Data center FM practices have evolved significantly alongside the growth of the data center industry, with increased adoption of new FM technologies and a long-term mindset. The following are the top six integrated FM practices that data center owners and operators should consider.
1. Manage for total cost of ownership—not just today’s expenses
To manage data center assets strategically, forward-looking FM teams are adopting the total cost of ownership (TCO) approach. TCO refers to the total cost of acquiring, designing, constructing, operating, maintaining and decommissioning an asset—whether it’s a piece of equipment or an entire building—over its useful lifespan. It involves looking beyond the initial capital expense of purchasing an asset to consider its cumulative lifecycle cost.
The key to TCO is to adopt a long-term mindset, which not all data center FM teams are equipped to do. Traditional practice is to focus on today’s issues and costs, with fragmented, reactionary decision-making that typically means overall higher costs and, often, compromised uptime, too.
Cost reduction is an important dimension of TCO, but it is not the only benefit. The TCO approach requires leadership to make maintenance, workforce and facilities investment decisions based on long-term return on investment (ROI) and risk management, creating a safer and more reliable data center.
2. Adopt preventive, rather than reactive, maintenance
Leading data center operators are adopting technology-enabled, reliability-centered maintenance to keep building systems operating smoothly. This data-driven approach enables engineers to identify and remediate issues before equipment completely fails. The strategy is used in some of the world’s most mission-critical operations to prevent equipment malfunctions and unplanned downtime.
However, data center FM teams typically follow maintenance schedules dictated by equipment manufacturers or corporate standards. The conventional approach can lead to unneeded repairs or costly emergencies when equipment fails ahead of the preset maintenance schedule, which often leads to unpredictable capital expenses that are higher than necessary.
In contrast, reliability-centered maintenance leverages sophisticated Internet of Things (IoT) diagnostic tools to gather and analyze real-time data about equipment vibration, heat generation and other performance indicators. Data analytics and algorithms detect performance anomalies not visible by human perception alone, while human experts make data-driven decisions about how to remediate issues.
3. Align FM around standard operating policies and procedures
An FM team that consistently follows leading FM practices helps safeguard against environmental changes, safety hazards and other risks that could cause outages. Ideally, a data center FM team will operate by standard operating procedures (SOPs) for everything from operations, compliance and maintenance to staffing, training and chain of command.
For instance, individual building engineers often have their own approaches to maintenance. Perhaps one engineer can complete a particular maintenance task within an hour, but the approach involves an electrical hazard. Another’s procedure takes longer but avoids the electrical risk. If time spent is the only consideration, the high risk of electrical shock is overlooked even though the potential outcome may be life-threatening or, at minimum, costly.
Leading data center FM teams operate by a written playbook of SOPs and best practices. Proper training by the playbook ensures that everyone knows the rules of the road and is equipped to help prevent catastrophic errors that can lead to costly regulatory fines, millions in lost revenue or threats to human safety.
4. Invest in FM technology
In critical environment maintenance, even a simple mistake can lead to costly downtime. Most errors are human made, which is why forward-looking data centers are investing in FM tools that help remove the human element, digitize FM tasks and contribute to a lower TCO.
In addition to reducing opportunities for human error, advanced FM software can boost staff productivity—another TCO driver—by automating data center operations and centralizing and standardizing building information. Streamlined FM operations reduce time-consuming, manual processes that create a drag on efficiency and productivity, and free staff to focus on more strategic activity.
For example, a data center FM operations platform like MCIM, a leading solution for mission-critical FM operations, consolidates data and documentation into a single system. Corrigo, another popular platform, is a robust computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) that helps the FM team maximize personnel productivity while improving accuracy, reliability and generating savings.
5. Upskill FM staffing with an FM service provider
As in many other industries, competition for talent is reaching an inflection point in data center FM. The shortage of highly skilled FM professionals is compounded by the need to constantly upskill FM staff to keep pace with fast-changing data center operations.
While some governments in the United States, Europe and Asia are funding education programs to increase the technical workforce, another option is to partner with a specialized third-party service provider. With a focus on data center FM, the service provider will already have appropriate training, methodologies and technologies in place, as well as a competitive advantage in talent recruitment and retention.
The top service providers prefer to onboard the client’s in-house staff and equip them with training, technologies and career development opportunities that a typical data center owner or operator cannot match. The leaders invest heavily in training programs to maintain a deep bench of FM professionals specializing in mission-critical environments.
6. Explore every option for sustainable data center operations
FM teams are on the frontlines of addressing energy use and environmental impact from data centers, while also helping operators respond to new regulatory initiatives to control industry emissions. In addition to reducing operational costs, colocation data center operators with the most sustainable operations gain competitive advantage among customers seeking solutions for their own carbon footprint targets.
For data center FM teams, it is imperative to understand how to leverage data and analytics to optimize energy efficiency and where to look for potential renewable energy sources. In addition, FM teams must stay up to date on innovations such as liquid cooling, a new approach to keeping high-powered servers from over-heating that is estimated to be up to 3,000 times more effective than air.
An Integrated FM approach belongs at the forefront of data center operations
To be successful, today’s data center owners and operators must balance the competing priorities of uptime, cost, sustainability and safety, which is no easy task. A well-trained FM team, armed with leading practices and FM technologies, is the best safeguard against pressures felt by the data center industry. Amidst today’s data center challenges, FM professionals with the right tools and strategies will have the opportunity to shine, all while ensuring the organizations they serve do, too.
Matt Landek is Managing Director, Data Centers and Critical Environments at JLL, where he leads a team that helps data center and telecommunications owners, investors and operators address their most pressing operations and real estate issues. Contact JLL to learn how Data Center + powers outcomes with a comprehensive suite of solutions.