Andrew Stevens, CNet’s CEO, speaks to Louise Frampton about the qualities required to lead data centres in an era of rapid growth and technological change. He argues that a bridge needs to be built between technical acumen and business leadership skills
The data centre sector is growing at a rapid pace and changing beyond recognition. Keeping up with the demands of a such a dynamic industry requires an elite breed of leaders. Data centre managers need to be capable of navigating the challenges of new business and infrastructure models, ensure their teams deliver against challenging objectives, while having the technical skills to embrace technological revolution. At the same time, they are tasked with protecting the reputation of their brand, not only through ensuring faultless service, but by meeting tough targets on sustainability.
To meet these challenges, the industry needs to build a bridge between technical acumen and the emerging demands of business leadership and management, says Andrew Stevens, president and CEO of CNet. New managers and leaders will need to understand the diversity of the industry, how it is changing, and how their data centre fits into their organisation’s eco system.
“The business outcomes and the reason for the data centre’s existence is key,” Stevens explains. “There have been times when organisations have built data centres with huge resilience because someone wanted to build the biggest and the best.
“They didn’t actually meet the business or conceptual requirements of that data centre; these organisations are now left with legacy data centres that carry a huge cost – once this becomes apparent on the balance sheet, they will want to move on; the model is going to change dramatically. You will need a flexible, mobile approach to the business as it moves forward,” Stevens continues.
Developing talent, transferring skills
In an extremely competitive recruitment market, individuals with a technical bias are increasingly being promoted into management positions with no experience and they are being challenged. CNet is therefore providing a framework for technical people to gain management skills.
Data centre businesses want to retain their staff and one of the ways they are doing this is to support further educational opportunities and personal development, such as the Masters Degree in Data Centre Leadership and Management. The distance learning programme has been developed by CNet, in partnership with Anglia Ruskin University, and the first graduation will take place in October.
The course not only targets individuals that are continuing on a career path but also those who wish to migrate into the data centre environment, transferring applicable, traditional skills from other sectors. According to Stevens, the industry needs to look for talent and knowledge beyond the four walls of the data centre. CNet is therefore looking at best practice in other mission critical industries to evaluate where this could be applicable.
“The data centre sector, in the past, has been poor at looking outside of its own industry – it wanted to create its own identity, its own processes, its own people and job titles. Now, we need to learn from other industries and adopt the best from those sectors,” comments Stevens.
Aviation, transportation, the military and other critical industries have extensive experience of managing disaster situations and developing processes to minimise risk. This knowledge could prove invaluable. People management skills and understanding of human factors will be crucial, moving forward, according to Stevens: “Understanding the single points of failures within the operation is key and often this comes down to people and not the technology.
“As an industry, we have moved away from being as technically focused as we once were; the view was that technology would solve everything.
“Now we are moving to a point where we understand that people deploy technology and they are the single point of failure.
“Whether it is design or maintenance, it is all about understanding the implications and actions,’ he explains.
Stevens points out that data centre leaders will need to develop the skills to manage risk across multidisciplinary teams, as well as within environments where there may be clashes of culture and differences in technical approaches.
“There has been a merger of facilities management and IT, which has been a battleground for many years, but it has to happen. Managers have to lead this movement; they have to be able to manage conflict and they have to be able to manage risk. This includes the application of human factors science. There is a huge role for skills in this area. Organisations that are moving the fastest and are the most successful are adopting human factors learning as a major part of their operations,” he comments.
According to Stevens, the priorities for data centre leaders in the next five years will be to keep up with the pace of growth and be skilled in managing mergers and acquisitions, as well as the migration of different businesses as part of this.
“People can be resistant to change, particularly when a new culture is imposed by the acquiring company. We have to look hard at these areas – a manager may have a team of 15 to manage and, three weeks later, find they have 150 people, from different backgrounds, different skills sets, different cultures and different technical approaches.”
Ultimately, leaders will need the skills to bring people on board to do things their way and have the flexibility to navigate change.