Developing a Rapport Between Facilities and IT

January 24, 2012 No Comments »
Developing a Rapport Between Facilities and IT

Facilities and IT have largely acted as separate entities in the data center, each with its own goals, priorities, concerns and procedures. A number of factors that have gained emphasis over recent years, however, make this separation problematic for companies. Since facilities and IT are ultimately working toward the same goal, establishing and nurturing a rapport between them can be a profitable venture. Here are some ways to do so.

Ending the War Between Facilities and IT

Ongoing disagreements and resentment between facilities and IT personnel can spell trouble for a company. Both are equally important to delivering the needed data center resources to both the company and customers, and working to foster understanding and mutual respect can increase uptime, increase energy efficiency and decrease costs.

  • Communicate regularly. The two groups can’t work out disagreements and other difficulties without talking, so open the lines of communication and use them regularly. And no, this doesn’t necessarily mean you must gather everyone for a long and boring meeting that mostly just wastes time. Meetings are often a black hole for productive man-hours, but they’re not the only means of talking. Drafting a delegate or two from each group can save the hassle of gathering large numbers of people in one room and enable productive discussions of both disagreements and common goals. Whatever method you choose, each side should be given the opportunity to express its concerns and advocate for its needs. And communication need not be on a set schedule (although planning for once or twice a week—or whatever the interval—can be helpful at first), but it should be regular and often.
  • Define roles for key individuals. One way to help avoid the “blame game” is to define roles and expectations for key individuals in both facilities and IT. Leaving important matters to chance (meaning, to whomever thinks of them) is a good way to ensure they’re handled improperly or not at all. Even when roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, one side can still hurl blame at the other, but resolving disagreements in these cases may be a little easier.
  • Establish a single “boss” for both groups. IT and facilities are both part of a larger company organization: neither is a wholly independent agency. As such, having both groups consciously reporting to a single manager can help ameliorate difficulties and disagreements. Your company may already have someone specified in this type of position, but if so, make sure that both that individual understands his or her job in that regard and that the facilities and IT personnel all acknowledge that individual’s authority.
  • Maintain good documentation of policies and procedures. In addition to defining roles for different individuals in the data center, solid documentation of company policies and procedures for both IT and facilities can help avoid confrontations of the “but you should have done it that way” type. When tasks and procedures are performed to well-defined specifications, there’s less opportunity for criticism and hostility when a problem arises.
  • Offer mutual respect. It’s easy to get trapped into believing that your job is the only one that really matters—which usually means “the other guy” is at best just barely keeping up with his responsibilities and at worst trying to make your tasks impossible. But when facilities and IT communicate regularly (and civilly), each group has the chance to see the challenges and concerns of the other. Trying to see the situation from the other side can ease tensions and create an atmosphere of understanding and cooperation.

Integrating Facilities and IT

Easing tension between facilities and IT is the first step; the second is integrating them such that they are focusing on mutually beneficial ends that ultimately serve the needs of the company. Here are some areas of particular relevance.

  • Establish common goals. Facilities—including power distribution, cooling, backup and so on—has no reason for existence without IT, and IT can’t function without facilities. Both need each other, and both are ultimately serving the needs of the company. As such, establishing common goals can help both sides work productively rather than competitively. The expectations of the data center are constantly growing: it must meet ever-increasing demand, requirements for greater energy efficiency, sometimes burdensome regulations and more, all within tight budgets. Meeting all these expectations virtually necessitates close cooperation between the two sides.
  • Work together on cost analyses. Because IT and facilities are so closely linked, what happens in one area has a significant effect on what happens in the other. Thus, when analyzing costs, mutual efforts can provide more-accurate results and enable more-comprehensive and effective strategies for improving efficiency and cutting expenses.
  • Discuss and agree on what constitutes a sufficient reliability level. A higher availability number—say, 99.999% as opposed to 99.9%—might sound better, but the expense of adding a nine or two can eventually outweigh the cost of downtime that it saves. What IT considers a minimal reliability level may be viewed by facilities as inordinately expensive and unnecessary, and vice versa. Part of performing accurate cost analyses is determining exactly what’s needed, and facilities and IT should agree on the requirements, particularly when it comes to data center reliability. Sometimes, pursuing a less stringent reliability level can still meet the company’s needs while leaving more room in the budget for other projects.
  • Use data center infrastructure management (DCIM) to integrate IT and facilities. DCIM enables monitoring and analysis of both IT and facilities, providing a broader picture of the data center that considers the impact of each area. A DCIM implementation can also help facilities and IT better recognize their interconnectedness, preferably to the end that they cooperate more in seeking common goals.
  • Cooperate when it comes to budgeting. This is, needless to say, easier said than done. But if facilities and IT are able to establish mutual respect and understanding, as well as integrating efforts wherever possible, dealing with budget issues can be less of a hassle. With tight company budgets and growing demands on the data center, it’s easy to become “grabby” with company funds, but each side must remember its relationship to the other in pursuing mutual company goals.

IT and Facilities: Two Sides of the Data Center Coin

Division of labor tends to make us nearsighted, but take a step back and recognize that others also have a critical role in company success. IT and facilities have traditionally operated separately, but with the new challenges facing data centers—as well as new opportunities, like DCIM—the old ways will fail to keep pace with requirements. Both groups are critical to reliable data center operation and, ultimately, company success, and undertaking efforts to work together rather than separately can be beneficial beyond just establishing a more congenial environment. Such efforts can yield significantly better results than could be achieved by facilities and IT working separately.

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About Jeff Clark

Jeff Clark is editor for the Data Center Journal. He holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Richmond, as well as master’s and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech. An author and aspiring renaissance man, his interests range from quantum mechanics and processor technology to drawing and philosophy.

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