How to Close the Gap Between IT and Facilities

5 minute read
Puzzle Piece Ring

Too often, the reality in the data center is that information technology (IT) and facilities departments don’t work well together. These two codependent resources, often work independently, with limited communication and no process that unifies them. The gap between the departments can lead to unpleasant surprises for both organizations and for the business.

Understanding the IT and Facilities Gap

Most IT organizations refer to the term infrastructure as IT-specific components such as hardware, structured cable and fiber. However, most facilities organizations refer to the term infrastructure as mechanical, electrical, and plumbing.

So where does one start and the other one end?

With the exception of network connectivity, each department most likely agrees that it starts at the rack or cabinet level. But who provides the power specification? And who orders the structured cable?

This is where the gap between IT and facilities begins.

This gap can result in slowed IT systems deployment; inefficient equipment operation; unscheduled downtime; unbudgeted expenses; lower employee productivity and morale; and loss of revenue.

The Uptime Institute 2013 Data Center Industry Survey states that, "For three years running, less than 20 percent of companies reported that their IT organizations pay their data center power bill, and the vast majority of companies allocate this cost to the facilities or real estate budgets…This is like a kid running around a mall with his or her parent’s credit card."

This statistic illustrates how a gap between IT and facilities can result in unrecognized cost to the business. In principal, each and every operations dollar saved goes directly to the corporate "bottom line" and becomes year over year savings.

In leased environments, this gap tends to become even more pronounced. In many instances, operations and maintenance services are provided under building management lease term agreements and are not stringent enough to adequately support IT availability requirements. As a result, critical equipment systems maintenance may not be defined. Rather, they are simply stated under the lease terms in general building systems support and maintenance.

While building management firms and engineering staffs aspire to provide excellent services, most are working without a comprehensive definition of the job. Services and specifications defined by IT and facilities teams helps reduce or eliminate service gaps, improving cost and quality control.

Eight Steps to Unification

By clearly defining the roles between the two teams and the specific responsibilities each team has in the data center, work can be streamlined and the data center can be more effectively managed.

The following systematic, eight-step approach ensures IT and facilities are on the same page.

1. Put a cross-functional team together.

Develop a team of key decision makers, which includes Facilities and IT operations staff, as well as any third-party service providers, e.g. property manager, colocation vendor, electrician, etc.

2. Get executive level support.

Process improvement begins at the leadership level. Commitment to IT excellence is the cornerstone of any IT organization and should include an executive sponsor with periodic measurement and review of support initiatives. IT executives should promote this effort and the value it brings to the organization. If done properly, there is no question that costs will be reduced and business losses will be avoided.

3. Improve process management.

Both facilities and IT should be fully engaged and communicating through a single, unified process. Management of all things in, around, and in support of the data center should be managed through a single Request for Change (RFC) process or similar change management tool. RFC allows for planning of work effort and resource while considering the potential impact to business including end of quarter, end of year, or major project "freeze" windows when no change is allowed.

4. Develop and employ service-level agreements.

A service-level agreement (SLA) states what the end user can expect with regards to IT systems and supporting infrastructure availability. Without clearly defined and published service levels, organizations operate under the basic assumption that services being provided meet business requirements. This assumption leads to service gaps and also introduces significant risk to operations. By having accurate and published SLAs, downtime can be coordinated to have the least impact on operations.

5. Implement process and procedures.

Defined procedures for maintenance and installation provides users with an understanding of what they should expert. This allows them to be serviced at a level that improves reliability, avoids unscheduled downtime, and mitigates risk. An additional benefit is reduced cost through avoidance of emergency maintenance and unexpected or unplanned equipment installation. A single, unified process allows for clear communication and delivery excellence.

6. Define expectations.

Clearly stated responsibilities and review of performance is paramount to success and ultimately drives process improvement. Performance measurement should be a formal process that measures installation quality, timeliness of delivery, target availability standards, etc. It is also reasonable to assume that these would be linked to individual performance management and compensation.

7. Benchmark current state to measure change.

Data center management and planning is most effective when reviewed against benchmarks. Once benchmarks are established, a trend analysis can be done as part of the ongoing review process. Extraordinary events, like mergers and acquisitions, and non-organic IT growth do not easily fit into any process. However, strategic planning is much easier when current capacities, historic time to implementation, and organic growth trend are understood.

8. Write the manual and keep it updated.

A good data center operations manual defines every aspect of a data center operation. If the subject matter expertise or internal resource is not available, a consulting firm can provide expertise and resource for short duration specialty work.

The manual should cover but is not limited to emergency procedures; security; use and operation; service-level agreements (facilities and IT); request for change process; installation and de-installation; power, cooling and space management; cable and fiber management; IT equipment inventory; preventive services (maintenance and housekeeping); and equipment and infrastructure specifications.

Regular updates are essential and, at a minimum, reviewed and updated on an annual basis. Date of revision, assigning ownership and ongoing executive sponsorship are key to maintaining document control and ensuring ongoing alignment with business objectives.

Eliminating the Gap

Lack of communication and unified processes can lead to unpleasant surprises for the IT and facilities departments and for the business. Eliminating the gap helps organizations better manage their data center(s), reduces risk, improves IT systems availability, reduces operating costs, and deploys IT systems faster.

For more tips about the data center, get The Essential Guide to the Data Center Facility of the Future.

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Michael Dunn says...

Excellent observations. I would add cross discipline training as another step to close the gap. IT managers, system architects, operations staff need at least a basic understanding of HVAC, electrical and life safety systems to effectively understand physical infrastructure requirements for a data center.

Posted at Oct 04, 2013 5:06 pm

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