The following summary resulted from a workshop held at DCD London 2013 where Dave Cameron of Operational Intelligence posed a series of questions to the audience.
For each question posed, the discussions clearly highlighted how participants were acutely aware of the need to involve all parties when considering risk throughout the lifetime of a project from design through to operation.
Providing an environment to enable multi-stakeholder interaction and learning is important, as is there a need to put in place processes to learn from past experiences and provide an environment for training, relevant to the systems being used on site.
The experiences of the participants – positive and negative – showed the need to allow transfer of knowledge between the distinct areas of the data center. Only by providing an environment of continual learning can we reduce risk from human error.
The main outcomes from the session were:
- The need to involve all parties to harmonize the process.
- The need for formal procedures to program lessons learned regarding flexibility from previous projects into subsequent design processes.
- Not only was early involvement important, there was a strong need for mechanisms to implement lessons learned from the commissioning of previous phases of a project into remaining phases.
- Without practical experience, and the development of training based on lessons learned from this experience, the ability of the industry to manage risk is compromised.
Active learning and human element
It is generally accepted that 70% to 80% of failures in the data center are due to human error. In reviewing many failure events a recurring theme is a lack of awareness that a particular sequence of events would have a problematic outcome. Recognizing where there are weaknesses in a facility, and facing them head on, is difficult if there isn’t a culture of information exchange, continual learning and ongoing site-specific training which brings together the diverse teams of a data center.
The teams involved in the life of a data center can be broadly split into four distinct roles – design consultant, installation and commissioning contractor, operator and business team. Communication between these roles is often complex and as a result opportunities to transfer knowledge are limited.
These four roles approach their work in different ways – the operator relies on experience, the business reflects on strategic requirements, the design consultant uses theory and past design experience and the installation and commissioning contractor relies on practice.
These approaches towards work make up the four quadrants of the Kolb learning cycle (shown below for each question). Learning is optimized when all four quadrants of this cycle are actively moved through allowing for a balance between theory and practice.
Training each discipline on only the principles relevant to their roles and restricting opportunities to transfer knowledge between these disciplines creates a silo-effect where data center risks are increased. Removal of the barriers between the teams, for example by providing a common language and processes to learn from previous experience, therefore minimizes the risks of failure due to human error and allows data center teams to collectively reduce energy consumption.
During the interactive session At DCD London 2013, Dave Cameron ran a workshop to investigate the benefits from the active engagement of each and every team in the data center. The concepts of active learning were explained to the participants who were then asked to reflect on four areas of risk within the data center.
The interactive session
Dave first asked what people were doing in their organizations to maximize the opportunity for knowledge transfer during commissioning/handover.
It was clear that early involvement of the facilities team was considered imperative in developing appropriate procedures from the outset of a project.
The need to input expectations of the IT team into these procedures was discussed at length. However, boundaries to this actually being achieved were frequently due to time pressures from business, showing a clear boundary between the operator and business teams who frequently don’t appreciate the benefits from approaching commissioning and handover in an integrated manner. Interestingly, everyone agreed on the need to involve all parties to harmonize the process.
Participants were then asked what they were doing in their organisations to ensure there is sufficient design flexibility to suit their business model.
Most people felt risk was created by a mismatch between the site-specific skills required to operate a facility, and the actual skills of the operations teams.
For example, many questioned whether free cooling was successfully implemented to its full potential because of a lack of detailed knowledge around how best to optimise the installed systems. Many felt there was a need for formal procedures to programme lessons learned regarding flexibility from previous projects into subsequent design processes.
Without the process in place, however, it was clear that there was no way for knowledge to transfer from previous projects into future projects.
They were then asked for examples that the design team understands the needs of the operator.
Again, the need to involve the correct stakeholders from the earliest stage possible was considered essential. In reality this was rarely the case, and as a result knowledge transfer on common issues such as part loads was restricted.
Not only was early involvement important, there was a strong need for mechanisms to implement lessons learned from the commissioning of previous phases of a project into remaining phases.
Finally they were asked if they felt there was a skills shortage in the data centre sector.
A potential skills shortage affects the ability for the industry to limit risk as it moves forward. Without practical experience, and the development of training based on lessons learned from this experience, the ability of the industry to manage risk is compromised.
In FOCUS 34, Ambrose McNevin looks at the human factors in the data center. You can download the digital edition online here.