refers to the possible improvement areas that the respondents believe
other companies can adopt.
Survey findings
The survey findings are presented below.
1. Respondents profile
Of the targeted contractors, a total of 22 companies replied, generating a 46 per cent
response rate. Out of the 22 respondents, 13 were Grade A1 companies while 9 were
Grade A2 companies. Other then the criterion of selecting Grades A1 and A2
construction companies, the survey was targeted at the managerial personnel of the
companies such as the managing director, project coordinator, etc. Thus, the responses
obtained from the respective companies are a true representation of the companys
opinions towards the concept of BCM and mitigation of crises.
2. Presence of BCM
The analysis in Section A shows that an overwhelming 82 per cent of the respondents
did not have any form of BCM implemented within their organization. These results
differ from that of a similar survey conducted by the Leicestershire County Council
(UK) (2007) in March 2007. This comparison is made because of the close similarities in
the structure of the survey questionnaires used in both cases. The results in Singapore
suggest that greater effort has to be put in by the relevant authorities to promote BCM
to large construction companies because the main reason for not implementing BCM is
because of the lack of awareness to such a concept (95 per cent). Besides the need for
greater awareness, assistance in terms of financial grant (95 per cent) and training
grant (83 per cent) were also welcomed as further incentives to adopt BCM. These
underscore the need for the authorities to make the initial move like providing for
certain incentives before BCM is embraced by companies. In the course of the study,
the Project Director of an A1 company opined that construction companies in
Singapore have the tendency to depend on the government for appropriate action to be
taken.
3. Possible crises
From the analysis of Section B, Financial crisis and Increase in the prices of raw
materials were reported as the two main crises that companies dread to encounter. It
was observed that an increase in the prices of raw materials was ranked first followed

by financial crisis in second position. The least critical crisis appears to be a Terrorist
attack.
The ranking of the increase in the prices of raw materials as the main crisis
coincided with the recent boom in the Singapore construction industry with the influx
of mega projects like the integrated resorts (IR), etc. This resulted in an increase in the
demand for building materials (Building and Construction Authority, 2007). This point
was emphasized by the Assistant Managing Director of a Grade A1 company who was
then involved with several mega projects in both the private and public sector. The use
of firm price contracts (KPMG, 2007) has led to a great disparity between the initial and
final contract values as prices constantly increase throughout the tender pricing stage
to the actual commencement of work stage. This has greatly affected the projects
profit margins as initial estimates may differ due to the fluctuations of material costs.
Besides its impact on construction companies, developers are also not spared. An
example is the Resort World at Sentosa where construction costs for the IR in the resort
island of Sentosa rose from S$5.2 billion to S$6 billion (The Business Times, 2007). A
majority (96 per cent) of the respondents considered the Indonesian sand ban to be a
significant crisis as this directly translates to an increase in the price of concrete.
Other than the increase in the prices of raw materials, the financial crisis was also
considered as a crisis of severity. The General Manager of a Grade A1 company noted
that the financial crisis affected the entire economy causing companies to face financial
difficulties and increase in unemployment. The crisis was not only limited to the
building industry but to other industries like manufacturing. Although the financial
crisis may has dire effects, it was not the main concern for large construction
companies (77 per cent) at the time of this study because with the market then
booming, economic benefits were more important compared to the earlier Asian
financial crisis which occurred in 1997. Similarly, the Project Director of a Grade A1
company observed that this outlook could also be due to the mindset of senior
management (which can be affected by age, experience, etc) looking to the present and
beyond.
After discussing the crises of severity, the discussion will now focus on the crisis
with perceptibly the least impact: terrorist attack. The respondents felt that terrorism
is not as critical as the other stated crises because of the proactive approach taken by
the Singapore government such as the elimination of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) group
before any dire consequences can occur in Singapore (Ministry of Home Affairs, 2002).
Hence, companies felt that the government will never allow such a crisis to occur and
the fact that Singapore, a safe haven, has never encountered such a crisis before
(Economic Development Board, 2007), significantly affected their views on its severity.
4. Terrorism
The analysis in Section C suggests there is a mixed reaction regarding the impact of
terrorism to the building environment: a positive 59 per cent compared to a negative 41
per cent. This could be due to the reasons stated in Section B above which was further
supported by a strong 91 per cent response indicating that companies do not have any
counter-measures in place against terrorism. This suggests that although companies
are aware of the dire effects of terrorism, it appears to be more hypothetical than real.
However, a majority of the respondents agreed that the loss of key infrastructures like

