Lee Baker is a planner, delay analyst and senior director at FTI Consulting. He has multiple appointments as an expert witness and has testified in the High Court of Singapore. Lee has 15 years’ industry experience across a wide range of sectors, including: power generation; aviation; rail, high-rise buildings; oil and gas; and commercial developments. He is a fellow of CIArb, a frequent speaker and a trainer for the RICS.
What has been your most interesting case to date and why?
Every case is interesting, but a few stand out. Some for their exotic locations, others for their prestige or scale. The most satisfying was also my most challenging – and the first opportunity I had to showcase how digitalisation can benefit dispute resolution. I was instructed to prepare a retrospective delay analysis but was warned by the client and their instructing solicitor, “There are minimal usable records.” It turned out the client had project data, but this was unstructured and diffused across various documents. Using software engineering techniques to interrogate, validate and sort the various data sources, my team and me were able to forensically rebuild the project to allow me to identify and quantify the critical delays that had impacted the project.
What do you enjoy most about your work as a construction disputes expert?
Variety. Construction is a multifarious industry. It comprises many diverse sectors and locations, from leisure resorts in the tropics to natural gas facilities in the Arctic; from simple domestic projects to mega structures – and everything in between. This means I never have the same dispute twice, which stops both me and work becoming stale.
In what ways is digitisation impacting construction expert practice? What are the potential benefits and drawbacks of these new technologies?
The construction industry may appear archaic (some practices are unchanged for millennia) but it is not immune to the digital age. Projects now generate ever-increasing amounts of data.
Construction data is still mostly gathered manually and in an unstructured manner. Likewise, it is not unusual for multiple sources to collect the same information, but in different formats. This all leads to difficulties in retrospectively extracting value from that data. We have become data-rich, but information-poor.
Experts need digitalisation to interrogate, understand and use these large data sets. Digitalisation does not create data but provides structure to manage it. It allows it to be useful, but without integrity loss. For disputes, this means data relied on by an analyst can always — and simply — be traced back to the original source.
Digitalisation is perceived as expensive, with capital investment needed in software and systems. That view does not account for the benefits and value digitalisation generates. In contrast, a real drawback is the current skill shortage as there are not enough data analysts to fill current or future demand.
How have data management methods changed in construction cases over the last 10 years?
The amount of data generated on construction projects continues to increase exponentially. We have more data to collect, manage and interrogate, and are doing so in a wider variety of formats. In the past 10 years we have seen the introduction of 3D graphical “information” models, drones and 3D scanning to construction projects. These provide a valuable source of information to validate a project’s progress.
We increasingly rely on e-discovery tools to manage a project’s disparate data sources. These allow us to simplify very large data sets by performing instantaneous key-word searches and grouping documents by discrete issues.
For example, a recent client had over one tetrabyte of unstructured data to review. The data set was too large to simply drag and drop onto the server! Using cloud-based e-discovery software, we structured and interrogated this data far more efficiently than if it were on a server or an external hard disk.
To what extent is mediation becoming a more popular form of dispute resolution in the construction sector, and how is this impacting your practice?
I have not seen any significant rise in parties looking to resolve disputes through mediations. This may be due to the success of statutory adjudication, which operates in several local jurisdictions.
Outside those jurisdictions, arbitration is still the preferred dispute resolution method. This is particularly true where international parties are involved or enforcing payment is a concern.
That may change in the future. Like others, construction industry practitioners are keen to see how the new UN Singapore Mediation Convention will affect dispute resolution and encourage mediation. Conceptually, the ability to easily enforce a mediated agreement holds much appeal, but how that applies in practice is yet to be fully tested.
In what ways does FTI distinguish itself from competition in the market?
We are an expertise-led global business advisory firm. Our professionals are industry leaders across various disciplines and sectors, not just the construction industry. I believe our clients come to us because of the calibre of our staff and the breadth of speciality we offer. We have decades of experience from working on some of the world’s most complex, high-profile construction projects. In addition, close collaboration with our other advisory businesses means that our staff are imbued with innovative solutions, developed by thought leaders from other industries, which we can offer to our construction clients and that our competitors cannot.
What advice would you give to younger practitioners hoping to one day be in your position?
Find good and diverse mentors. Most importantly, critically observe them; understand what they do and why they do it. Challenge them and use that learning to develop yourself. Do not become a clone of your mentor.
What makes a good mentor? Someone who is prepared to spend the time to both teach and coach; a person who allows the mentee to grow themselves and arrive at their own solutions, but who is there to guide when needed.
How do you see your practice developing over the next five years?
Construction is not an industry known to readily embrace change; yet, it must become more efficient. That improved productivity will come about through technological solutions, which will both generate and consume substantial amounts of data.
For construction dispute practices, digitalisation and managing data will bring challenges and opportunities. If they do not already, clients will have a legitimate expectation that practitioners can interrogate their large unstructured data and make it relevant; and that this will be done transparently and efficiently. If you cannot, then your competitor will!
This valuable data is likely to help resolve disputes. Better data gives better certainty as to what actually happened on site. Another use for this data will be through the increased use of visualisations and graphical presentations. If a picture paints a thousand words, it can paint a billion data points.
Lee Baker is highlighted as a “commercial, responsible expert who knows his stuff”, according to commentators, who call him “a pleasure to work with”. One interviewee states: “Lee persists in finding solutions to issues and has sound knowledge and good analytical skills, and is able to articulate his reasoning well in court.”
Lee is a widely experienced planner and delay analyst with nearly 15 years of experience in the construction industry. He has acted as named delay expert on eight occasions and assisted the named expert on numerous other disputes.
Lee has extensive experience of high-value mega-projects in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East across a range of sectors including aviation, buildings, infrastructure, oil and gas, process engineering, and power. In addition to planning and delay-related support, Lee provides various commercial services from contract management, to change management and dispute avoidance. Lee also performs quantitative schedule risk analysis (QRSA) and has provided procurement assistance for several public private partnerships (PPP) within the UK and Europe.
Lee’s named expert commissions relate to buildings, power generation and infrastructure projects in the Southeast Asia region. He has assisted in the preparation of expert reports for arbitration, adjudication and mediation in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Lee is a regular presenter for the Building and Construction Authority in Singapore. He regularly speaks at seminars and conferences, including CIArb and SCL conferences, and has been published in an industry journal on the subject of project finance and construction risk.