The blurring boundaries of consultants in the built and natural environments

This post draws attention to the symbolism captured in name and logo changes of Consult Australia and ACE – New Zealand. Behind these changes is the story of the transformation of built and natural environment consultants in Australia and New Zealand.



The Association of Consulting Engineers Australia (ACEA) was founded in 1952. Reflecting the changing nature and make up of its member firms, ACEA changed its name and logo to Consult Australia in 2010. At the same time membership was widened to include architects, project managers, planners, environmental scientists and quantity surveyors, among others.


The Association of Consulting Engineers of New Zealand was founded in 1959 as the consulting division of Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ) and has been a separate entity since 1970. In 2020, without changing the acronym, ACENZ was renamed ACE New Zealand - Association of Consulting and Engineering accompanied by a new logo.


These changes are far more profound than the mere adoption of more contemporary words and graphics. 


To beaton, the refreshed names and designs symbolise the changes in these professions – and they are portents for others.


As they were formed and evolved each profession was silo unto itself. The hallmarks and institutions of a profession include ethical conduct, independence, a body of specialised knowledge and skills, underpinning sciences, tertiary and continuing education, regulation, occupational licensure, professional societies, publications and – in some cases – reserved status of the name, e.g. ‘architect’. 


Forces blurring the boundaries

Recent decades have witnessed the blurring boundaries between many professions. This blurring has been driven by major external forces. Some of these include:

  • First, as we are fond of saying, clients’ needs do not come in pigeonholes, each with neat label like ‘building services engineer’, ‘planner’ and ‘project manager’. Clients want professional solutions, more often than not involving dozens of professional services on large and complex projects. 

  • Second, automation does not respect professional boundaries; many of the ‘faster, better, cheaper’ benefits of automation derive from its boundary-spanning features. 

  • Third, professionals are being increasingly disintermediated by technologies which enable clients to choose what and how they use technology to partially or wholly serve themselves.



The blurring of boundaries is most evident in the dozen or more built and natural environment professions – hence the change of names and identifiers (logos) by Consult Australia and ACENZ. Not before time. Clients procurement practices have long sought solutions. And professional services firms have been responding in the way they integrate their services in the design and delivery of these solutions.


While Consult Australia and ACENZ are following suite as professional societies, educators and regulators face many challenges in adapting to the world of blurred – or no –boundaries.


Implications associations and their members  

Researcher and strategist Belinda Moore is almost certainly right when she writes "…Powerful generational, cultural and economic forces are colliding to create a perfect storm that will make the next 5-20 years … the toughest ever faced by associations", then these moves by Consult Australia and ACE New Zealand are part of the solution ameliorating their dilemmas caused by blurring boundaries.


Leaders and members of professional associations  are invited to comment to with their views and suggestions. Citing the contributors, we will edit these responses into a follow-up post on Research. Reveal.


Implications for beaton’s Client Choice Awards 

The evolution of the Client Choice Awards since they were founded in 2005 mirrors the blurring phenomenon. Take for example the Built Environment awards. From a single consulting engineering category, today we recognise 10 different professions, see Categories.


Trouble is these categories are each a ‘pigeon hole’ whereas many firms offer three, four or more, usually bundled, types of professional service. As a result, these firms need to enter multiple categories to have a chance winning one of these prestigious awards.


Moreover at the request of large engineering consultants, we now include the names Big Four –  formerly  recognised as 'accounting' firms – in the lists along with giants like GHD AECOM, Beca and Jacobs. We do the same in the Law category; blurring is not limited to the built and natural environment professions.     



  1. We have a workaround to provide the unique client feedback reports beaton delivers from the Awards surveys, and

  2. we are investigating how to modify the Awards to recognise this inexorable blurring trend.


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