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Data centre pre-construction – The devil is in the detail

By Jon Healy, Operations Director at Keysource

Having a detailed pre-construction phase undertaken before starting the design and build or upgrade of a data centre facility has a number of major benefits, however many organisations choose to sidestep this part of the process. In my experience this is a false economy that can often result in, at best, a lack of consistency of supplier responses and a loss of control by the client; and at worst significant additional costs and a major impact to project delivery, especially within live environments.

At Keysource we are trusted in the sector to provide a full range of services to support the full lifecycle of a project from consulting (including pre-construction services), through to project delivery and on-going management. As a result, we see this issue from both sides and we are often cautious about projects in the sector which choose not to have the security and guidance of a ‘pre-construction’ phase.

One of the main challenges is that some organisations rely on the companies tendering for the work to undertake this as part of their bid. Whilst some are able to do this it means that, from the start, it is highly likely that there will be differing views on how to achieve a certain end result. Let’s remember that the cost of this effort will be incurred by the customer as part of the project anyway.

Companies tendering are having to ‘second guess’ at the importance of the key drivers of the project such as resilience, sustainability and futureproofing. There may be a view that this creates a platform for innovation for the supply chain, not “constrained” by prescriptive documentation. However given the typical competitive nature of these projects and factor in the pressures on margins in our sector then there is also a real danger to this approach.

Our experience is that a good pre-construction allows clients to look at the big picture rather than just the specific project addressing issues such as how this will fit in my overall business/IT strategy. It also ensures an increased buy in from all customer stakeholders and may well have some real value to add. It also means that any risks can be addressed early on. With a formal plan in place that includes a robust design, detailed cost schedules and delivery plan there is little to no need for any member of the team to second guess during decision making processes. Ultimately this puts the client firmly in control of what they want.

A good example of this is a recent pre construction project we have just completed for Datum Data Centres, the leading provider of data centre and colocation services,  for the first-floor data centre construction at its site on the Cody Technology Park, Farnborough. This initial service enabled Datum to develop a detailed specification and required delivery methodology for the construction phase.

We started the project by undertaking a needs analysis with Datum which established a detailed brief and performance specification for stakeholder agreement and senior level approval. The next stage was to develop concept solutions to meet the brief including associated commercial, technical and delivery related considerations and identifying risk. Finally, we developed the preferred design, construction phase plan and commercial schedules.

Importantly this preconstruction service evaluated different approaches to deliver the required performance specification giving Datum the ability to mitigate risk associated with the project whilst having the flexibility to make commercial decisions through the process.

As with most data centre construction projects, the programme was a key driver and therefore this approach allowed us to sequence critical path activities such as completing independent surveys, early procurement and team mobilisation to optimise the delivery programme.

Datum have been a long standing customer and over time have become convinced of the benefits of the preconstruction phase and Dominic Phillips, Managing Director at Datum recently commented: “Keysource have completed a range of projects for us including a number of upgrades and fit outs to meet the needs of both our new and existing customers. They have shown us that having a pre-construction phase for these projects is extremely valuable in helping us to achieve the right result that is futureproof and delivers our key objectives of resilience and sustainability.”

They, like us, know that the devil is in the detail.


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