Multi-skilling – A model that is transforming the data centre industry

Mike Jones – EVP Global Operations at Salute Mission Critical explains the benefits of a sustainable workforce and how it can be created.

Developing a sustainable workforce is the outcome of an organisation’s emphasis on promoting good and environmentally sustainable work practices, a culture of trust and providing programs that support employee wellbeing. Organisations with a supportive atmosphere also look beyond training to continuous learning and the development of multi-skilled employees to build trust, personal resilience and empowering a collaborative spirit that works to achieve the organization’s vision and goals.

Sustainability and optimisation with a multi-skilled approach

Recently, sustainability and optimisation have become one in the same; the primary objective of optimisation is to improve sustainability. The critical variables that encompass the optimisation of a workforce are about aligning capacity demands to utilisation while managing time appropriately when a team is brought on.

One approach is a variation of creating a workflow from lean principles where people become cross-functional or multi-skilled, working across boundaries while ensuring consistent service delivery. Where demand is predictable and manageable, this strategy improves communication between resource managers and stakeholders. There are several ways to optimise in this area, each with unique primary and secondary values. In the end, the goal is to find and maintain a balance that improves efficiency without over utilising people to the point that it impacts their performance and leads to burnout.

Salute Mission Critical leads the industry with a proven model embracing Multi-Skilled Operators (MSO) and has broken down the barrier between the various silos that have encumbered efficient operations on site. Salute’s model improves resource utilisation, drives workflow efficiency, reduces risk, and lowers costs. The model also promotes career development and advancement as well as the improvement of job satisfaction, with organisations seeing, on average, a 47 per cent increase in employment duration for employees who perform multiskilled functions. Which is critically important right in the current environment as a recent McKinsey & Company article showed the top reasons for people leaving jobs between April 2021 and April 2022 was a lack of career development and advancement.  

The MSO model combines all on-site functions – facility management, security, and IT support. Imagine a data centre where a third-party vendor is greeted by someone who can check credentials, issue a visitor badge, and provide an escort to where a maintenance or repair activity is to be performed. That same person can perform facility rounds, readings and can execute an IT move, add, or change. In a traditional operating model, that work is performed by three people, each likely underutilised and unaware of what the others are doing during a shift.

Resource reduction and improved resiliency in an MSO model are only possible with a cultural focus on optimal training and procedures. The industry has embraced this model, and it is driving bottom-line savings for all stakeholders and reducing the carbon footprint to improve environmental sustainability. Specifically, it has been an important factor when enabling the hybrid cloud because users were uncomfortable with the increased complexity of cloud adoption. Now, this model has proven to be more secure and brings relief to enterprises adopting the cloud. Congruently, customers who select Salute’s MSO model realize up to 35 per cent cost savings per year.

At Salute, around 30 per cent of service delivery involves just-in-time or project work. MSOs are ideal resources to perform things like buildouts, retrofits, moves, decommissioning, audits, and strike coverage. The MSO skillset also allows Salute to deploy people where and when they are needed based on the needs of its customers.

Prioritising work across a pool of multi-skilled people helps put the right people with the right skills in place at the right time. By managing and prioritising the work this way, an organisation will have a good view of capacity and demand to manage utilisation across time while improving transparent communications with stakeholders.

Reducing attrition and human resources costs

In addition to OpEx savings, an MSO model reduces attrition and human resources costs attributed to increased employee satisfaction. A multi-skilled position in the data centre industry improves employee satisfaction in knowing they are performing cross-functional meaningful work and by improving their competencies by building their existing skills every day. Furthermore, career development and advancement opportunities have far fewer limitations when a person has multiple skills and the opportunity to develop new ones.

For example, Salute often recruits and selects candidates to fill MSO positions based on a candidate’s knowledge and experience in critical environments (facilities or IT) and utilises a comprehensive training and continuous learning program to further develop those who may not have experience but are willing to learn about digital infrastructure. It is about taking people with the right soft skillsets and cultural fit, training them, and placing them in right-fit roles that enable them to gain experience and move up in the industry. Salute’s workforce supply chain incorporates initial training, intermediate training, and ongoing professional and technical development to upskill in areas that are useful for not only individual career growth but for the industry as a whole.

The data centre industry is starting to see how creativity and innovation in operating sites can save money, reduce risk, and improve sustainability compared to traditional models. Many more are embracing resource flexibility in scheduling and certainly in skillsets; technicians of the future will need to be multi-skilled, able to provide a level of facility infrastructure (electrical and mechanical) support but also have IT skills in their toolkit as well, being the hands and eyes for the tenant who could be hundreds of miles away.

In conclusion, multi-skilling is a key strength for businesses and their employees to add value to functions that would typically be in separate silos but work in sync within the larger picture. This leads to increased productivity, a deeper understanding of the business as a whole and better quality of deliverables. Multi-skilling is ideal for a business when common unpredictable business issues arise and to cope with fast-paced, critical environments.  As such, there will always be a need for subject matter experts (I.e., mechanical, electrical, and IT) on the team, but this model allows them to focus on their core strengths and provide optimal value to customers, leaving many of the inspections, readings, and light maintenance to multi-skilled resources.

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