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water supply and roads are very critical as these are essential elements for a successful
construction project.
Other than the loss of key infrastructure, the loss of prominent buildings such as
shipping ports and airports are ranked a close second, because they are important
facilities used for transportation and the import and export of building materials like
sand and tiles. The impact of the loss of investors confidence is least critical due to the
proactive approach undertaken by the government and Singapores globally renowned
conducive business environment.
However, although a majority of the companies (91 per cent) do not have any
counter-measures in place, most of the companies would back-up their essential data
(96 per cent). This could be because companies tend to refer to their past cost estimates
for similar projects to save time and to give quotations or to learn from past projects.
This contrasts with the spreading of responsibilities (32 per cent), which could be due
to the mindset of the top management who would like to keep the information within a
particular group of personnel to prevent leakage of essential and confidential
information to outsiders.
Besides the negative aspects associated with terrorism, 63 per cent of the
respondents also agreed that there are other positive aspects. These can include the
introduction of improved technology such as better and cheaper building materials (eco
concrete) (75 per cent) and increase demand for construction (73 per cent) because there
is a possibility that buildings or infrastructures have to be replaced after a terrorist
attack or the introduction of more infrastructures or services to counter terrorism.
5. Flu pandemic
The analysis in Section D suggests that the respondents are equally divided on the dire
effects of a possible flu pandemic with half of the respondents (50 per cent) considering
it as impactful. Such a notion could be because the flu pandemic which consists of the
H5N1 avian influenza or more commonly known as the bird flu are events which
Singapore has had first hand experience with, in particular, the SARS incident in 2003.
Hence, although companies are aware of the negative impacts associated with such a
crisis, they may adopt the attitude that since such incidents have previously occurred
and that Singapore is a small island, the government would not encounter much
difficulty in establishing the necessary precautions to prevent the crisis from
escalating. Similarly, this perception could be caused by the proactive approach
undertaken by the government (via SPRING Singapore, and the Economic
Development Board) through initiatives such as the Flu Pandemic Guide for small
and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in 2006 (Singapore Business Federation, 2006).
Subsequently, the impacts: Disruption of supplies and Reduction in the
workforce were the two main crises that companies fear as these involve critical
elements without which nothing can be achieved. In contrast to these two impacts, the
lack of human interaction is considered to have a minor impact on the industry. This
could be because of the advancement in technology where communication can be
carried out through telephones or site inspection through video conferencing, without
the need for face-to-face contact. However, this can be successful only if the mindsets of
the site supervisory staffs are directed in such proceedings because they tend to be
older and have not received much education or training to carry out such tasks like
video conferencing.

Of the respondents, 80 per cent of them did not have any counter-measures against
the flu pandemic. However if asked to do so, a majority would consider minimal face
to face contact (91 per cent) and alternative supply means (77 per cent) as two likely
measures to undertake because such activities, if neglected, could cause the spreading
of the disease to other personnel or develop an over reliance on one particular supply
source that could consequently hinder the companys operations. Similar to terrorism,
the spreading of responsibilities within the organization is one which only a few
companies are willing to consider (18 per cent).
Conclusion
After analyzing the survey results, it seems that BCM is far from being fully embraced
by construction companies. Greater awareness has to be developed by highlighting the
associated benefits to increase its adoption rate. Subsequently, to address the low
implementation rate, the government can look into the monetary issues as these appear
to play an important role towards the decisions to implement BCM. Similarly, the
results indicate a reliance on the Singapore government for appropriate measures to
mitigate crises when these occur. The government should, however, inculcate in the
management of these companies, a culture of self-dependence, as this will contribute to
their operations in the long run.
Although the importance and usefulness of BCM is clear, the receptiveness of BCM
among the large construction companies is far from ideal. It can be seen from the
survey conducted among the large construction companies in Singapore that a large
majority of the respondents (82 per cent) did not have any form of BCM within their
organization. This is mainly due to the fact that they are unaware of what constitutes a
business continuity plan (95 per cent). This contrasts sharply with the proactive
approach taken by the Singapore government through the formulation of TR 19: 2005
as a recommended common platform for implementation. As the Project Director of a
Grade A1 company opined: Construction companies tend to adopt a wait and resolve
approach where only when a crisis occur will the company act to mitigate the impact or
only when it becomes a statutory requirement would companies then consider to
incorporate into their organization.
This is very risky in todays unpredictable environment where there is a high
possibility of a crisis such as the sudden shortage of a raw material (sand) occurring. It
would result in a disastrous outcome if construction companies are caught unprepared.
Although the majority of the companies surveyed did not implement any BCM, a small
minority of the respondents (18 per cent) practised BCM within their organizations.
The purpose, however, is to assist these companies in their financial planning so that
there is sufficient liquidity to counter unforeseen circumstances and to ensure the
survival of the company in the long run.
It is perceived that as with all other businesses, monetary incentives (95 per cent)
are an important aspect in the adoption of BCM by top management of companies.
Hence, to be successful in promoting BCM in the building industry, the relevant
authorities like the Building and Construction Authority should demonstrate to
construction companies how beneficial BCM is towards the companys operations so
that they can be better equipped to meet future challenges.
There is one limitation associated with this study. The survey was conducted only
among the Grades A1 and A2 construction companies; as such, the results obtained

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cannot be used to represent the entire industry. However, focusing on these larger
companies is strategically correct because BCM-related initiatives, if any, tend to be
undertaken by the larger companies as they have the necessary resources like
manpower and finance to do so. Similarly, the crises listed in the survey may not be
all-encompassing and there could be other crises which companies shun. The survey
was also restricted to the management level personnel, where factors such as age and
experience can play an important role. This is because a person who has never
personally experienced a crisis, like the 1997 Asian financial crisis, would not place too
much emphasis on it although he may well appreciate the associated impact compared
to, say, the sudden Indonesian sand ban which occurred in early 2007.
Further research can be conducted on how large construction companies view the
components of TR 19: 2005 in accordance with their relevance towards their operations
and what further improvements can be made to enhance the technical reference.
Subsequently, the research can be extended to other professions like the design
consultants comprising of architectural firms, quality surveying firms, engineering
firms, etc.
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About the authors
Sui Pheng Low is a Professor in the Department of Building, National University of Singapore.
He received his PhD from University College London and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of
Building. Sui Pheng Low is the corresponding author and can be contacted at:
bdglowsp@nus.edu.sg
Junying Liu is Associate Professor in the Department of Construction Management, Tianjin
University, China. She received her PhD from the University of Reading and is a Member of the
Chartered Institute of Building.
Stephen Sio received his BSc(Building)(Hons) degree from the National University of
Singapore. He currently runs his own construction business in Singapore.

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