Whether it’s through active participation in advisory groups, in-person events, sharing our work with their wider networks or helping us connect to industry experts, our constellation members are an integral part of Icebreaker One.

Aligned with our ethos of collaboration: ‘to go far, we go together’, they contribute to our mission of making data work harder to reach net zero. Now we want to highlight some of the important work they do for both people and the planet.

This week, I’m joined by Jose Cordovilla and Deepika Swamy, TYPSA. who have participated in our Impact Investing project and NIMBUS project, respectively. Jose is the Director of TYPSA’s Infrastructure Advisory and Deepika is the Head of Environment and Sustainability, UK. 

In this Q&A we touch on some of the inefficiencies surrounding the infrastructure industry, and how less data friction could open up the industry, inviting opportunities and disruptors, ultimately creating more business.

Ross: Thank you both for taking the time to talk with me. Could you start by giving me an overview of TYPSA?

Jose: Thanks for having us! Of course. TYPSA is a consulting firm and we cover most of the spectrum in engineering, with around 90 percent of work we do being on the technical side. A lot of work in my division is around financing and managing infrastructure assets, feasibility, planning and setting up long term contact for the government. Most of the work we do is for the private sector, but around 75% of projects in my sector involve helping developers bid for PFIs (Private Finance Initiatives) and PPPs (Public Private Partnerships).

Asset management is where my particular interest in working with IB1 lies. To capture the knowledge of assets, we have our own equipment for scanning, and have systems for monitoring asset performance, so that clients can plan operation and maintenance. We focus mainly on the life-cycle analysis cost side, and how you build into life-cycle expenditure.

Ross: Are you working on any interesting projects at the moment?

Deepika: Here in the UK, we have the High Speed 2 (HS2) project, which we have worked on for the past 8 years. HS2 is quite high on the government’s decarbonisation agenda, and there’s a public commitment to reduce carbon impact by 50%. That is no mean feat!

For HS2, we generate the data ourselves, using technology such as BIM (Building Information Modelling). Everything we do is digitised and all the models we design get fed into a BIM model, this model then gives us an output in terms of data, quantities and materials. Using that, we extract what’s relevant to us, and if data isn’t available, we use an EPD (Environmental Product Declaration) from suppliers. With this we can process the data and find hot spots to identify where we can further reduce carbon impact. We’ve been able to consistently reduce carbon but whether we can achieve 50% reduction at this stage in the project, we’re unsure but I do think it’s a huge undertaking from the government. 

Ross: What data-related challenges have you faced on this project and more generally in your industry?

Deepika: We do have minor challenges with data but the majority of the problems are actually down to the sheer size and scale of the projects we work on. Again, if data isn’t available we tend to use benchmark data. 

Jose: In a more general sense, our sector is very contract-centric, and very opaque. There’s a lot of advantages to possessing privileged or granular data, particularly when it comes to price. I think this is why a lot of the focus of open data standards should be on procurement and looking at how a project is conceived. There’s a plethora of contracts in which, having less data friction would open up a lot of opportunities and business. 

There’s also a lot of inefficiencies in the industry. In fact, the construction industry is the least efficient of all sectors, and it’s been like this for years. In some countries like the USA, productivity is actually decreasing. Compare this to sectors like telecoms, which has seen an incredible increase in efficiency, logistics too. But this has yet to happen in the construction industry. There’s a lot of trapped value. And, when we look at having better data on supply chains, there’s a whole ecosystem there and I think there will be a lot of disruption in this space. 

Ross: How do you think the industry can unlock this trapped value? Where do you see incentives coming from?

Jose: If I had to name one, it would be contracting and procurement. Improving the accessibility, openness and granularity of contracting data would unleash everything else. The fact of the matter is, there is no real transparency. When the data is made available, it’s not really accessible, unless you’re a heavily qualified developer. The second one would be the circular economy. This is one issue on top of the list for contractors. Having traceability of materials, and their origin. 

Deepika: There are certainly procurement issues. For example, we found using reused steel has the lowest environmental impact, even when compared to timber. There is availability of this reused steel but sometimes the client becomes nervous to mandate this because there’s an uncertainty around procurement. It’s complex doing it at a large scale but on smaller projects it might be more easily achieved. 

Ross: Does the government feed into these inefficiencies? 

Jose: This is a subject you could write books about! The contracts we deal with are really large, and these carry a lot of interest along with the potential for corruption, and information asymmetry. Also looking at our industry, the way the brains of engineers are built, they’re systematic and this makes it hard to change the way things are done. Its multidisciplinary work and so integrating all the dimensions of sustainability can take time. But I am positive, because the gap here is so big compared to other industries, so there’s a lot to gain. But I know some of the traditional engineering companies will be driven out of the market. 

Deepika: I think this is a journey, and an unprecedented one. We’ve all committed, both governments and projects, to attain net zero but we don’t really know what that looks like. There’s plenty to learn from each other along the way.