The blurring boundaries of consultants in the built and natural environments

This post reflects on how changes in the missions and names The Association of Consulting Engineers Australia and the Association of Consulting Engineers of New Zealand and the implications for professional services consultants.


The Association of Consulting Engineers Australia (ACEA) was founded in 1952. Reflecting the changing nature and makeup 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 (ACENZ) was founded in 1959 as the consulting division of Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ) and became a separate entity in 1970. In 2020, without changing the acronym, ACENZ was renamed ACE New Zealand, the Association of Consulting and Engineering of New Zealand, accompanied by a new logo.

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

Forces blurring the boundaries

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

  • 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.

Implications for 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". The moves by Consult Australia and ACE New Zealand contribute to part of the solution by ameliorating the dilemmas caused by blurring boundaries.

Members of professional associations are invited to comment to with their views and suggestions.

Implications for beaton’s Client Choice Awards

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


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

  2. Moreover, at the request of large built & natural environment consultants, we now include the names of the Big Four – once recognised as 'accounting' firms – in the lists along with giants like GHD, AECOM, Beca and Jacobs.

  3. We do the same in the Law category; blurring is not limited to the built and natural environment professions.