How managers can move their organization from reactive emergencies to planned activities
Angela Testa, senior vice president of operations at American Campus Communities, strengthens operations without compromising a healthy work environment
Recent experiences at a financial institution operating in niche markets throughout the world provide an example of how effective communication between facility management and IT improved the bottom line for the organization as a whole. This institution occupies a 15-year-old headquarters facility situated in a strategic urban location. This setting matters greatly, as it allows them ready access to key talent pools and organizations they partner with in both the public and private sectors. During the past decade, their IT groups have responded to regulatory demands and market pressures arising from the increasing technological sophistication of the financial industry as a whole. This was achieved by investing in their data processing and communications infrastructure, while at the same time supporting 7x24 operations. Meanwhile, their facility management team has been focused on internal moves, space reallocations and sustainability initiatives in response to management directives to increase head count and "go green." As a result, the institution occupies the facility at a much higher density than they did when then they first moved in.
With facility management and IT focused on meeting their respective challenges, the typical pattern of limited interaction and mutual understanding between them began to emerge. However, when they suffered a critical power outage, they managed to break this pattern and replace it with a sound working relationship. This began when a senior manager on the facility management side urged his colleagues to go beyond the forensics of the outage and examine the infrastructure as a whole. Were they reaching mechanical/electrical system capacity limits? Was equipment at or near the end of useful life, such that they faced risk of further outages? Were there new technologies — both on the facility management and IT side — that had, or soon would, render the installation obsolete? IT agreed that the time had come to explore these questions and, together, they did.
The first revelation involved loading. An examination of UPS system maintenance records — which included kW and kVA readings from its display screen — indicated a clear growth trend of 10 percent per year for the past several years. The IT managers were surprised, as they believed loading was either flat or declining. At this growth rate, they would exhaust their UPS capacity reserve in one year. The next surprise came in the form of cost estimates for capacity expansion. These estimates ran into the millions of dollars due to the difficult logistics of carrying out major mechanical/electrical work in an urban environment, in low-ceiling space carved out of what had been basement-level parking and with minimal disturbance to the existing IT environment. These estimates prompted senior IT managers to rethink their entire hardware deployment plan. With space available in a well-regarded co-location facility outside the city, as well as in a partner organization's facility nearby, they realized they had opportunities to improve their reliability, growth capabilities and operational flexibility.
In collaboration with the facility management team, they sketched out a set of options and weighed their merits and drawbacks. They settled on an approach based on reserving the IT space at the headquarters facility for hardware that had to be there in order to fulfill its IT purpose, while moving the remaining hardware to their other facilities and using virtualization techniques to improve overall hardware utilization. This led to a dramatic decrease in loading, such that they could convert their existing UPS system from a single-thread to a dual-path topology. During the course of this evaluation, facility management and IT found that they could help each other — IT could be relieved of capacity constraints, gain higher reliability and improve flexibility while facility management could have an easier time carrying out the preventive maintenance needed to avoid further outages. At the same time, the institution benefited from investing more of its working capital in its core businesses by avoiding unnecessary expenditures on critical facility system capacity. They also realized benefits from freeing up IT space for other uses in a facility where every square foot counts. All of this occurred because facility management and IT were willing to respond, rather than react, to the outage they experienced and work together to dig deeper into their situation and arrive at a shared understanding of the best way to move forward.
Effective Communication Between Facility Management, IT, Improves Bottom Line In Data Centers