In 2008, when Norman Anderson was asked by the World Economic Forum to author a white paper on why private sector investment is good for infrastructure, he found there was much the public sector could do to capture excess private capacity that was essentially sitting on the sidelines.
“I started to think about why private investors would invest if the public sector didn't have the same kind of access to information and expertise that the private sector did,” the president and chief executive of US consulting firm CG/LA said in a phone interview with Infrastructure Investor.
“So I wrote a paper describing the fact that we need a much more robust and competent public sector, especially [when it comes to] owner-operators of infrastructure projects. That really got me thinking about this asymmetry issue – how would you build an engine that would allow public sector developers around the world to instantaneously access the best expertise, the best minds, using algorithms?”
Now, as CG/LA launches the Global VIP Platform (GVIP), Anderson hopes to help reduce this public-private asymmetry.
GVIP is an algorithm-based social business network designed to connect public sector project managers with the resources of the global private investment sector, and to connect private sector investors with the people most able to help them see their projects and contracts through to profitable completion.
The platform is free to sign up for and use, though there are monetisation functions within the site that allow registrants to offer relevant products and literature on the GVIP store.
Anderson described GVIP as offering a mix of services that combine some of the concepts behind popular web portals such as AirBnB, OKCupid and WebMD.
“Let's say you need to develop a project. You think about all the people in the world who work in your sector. How do you find these people, especially if you're a public sector project developer in a place like Myanmar? How do you find the best guys in the world?” Anderson asked his audience at the CG/LA 8th Global Infrastructure Leadership Forum in New York City in February. “The idea here is that […] we're creating a market for public sector project developers, an expertise market for people all over the world.”
GVIP is a sort of Coasian solution to the problem of public-private asymmetry, Anderson said, since license holders such as the Army Corps of Engineers, the Andean and African development banks, and a handful of others are empowered to provide lower transaction costs to prospective developers.
Anderson said that during a GVIP evaluation in Latin America, his team saw development time cut in half and costs cut by 60 percent on projects involved in the trial.
Tim Feather, who works with consulting, engineering, construction and operations firm CDM Smith, the company that advised the Army Corps of Engineers to adapt GVIP as part of its strategy, said that he believes the platform is particularly useful towards the Corps' mission of maintaining US water resources infrastructure.
“The Corps [asked us]: How can we more effectively communicate and understand how future infrastructure investment can take place to facilitate the Corps Civil Works Platform?” Feather said. “As the Corps is considering improved ways of addressing that infrastructure, the platform helps bring the best expertise in the world to help the Corps sort through how financing and continued operation of the projects can continue to take place in these times when Congress has limited federal funds.”
Currently, the platform has more than 1,300 active members and 817 projects online that can be found either through a traditional search box, or geographically by way of the multi-overlay map that is central to the algorithmic functionality of the site.
As the platform continues to grow, Anderson said one of the goals of GVIP is to become a source of vital information that is currently unavailable to most global infrastructure project managers and investors.
“What we really want to do with the maps pretty soon,” Anderson said, “is to show how long it takes on average in one country versus another country to develop a water or transport project. So we're creating a market where you're able to see, 'Oh my neighbors are doing better than I am.' Right now nobody knows.”