The People Paradigm

There’s a commonly cited statistic that says about 70 percent of all change initiatives fail. So, whether you’re implementing a new data center, upgrading your hardware or simply putting new processes in place, the odds are stacked against you.

The reasons for failure vary, but one constant connected to every project is people, and people are averse to change. Common roadblocks include lack of communication, cohesiveness, and education. In some cases, the very people charged with making a new data center work may be the same ones undermining the organization’s efforts, said Steve Duplessie, senior analyst at research firm Enterprise Strategy Group.
“Tactical people view the future as a threat,” he said. “They look at their jobs being eliminated, and many of them are correct. If all you do is twist knobs on boxes, then you will be outsourced.”

Even information technology employees who don’t have an agenda might be thwarting your efforts due to a lack of skills. For example, according to the June “Robert Half Technology IT Hiring Forecast and Local Trend Report,” 66 percent of the 200 chief information officers surveyed reported that finding skilled IT workers was somewhat to very challenging. Survey respondents pointed to networking, security and applications development specialists as the hardest open slots to fill.

Bottom line: Whether you’re building a data center from scratch, migrating to a provider’s center, or upgrading existing technology, your employees – and those of your vendors and services providers – can mean the difference between success and failure.

Finding the Right Fit
Implementing and managing a data center require a specific skill set. At the most basic level, the right candidate will need to have device- and network-specific skills. Cloud experience is important, too, since many organizations have created or are working on a cloud strategy. Managers must know how to move data from one location to another and how to ensure backup and archiving is taking place.

They also need to be able to execute and supervise analytics and monitoring software to prevent and remediate any downtime or outages because even when automation is in place, someone must assess the reports and metrics coming out of those applications and tools. People skills are important, too, since managers will have to communicate with agency leaders and end users.

DCD Intelligence, which provides research and consulting to the data center industry, earlier this year found that 60 percent of data center operators have huge concerns about their staffing, citing a lack of qualified staff to manage their facilities. The biggest problem is that a large portion of the labor force is starting to retire, and there are fewer new employees to take their places, DCD Intelligence’s report states.

CIOs will need to ask a lot of questions to make sure anyone working on their build-out has the necessary skills. They will also need to integrate vendor and service provider employees with their own teams,  said Claire Schooley, principal analyst for talent management at Forrester Research.
“Working with people in other organizations takes a lot of skill, and CIOs should be prepared to put in some time to understand not only content but culture,” Schooley said.

Getting it Right
CIOs can take additional steps to improve the outcomes of their data center projects. Schooley said they should be completely transparent about the reasons behind their project. Everyone – from the end user to the person handing the implementation – needs to know why it’s important to make the changes, what the results are going to be, and why it’s good for them, the end user, and any constituents.
“Things go more smoothly once people understand why something is happening,” she said. “They may not like it, but having the facts makes it easier for everyone.”

Training can also help improve the success of a data center build or rebuild, Schooley said. Before embarking on any program, the CIOs and IT management should assess if there are any new skills that people will need to know and if there are any existing knowledge gaps. Then, they should consider how that training will be given. Some employees do better with hands-on, on-the-job training, while others thrive using online or classroom training.

“A mentoring program where people who understand the changes and the technology and bring people up to speed can also work well with IT people,” she said.

And the final lynchpin: communication. “You’ve got to be constantly communicating what’s happening,” Schooley said. “Even if there are delays, explain why, and make sure it’s not just the leaders who are doing this, but also those responsible for making the changes so you’re constantly working and developing and alleviating any fears.”