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How Leadership Responds to Digital Disruption Says Everything

Is the data center industry ready for the ‘New Collar Workforce’ ?

Credit: www.newcollarnetwork.com

Credit: www.newcollarnetwork.com

Author: Bruce Taylor - Director | Strategic Advisory

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?

--William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1

Few enterprises today are above the very human-scale disruption caused by the velocity of change in the era of digitalization, digital transformation and Industry 4.0.

Values-based corporate cultures are a product of the social agreements for what a company stands for, what it believes itself to be, what it’s vision of itself in the world is. And the strength of a company’s culture and values is demonstrated best in how it responds to Shakespeare’s… “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

We all have stories of fabled and iconic companies whose acts appear to have violated at least the brand sheen created by marketing. And, we must assume, that the violation is of the values touted by management.

The singular role of executive management today is to create data-first and (increasingly cloud-first strategy) and then to “execute” that strategy in alignment with corporate values in such a way that no action, product or service of any enterprise can be seen by anyone as an abrogation of well-articulated corporate values.

“Our People are Our Most Important Asset”

How many times in how many companies is “people first” claimed as a key corporate cultural value? Yet, how often is that cornerstone violated in most organizations, if we’re telling the truth? Digital transformation, and its disruption of not just companies, but whole industry sectors, deeply challenges this value.

A key indicator of whether “people first” is actually a cultural value of an enterprise is the annual workforce turnover rate. In the US, according to the 2018 Retention Report published by the Work Institute: “…42 million, or one in four, employees will leave their jobs in 2018, and that nearly 77 percent… of that turnover could be prevented by employers. Employers (paid) $600 billion in turnover costs in 2018 and can expect that number to increase to $680 billion by 2020. (Whether there is a clear corporate productivity gain as a result of business transformation is a fair question.)

The digital infrastructure industry, IoT network edge to core and cloud, as a whole, is facing a human talent shortage. And it has been for as long as I have been a close observer of this particular cornerstone of the ICT industry (since 2005 when I first joined the Uptime Institute). First, we have long been understood to be a “gray-hair” industry, particularly so on the facilities mechanical and electrical infrastructure and operations (I&0).

Secondly, the growth demand for digital infrastructure and its human management and operations need has outstripped supply necessary for effective digital transformation. And thirdly, like it or not, almost all mission critical facilities infrastructure and operations organizations are understaffed and under-budgeted for the “mission critical” work that they do – even today – and that’s before asking them to view their world in an entirely new way. (I would love to be challenged on this, so please have at me!).

If you are a data center owner operator – whether enterprise-class, multitenant colo or cloud – do you know whether your I&O teams believe themselves to be well-compensated, well-appreciated and acknowledged for the work they do? Are they ready and willing to take on the disruptive nature of a Data Center/Digital Infrastructure 4.0 transformation? Hyperscalers are, by their very nature of being digital first and cloud native, are already there. What about the rest of us? (Asking for a friend…)

Digital Transformation is coming to a data center near you… or yours

Data centers are becoming increasingly software-defined and “smarter”. IoT sensing, monitoring and reporting. AI/ML-enabled predictive analytics. AR/VR/MR and digital twinning. Robotics and drones (a leader in the field on my panel at DCD in New York recently said it will never happen... I disagree). All these and more changes are arriving now in the data center practically every day. They will increasingly be adopted in order to meet the “lights-out” remote-hands demands of everything from the point-of-data-capture micro-edge computing to the regional edge for streaming (video) and interactive (gaming) content  to mega hyperscale or remote cold-storage cloud facilities.

This will be both organizational-culturally and competitively disruptive for data center operations that are unplanned and unprepared for it – just as all industries have their digitalization version of Industry 4.0, the data center, and the full digital infrastructure, is no  exception, and is a requirement across all industries.

One of the very best ways that management can visibly demonstrate acknowledgement and appreciation of the value of strong data center I&O management and teams is NOT by yet another round of golf at an exclusive country club, but rather by investing in required upskilling for “what’s next”. That means a staff constantly trained, cross-trained and certified not just for the jobs they have now but for the jobs or tomorrow, the ones to which they will aspire.

Likewise, in hiring, it is critical to hire not for the job requirement you have right now but the capacity for the skill demands for the jobs of tomorrow. Teaming, collaboration, co-creation, problem solving – a “devops” or agile mindset for digital infrastructure. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty coined the “New Collar Workforce” to reflect the nature of the Future or Work and the readiness of the workforce to meet the demands of the high-velocity revolution of the global digitalization economy.

In the new economy, digital infrastructure management and staff are likely amongst the most important of all the workforce. They are truly “mission critical” as the mission is now constant innovation.

If we’re are building digital infrastructure leadership and teams upon whom the entire enterprise depends for its performance, let’s start acting like the whole shebang now depends on the work of these people -- ‘cause, really, it does.

Portman Partners