High Tech Construction News

Planning for change in data center project management

The project manager is seen as critical to the most effective process of data center delivery. Of all the job functions in the construction phase, it is seen as the one where specific data center experience is most critical and which is most responsible in terms of coordinating the different groups involved in the delivery and enabling the process of translating a design into a data center.


The changing profile of major data center investment decision making

The decision-making process for data center has always been cautious due to the high capital costs involved in the build and fit out, and the fragility of the systems and equipment that the data center houses. The evolution of the role of the data center from facilities built to meet the specialist computing needs to those now – enabling a new world of communication, information, leisure and business – puts added urgency into data center investment decision making. There is a consensus that inadequate or compromized data storage, processing or transmission can threaten the life of an organisation. In a recent DCD survey, 93% of the data center community agrees that data is an organisation’s most valuable asset.

Correct decisions at the pre-commissioning phase will also enable more efficient operations and maintenance through the life of the data center, thereby improving return on investment as well as future-proofing for new generations of data technology. It also ensures that the project meets legislative requirements that will over time become more stringent.

The decision making behind building a data center is, therefore, changing to reflect the increased importance to the business and the increased risks associated with the process. DCD research conducted over the past decade indicates that more people are involved in the process. The number of parties involved in major data center decisions (build, extension, major refit/refresh) has increased from an average range of 7-10 per project (2007 research) to 15-20 in 2016. This reflects the increased numbers of technologies and disciplines that the data center now encompasses, the increased connection with the business, heightened risk aversion and legislative requirements. The major global players with established build programs have therefore made it a priority to ensure they have the resource and skills base necessary to execute those future build programs.

Decision making also appears to have become more formalized, less reliant on an open tender and more involved down to items of lower value. Therefore, formal policies, service-level agreements, preferred supplier and tendering and preferred supplier processes have become standard procedures.

The people involved in the process reflect the increasing complexity of the process. There has been a move away from dependence on personnel directly involved with IT and facilities within the corporate hierarchy. Now C-Level and senior managers across the organisation are more likely to be actively involved. Broadly, involvement in decisions now reaches far more widely across the organisation and is based more on the skills that staff or partners can contribute and will include external specialists within specially constituted project teams. If the construction is relying on external financing, then investors will also require involvement throughout decision making.

Research conducted as part of the Data Center White Paper indicates no pattern as to the length of the decision-making process. It is subject to the number of decisions that have to be made as part of the process. For example, if the location and the site have already been decided, then the process can focus on the design and construction of the facility.


The importance of project management

To work best, the data center investment decision process needs to balance a number of factors:

  • Skills and resources that are available in-house against those that need to be outsourced
  • Centralized control over the process against the devolution of responsibilities which may allow independent evaluation of work that has been completed so far
  • The use of specialist data center designers, builders and subcontractors against generalists
  • Obtaining supply from a single source rather than a number
  • Driving the process without compromize towards its original outcome rather than allowing factors that emerge through the process (e.g. legal, site-related, technological, budgetary) to add time and/or cost

Project management is seen by the market as the means of achieving the proper balance between these factors and also to be the key area in which specialist data center experience and skills are seen to be critical. While it is considered that a specialist project manager may organize generalist builders and subcontractors in building a data center, the reverse situation is considered much less likely to be possible. Data center experience will enable the project manager to add value through reviewing the process and making suggestions for improvement and working out how revisions to the project can be incorporated with minimum disruption into the build process.

Through the process, good project management is seen to coordinate all the contractors and suppliers who will be involved in delivering the facility and to ensure that timing and costing requirements are met. Consistent with this position, they will ensure that the client’s interests are followed in all decisions. In the words of one company that has recently completed a data center build:

“They can see the whole project – even if they are not responsible for elements of it. One example of this: the project manager we used for the internal work was thorough with the structural design checks before undertaking the work and noticed some issues and potential areas for improvement. He then liaised directly with our structural team to have them implement changes that ultimately saved us time and long-term maintenance costs.”

In terms of project management software, little is known about this, and it is considered very much ‘back office’ – the means to an end. Such software is seen to have value in visualising the process and modelling the impact of changes as well as a source of sharing and updating information. As with design software, the value is seen in the consultants and managers using it and making recommendations on the basis of the information it provides.


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