In this installment of DCD>Talks, George Rockett talks to Steven Marles, Business Development Director at Equans, a global energy provider and technical service provider for an exploration into the burgeoning world of sustainable construction.

Marles begins by reminding us that the key to getting the most out of general contractors like Equans is to involve them early, especially if you are trying to build in a congested geography:

“There's always things coming into this cone of work, and for us, as a general contractor, it’s about influencing a project. We talk about it as a ‘zone of influence’, a bit like the Twilight Zone, but with more engineers involved.

"Very early on, as a general contractor, you ensure that you can influence the project for the betterment of the client, picking up things like sustainability and energy efficiency problems that we're all talking about at the moment, and trying to find ways to accelerate a program or mitigate something else that the site demands, because every site is slightly different.

"We're not talking about the US market where everything is single story and as big as you want it, because the space is there. Now we're trying to look at building data centers, especially in London and inner cities, where space is very much at a premium.”

As co-location becomes ever more a global affair, cultural norms and practices come into sharp focus, and someone always has to bring them to a homogenized middle:

“You've got clients who are very well-engineered. They know what they want, the equipment's pre-ordered, the specifications fixed, and they try to have a set footprint, which is difficult when you go from country to country because you've got different influences.

"But you've also got the clients that are coming into Europe for the US who have to change their mentality and their thought patterns to adjust to the European market. That potential for influence and assistance can be a bit greater at that point because it's more of a guiding process than becoming a partner who can guide you through that initial journey.”

The other big challenge with new territories is having the skillsets in situ. Simply scrambling your existing team is no substitute for local labor with local knowledge:

“When you look at the rollout this year, and what we've been trying to do in pushing out to Greece, Croatia, etc, you’re looking at a market that's now emerging and has demand, but the criteria to build is different again, and the expertise in the area is different as well. Our supply chain, our subcontractors, our partners – you're building up a whole new strategy to deal with that area.

"By DNA, what we don't do is just fly people around Europe, we try to build in a country, have the team on the ground speaking their language, and they go home at night, instead of flying home at the end of the week and flying back in again.”

To learn more about the challenges facing data center constructors in 2024, check out the full talk at this link.