Change is inevitable throughout the data center life cycle which, typically spans decades. Whether you are the only occupant of the data center (lease/own) or lease from a multi-tenant data center, how you operate your site today will be different in the future. Data center operations are continuously evolving and changing to satisfy business demand and seize advantages of new technology. This natural growth is complemented with change management processes that institutionalize planning to gain permission to implement the changes. However, when it comes to wholesale changes to operations, whether outsourcing, insourcing or switching vendors, risks are inversely proportional to the amount of planning and rigor put into the initiative to transition operations smoothly. It is also not typically something the current leadership has experienced. This lack of familiarity can lead to mishaps or reluctance to change even if the current situation is in dire need of wholesale change.
The leadership team at Salute has been fortunate to have been involved in many transitions over the years and have learned from each project. As a result, we have built a best in class repeatable approach to help clients effectively transition operations in any scenario. For this discussion, we will focus on transitioning site operations that are established. This will cover use cases that involve either changing providers, moving the function in house or moving it to a service provider.
The Four Phase Approach: Transition to Operations Plan
The power is in having a repeatable roadmap that can be leveraged for any site and situation and it is founded on sound planning principles. This four phase approach reaches an end state that relies on continuity and sustainability to ensure the safest, most reliable and efficient operations for the data center’s life.
- Understand current situation
- Identify gaps and risks to mitigate the planned change
- Scope, schedule, budget
- People, process, systems
- Controlled tempo
- Risk mitigation
- Feedback loops
- Measures of success
- End state
- Acknowledgement of completion
- Continuous learning and improvement
- Transparency at all levels
This information is provided in summary form and covers the practical tips that you don’t usually pick up in project management training so that you benefit from the lessons learned from many others. The key focus of this discussion will be the analysis phase as it is the foundation for the subsequent phases; however, we will briefly touch on key points in each phase that have been essential factors in the many transitions we have executed.
The very first step should be a comprehensive review of the existing operation to establish and baseline and ascertain any gaps that must be mitigated in the plan. Each of the key points below would require gathering all the pertinent information of the function to be transitioned and benchmarked to be used as a guide to the successful transition.
- Measures of success
- Service level agreements (SLAs)
- Key performance indicators (KPIs)
- Organization chart and individual qualifications
- Headcount and current staffing model (e.g., 5×12, 7×24)
- Roles and responsibilities (RACI model to include entire ecosystem vendors, supporting orgs such as finance & accounting)
- Contracts & sub-contracts
- Facility infrastructure asset inventory, remaining warranties and lifecycle status
- Policies & protocols
- Communications (emergency, routine)
- Escalations (emergency, routine)
- Change, incident and problem management
- Reporting scheme (e.g., regular tempo, emergency, safety)
- Operating procedures (e.g., SOPs, MOPs, EOPs)
- Inventory supporting systems (e.g., CMMS, Access, BMS)
- Risk register and planned capital projects
- End users (IT tenants), their business priorities and operational requirements
- Training program, including scope, governance and delivery platform
- Maintenance program (e.g., preventative, predictive, conditions based) including historical records and which activities are self-performed or sourced to a third-party
- Energy management program (e.g., sustainable efficiency protocols, sourcing)
- Inventory of tools, spare parts and consumables
There is some merit in contrasting the findings with recognized industry standards but you should be careful to avoid a check box type review. We highly recommend that you focus on behaviors that you observe because a well-documented unused procedure is worthless. Basing your assessment on behaviors and outcomes will produce far greater insight into operations. Salute uses a unique blend of practical benchmarks that assess whether there are risks associated with transitioning the function in its current state and, if so, the mitigating steps required to prepare it for transition.
Of all the phases, planning is where the most time will be required. It may seem like an adage, but it is critical to identify and plan for every person, procedure, and system to support the transition. This includes support organizations that make up the ecosystem of the function.
Typically, inventorying people and systems is a natural assumption and, in addition to headcount, a thorough analysis of the individual qualifications. It is important to establish a baseline that can be used to develop future efficiency and succession planning models.
Spending quality time on the RACI model to ensure absolute clarity will help drive the process portion and ensure that the entire ecosystem of organizations supporting the function is aligned.
Scope, schedule and budget are the key factors to define and manage in any project and transitions are the same. With the information you gathered and analyzed, the plan can be established that will ensure success that can be measured in any number of ways depending on the business’s priorities. The key is to run this like a project, with a finite end date and deliberate closeout.
Remember, the plan is to reach an end state that relies on continuity and sustainability to ensure the safest, most reliable and efficient operations. Limit the number of changes to individual and third party roles as those can be implemented in the weeks and months following the transition. For many stakeholders transitioning to a new service provider in itself can be a significant change.
Time to Execute
The time put into previous phases will pay off at this point. Once a plan is ready, executing it at the right tempo is key because there will be associated contractual requirements and the need to execute without disrupting business. Transitions are best executed at a pace that drives to a hand off of responsibility that is precise and as soon as practical. Military leaders are very experienced in this scenario but call it by different terms; however, in the end, you know you have done well when it maintains momentum and does not distract from day to day business. Much like a smooth relay team passing the baton, the outgoing and incoming teams need to execute with precision.
As the lead on a transition project, having a well documented schedule, milestones, key performance indicators and effective feedback loops will foster progress and reporting to executives. The feedback loop is a full circle; share what’s been accomplished, the activities in progress and those that will happen in the coming days and weeks. Then listen to key stakeholders to ensure the plan still meets their assumptions and expectations. As noted above, this is a unique project for many stakeholders, and they’re learning how it works along the way. The more transparency you can provide on progress and performance to plan, the better as all stakeholders can stay informed without undue reporting exercises.
The End State
The end of the transition is the beginning of ongoing operations. This should be a deliberate action that is communicated to all stakeholders. The incoming team would, at this point, be fully capable and in control of agreed processes and procedures, priorities and KPIs. A foundation of operational excellence will ensure uptime requirements and sustainable operating practices will ensure that the data center is maintained to run as efficiently as possible.
A key component of closing out the transition once you have reached the end state is to reflect on lessons learned that can be incorporated into future transition plans. Every transition has these, but it’s often overlooked as teams switch to go-live. Take time in the week or two following an operation’s cutover to reflect on what worked well and where improvements can make the next transition even better.
“It is a difficult decision to switch providers but Salute Mission Critical makes it easy. Their proven operations model is lean and resilient and is the perfect fit for our needs. Most important to us when switching service providers was how effectively they plan and execute the transition to their operations. Their experience and meticulous planning ensure precise execution without risk. The transparent manner in which they work ensures that all stakeholders are actively engaged and this collaboration leads to a cohesive relationship that outperforms all expectations”– Prime Data Centers CEO Nicholas Laag
The Evolving Framework
This approach has worked and is a continuously evolving framework that we update based on lessons learned after each project. It is not a normal function unless you are a service provider and then it needs to be a key part of your normal planning cycle for taking on new clients. We encourage all potential clients to include transition planning as part of the formal ‘Request For Proposal’ process when assessing new operations teams. For more information, please contact the authors or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org. The “go-live” scenarios following new construction are covered in a paper Lee Kirby wrote at Uptime Institute in 2013 titled “Start With The End In Mind.” Also, read the full Prime Data Centers case study here.