Paul Cossell, ISG Chief Executive Officer
It’s a space race out there as our data demands exponentially rise with the passing of each month. The major problem we face is simply the disconnect between the pace of this consumption and our ability to build the physical infrastructure that supports our daily online existence.
So, what’s the future for datacentres and how can contractors provide a more responsive solution that brings resilient capacity online quicker? Well the first thing that contractors should be doing is getting closer to customers. The move away from a transactional relationship to a meaningful partnership has been transformational for our business.
We have worked hard to earn the trust and respect of our customers by delivering what we say we will, but also by thoroughly interrogating the brief and bringing our expertise and sector insight to the table early in the process. This last point is key – our experience tells us that the most common factor impacting programme is what happens in the ground – the primary stage of the scheme. If you don’t get your construction team to the table early, your capacity to de-risk this programme-critical element is reduced and in the datacentre arena – programme reduction is a fundamental driver.
Once contractors get closer to customers, exciting things can and should happen. This is our experience, anyway. Engaging earlier, means bringing the supply chain into the conversation sooner, and this is where things start to get really interesting. As we know, the datacentre construction market is primarily driven by programme – the quicker you can deliver a high-quality product, the more successful you will be.
When programme, not cost, becomes the key driver, innovation is given a platform to thrive. Bring your supply chain into discussions earlier in the process and listen to them, rather than asking them to do the impossible with minimal budget, and you unleash innovation, new ideas and bold new concepts. This is the simple principle that underpins our Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) model. Create a flat management structure that brings together the best minds from all of our delivery disciplines and ask the question – how do we do this better? Within this open forum you give fuel to creativity and its best idea wins – it’s not the most highly paid person who gets the final decision.
Now you may be thinking that I’ve side-lined the importance of cost within our IPD framework. But this is far from the case. What we’ve found is that when you give teams the time and space to be genuinely creative in developing solutions to reduce delivery programmes, you get a corresponding reduction in inefficient practices, reduced productivity and waste. Remove cost as the priority driver, and we consistently see that facilities are up and running faster and able to generate revenue quicker.
It takes a bold and forward-thinking customer to embark on a journey that eschews many of the historical hierarchies of traditional contracting methods – however our direct experience shows that not only does this work, but it brings a sense of collaboration, energy and drive from all project stakeholders that is unparalleled.
We are in the rare situation of having two very similar hyperscale datacentre projects that are under construction at the same time. One has been traditionally procured and would be instantly recognisable in the development of its programme and how we are delivering it. The second uses the latest iteration of our IPD model, and the contrast couldn’t be any clearer. It’s all about the agility and innovation of that flat team structure, that is prioritising programme reduction.
Due to that early engagement, our unified delivery team identified the critical elements that had the most impact on programme, and were given the time, space and encouragement to think boldly. Every aspect of the brief was rigorously interrogated to provide those quality, resilience and programme wins, and we have achieved a 40% reduction in the programme for the delivery of a 60MW datacentre.
The future form that datacentres will take is widely debated, but what’s more important if you’re a global technology company, or a colocation provider, is how can we bring that capacity onto the grid in the most efficient way. Technology moves fast and the construction industry’s traditional models and approach have, in the past, been a drag on implementation. Exploring new ways of working, breaking down those entrenched mindsets and hierarchies and enabling contractors and their specialist supply chains to problem solve and innovate is the future.
It doesn’t feel radical, in a sector that is hardwired with innovation, but in our industry this approach is transformational, unlocking the potential for productivity gains that will reverse the perception of construction as a laggard. But the most important consideration is that our sector will be an agile and dynamic agent to support and help shape the physical data infrastructure of the future, in whatever form it takes.