Polly Gourlay MIEMA CENV takes a personal look back on the past 12 months, how C19, the climate crisis and economic downturn have shifted the trajectory of her career into the technology sector. Reflections on the acceleration of data and technology uptake in the built environment sector and the opportunities that exist for organisations starting their own journey.

If you had told me 12 months ago, I would be working for a construction tech start-up I would have laughed. But when Covid-19 hit I was furloughed and spent a few months reconsidering my own trajectory and impact. My self-awareness and empathy increased for anyone suffering from the debilitating effects of anxiety and depression, for many brought on by the uncertainty of the pandemic, economy and environmental crisis we face. Although the past year has been extremely challenging personally and professionally, I am now beginning to appreciate the incredible opportunities it has provided. Today I find myself in an agile start-up seeking to support, head on, the UK’s green recovery via clean technology.

Being new to the technology and data world I have been doing a lot of reading, and I have seen references to the ‘golden thread of data’, but what does it really mean? One of the historic issues is that every sector collects and reports on data in a variety of ways, for me this golden thread is all about consistency. Take carbon reporting as an example, one of the issues with carbon reduction targets is what those targets are benchmarked against, if each project is using different benchmarks how can we expect to have accurate results and data? There is a lot of great work going on around defining this golden thread and advising how we can be more transparent around the data we collect and report on. But we are in the infancy of this journey and we will need support from government and policy as this matures.

This is one of the main reasons I decided to join Qualis Flow, a construction tech start-up that is on a mission to make the industry more sustainable. In this role I am working with companies to implement innovative technology that allows them to work more efficiently and minimise the medial administrative tasks in their roles.

I can see first-hand the benefit that technology and data automation can bring to sustainability and engineering professionals. One of the fascinating parts of my role is working alongside the data science team, who are constantly looking to challenge the norm. Looking around our small yet ambitious team I see so much talent and ‘can-do’ collaborative attitude, it really is refreshing. Working with a variety of contractor and developer clients, we have seen huge efficiency gains from utilising Qflow’s data automation capabilities, in some cases 271% efficiency improvements in supplier payments and on average 15 hours of time saved per month.

It’s exciting to see the organisations leading the uptake in technology and digitalisation asking us about integration, to ensure their software can talk to one another and feed into a central platform. Each new client we work with uncovers a new value from their data, the more data we have the more insights we can find.

To encourage the industry to join us on this data journey, we have orchestrated a Data Deep Dive research Project (DDD) in partnership with Goldacre. We have been running exploration sessions with industry leaders and regulators, looking to derive industry benchmarks and review existing performance against these benchmarks. We are also hoping to find various data insights around reducing cost, project risk and improving the sustainability performance of future projects, through better understanding of the relationships between embodied carbon and program. Organisations we are working with sit in major T1 contractor organisations, developers, regulators, and infrastructure clients. Part of the project will involve a data cleaning phase, where we will provide guidance to the organisations involved around how they can improve their data quality to help produce more meaningful data insights in the future.

At the end of the DDD project (likely over the next 9 to 12 months) we will be looking to publish the findings from the research, aiming to support the industry in working more efficiently and with greater data intelligence.

Over the past year venture-capital (VC) investment growth in construction tech has outpaced the overall VC space by a factor of 15! This has driven an accelerated technology adoption in the built environment sector, witnessing continued momentum with key policies around digitisation and embedding digital technology in The Construction Playbook. Thanks to technology the pandemic has shown us that we can work remotely, efficiently, resiliently and with huge gains on our mental wellbeing and family life. Let us continue on this trajectory, letting the machines do the heavy lifting while people can do the critical thinking.

For any organisation wanting to get involved this is an opportunity to have your historic data cleaned and analysed, any burning questions can be investigated at scale and we hope to provide some insights on how you perform against other top developers and contractors in the UK. If you or your organisation are interested in getting involved in the DDD research project or would like to provide data, please reach out to myself on the details below.

Polly Gourlay-Philipp, Sustainability Lead, Qualis Flow
Polly.gourlay@qualisflow.com
07548 808 871

Please note: the views expressed in this blog are those of the individual contributing member, and are not necessarily representative of the views of IEMA or any professional institutions with which IEMA is associated.

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Polly Gourlay

Polly Gourlay is a Chartered Environmentalist and experienced Project Manager who has recently transitioned into the construction technology sector. Working as the Sustainability Lead for Qualis Flow.