Indispensable but Not Infallible: Planning for the People Factor in Mission Critical Environments

Sept. 25, 2023
Sarah Parks, CNet Training’s Director of Marketing and Communications, explains why managing and mitigating 'the people factor" is essential to delivering the uninterrupted services the world requires.
In the highly connected world we live in, the digital infrastructure industry is expected to perform 24/7/365. ITIC reported that four out of five businesses expect 99.99%
uptime and, while progress in technology is aiding operators’ ability to minimize outage risks and keep pace with the near-perfect uptime expectations, ‘the people factor’ is a major contributing cause towards downtime that cannot be ignored.

Last year, Uptime Institute’s Annual Outage Analysis found that almost 4 in 10 organizations suffered a major outage caused by human error over the preceding three-year period. In reality, this figure is likely to be much higher. In fact, Uptime’s estimate (based on gathering and analyzing 25 years of industry data, addressing questions surrounding definitions, and considering the fact that human error does play a role in outages that are often attributed to other causes) is that the truer picture is closer to two thirds of all data center’s outages being caused by the people running it.

With ‘the people factor’ firmly in the chair for such a large percentage of outages, what can be done to minimize the problem? The majority consensus, at least for the future we will see, is that humans are an indispensable part of data center operations. Installation, operational maintenance, cleaning and more all require the involvement of people, and this means risk; we are ‘only’ human after all. By proactively planning for ‘the people factor’ and employing a number of preventative measures throughout mission critical facilities, this risk can be minimized. While accidents will happen and it’s unrealistic to think otherwise, managing and mitigating ‘the people factor’ of human-related risk is imperative to deliver the uninterrupted services that the world requires.

There are some relatively straightforward, black and white operational wins of correct labelling, standardized operating practices and documented procedures that will help consistency across the workforce. The real gains are to be made in identifying and addressing areas of individual and team knowledge and skills limitations. It’s easier to recognize that teams have gaps in knowledge and skills than to pinpoint exactly where they lie and beyond that, how to fix them.

The good news is that specialist tools have been devised with sound psychological knowledge in mind to efficiently identify and address the gaps. The best tools have strong controls on ethics and the appropriateness of questions and therefore measure actual understanding, competence, and confidence levels, rather than just testing memory, which is a commonly identified flaw in many assessments.

Using an assessment tool helps you to pinpoint knowledge gaps on both individual and team levels, which is vital in enabling businesses to ensure the appropriate professional development activities are assigned to the right people to directly address the risks. These might include specific self-paced learning tasks, coaching and mentoring, and on or off-site Instructor-led education programs. For optimum results, this knowledge assessment process should be applied regularly across all relevant employees to provide ongoing evidence-based data so managers can easily identify knowledge gaps and make informed strategic decisions to quickly improve technical team performance, and therefore help to mitigate the risks of ‘the people factor’.

Further bonuses of using an ongoing assessment and education method can be seen across the business. This kind of tool can also be used when you’re recruiting new staff to help inform employment decisions, identify the best candidates, and to help plan employee inductions and initial training/development budgets. The benefits continue throughout the employee lifecycle. Continual staff education and knowledge development proactively engages employees and encourages individuals to be the best they can be, helping to attract and retain talent within mission critical facilities – something that is inevitably high on everyone’s agenda. Individual and organizational confidence increases, and brand reputation can be elevated. This is a true win-win scenario.

Planning for ‘the people factor’ means prioritizing continued technical education and knowledge development for all employees, regardless of seniority. By making it part of the culture of an organization and putting in place a fixed process to execute it, you are actively and continually working towards reducing the human related risks in the mission critical environment. This company-wide continued commitment to knowledge development is particularly essential in an industry that is evolving as quickly as Digital Infrastructure.

Sarah Parks is CNet Training’s Director of Marketing and Communications. CNet Training is a global leader in technical education for the digital infrastructure industry. Contact CNet to learn how following the Global Digital Infrastructure Education Framework (originated by CNet) to align employee knowledge deliverables with business strategy can provide a powerful advantage over competitors

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