Tackling the UK Skills Shortage

Digital disruption, the fourth industrial revolution, whatever you call it, businesses, customers and markets around the globe are all feeling the impact of rapid evolution and innovation in the digital space. Naturally this having a significant impact on technology – which we’ll discuss in more detail next month – but, there’s also a more human consideration, in the form of a growing digital skills shortage.  The industry needs to tackle this head on to combat the decline in new STEM specialists.

Service boom, skill decline

With the boom in digital services we are seeing an unprecedented increase in the amount of data uploaded, stored and accessed online. Cisco predicts that by 2020 internet traffic will reach 2.3 Zettabytes (ZB) per year or 193 Exabyes (EB) – equivalent to 193 billion gigabytes – per month.

This carries with it an ever-increasing need for data centres. As a result, we have seen the accelerated development of new server technology and supporting infrastructure, as businesses and data centre operators strive to create more capacity within their existing data centre footprint. With new technology, and the associated demands for development, refurbishment and long-term maintenance of the UK data centre estate, the issue of skill is now more inextricably linked to performance than ever.

Recently we’ve seen Microsoft moving towards micro data centres and large manufacturers like Schneider responding with their “Smart Bunker” solution.  For the teams here this is our bread and butter and our consultants and engineers continually train to stay on top of the latest market developments.

However, attracting, training and retaining skills is an issue the sector has traditionally struggled with. Gartner estimates that in Europe alone, the skills deficit will lead to a shortage of 90,000 IT professionals by 2020. Engineering UK’s 2016 report claimed that this shortage in the technical and engineering field will be even higher – the UK will need to find 182,000 people with engineering skills every year to 2022 to simply meet requirements.

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills attributes the wider shortage to a reduced number of students studying IT and technology subjects. Within the critical environments sector, we find that this is compounded by a lack of awareness of the data centre sector as a career route – even among those who have chosen engineering subjects.

Future-proofing the industry

So what can we do as an industry to try and combat the current skills shortage and drive awareness for the future?

At Keysource we understand the importance of investing not only in our consultants and engineers but all of our team members. We offer company sponsored training and fully-subsidised education as a benefit to make our teams specialists in their field. In the last year alone we’ve subsidised employees’ undergraduate and post-graduate degrees, provided over 200 hours of professional training, and mentored six staff as they reached Chartered status in their fields.

We have recently begun the roll out of a new Apprenticeship Scheme, which aims to support young people through a combination of workplace experience and training, as well as classroom sessions to drive the next generation of engineers and technical workers. As part of our wider aim of attracting talent to the sector, Keysource will also be implementing a new Critical Environment Graduate Scheme and will be attending a number of graduate and higher education careers fairs thought out the year in order to try and drive awareness of the critical environments sector.

Up-skilling our engineers enables us to add value to our customers by reducing the number of technicians needed on site to carry out works. It also makes Keysource a great place to work. We invest in our team’s training and long-term professional development.

We recognise that customer service is as much about our people as it is SLAs. Investing to attract and retain the best talent in the industry is not just about future-proofing our business, it’s about ensuring best value for customers and supporting the wider development of the industry.

See the bigger picture

Published in the Winter Data Centre Management Magazine, our Head of Design; Stephen Lorimer looks at resilience and how the industry mindset needs to change.

A common definition of ‘resilience’ is ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties’. When applied to the data centre sector it is more commonly accepted as: the ability of an IT infrastructure to continue to operate, for example following an issue such as power outage, equipment failure or human error.

There is a general misconception that all data centres should be highly resilient. In fact, I lose count of the times that customers have started initial meetings by requesting a “Tier III or Tier IV facility and, above all, absolute protection against any data loss.” Quite often by the end of the initial engagement they realise that they are already achieving the redundancy they need within their IT layer and can normally operate safely with a lower resilience classification.

Historically organisations have often made the mistake of designing highly resilient data centres without properly considering why and whether or not they actually need them to be highly resilient. As a result they have ended up with, at best, facilities that have been both expensive to construct and continue to be operationally expensive, and unnecessarily complex, to operate.

At the heart of this problem is the fact that decisions about the resilience of supporting M&E infrastructure are often made without any proper consideration about what level of availability the IT service is actually required to deliver. To do this involves taking a step back and looking at the wider IT strategy – an approach that is endorsed in the EU Code of Conduct which clearly states that organisations should “deploy resilience in line with requirements.’

This failure in approach can happen for a number of reasons, but the most common one we see is that organisations do not engage with a specialist. Whilst in-house teams are often extremely competent, data centre design is rarely their ‘core skill’ so the end result may not always meet and sometimes contradicts the company’s IT objectives.

For those occasions where design and build is the best option we, as an industry, need to put more of a focus on ensuring that data centres are ‘designed for operation’ and the team responsible for maintaining and running the facility is engaged from the outset. As an organisation we encourage different stakeholders, to be part of the process from the outset, as we feel that this delivers the best results. This early engagement is key as not having all the stakeholders involved may mean that not all impacts are properly considered and addressed as part of the design…

Continue reading in the Winter edition of Data Centre Management Magazine

Keysource wins at Datacentre Dynamics Awards

Critical environment specialist Keysource – part of the Styles&Wood Group – has been announced as the winner of the Public Services Digital Delivery category in the Datacentre Dynamics (DCD) EMEA Awards 2016, for its work on the Metropolitan Police’s data centre estate.

Keysource was awarded the management of two of the critical data centres as part of the force’s wider strategic implementation of the technology transformation programme in March 2016. The company’s role included managing assets, capacity, efficiency, certification and compliance, as well as taking responsibility for delivering management and physical security management.

The Awards are part of a unique global series that provides worldwide recognition to outstanding individuals, teams and projects. An independent panel of industry experts reviewed all the entries for the awards before the winners were announced at the ceremony at the Hilton Hotel on Park Lane on the 7th December.

Mike West, Managing Director at Keysource, commented:

“We are absolutely delighted to have won the Public Services Digital Delivery category. We are proud to have worked with an organisation which has such a rich history and is a symbol of global excellence. This win is testament to the hard work and commitment of our team, quality of our people and our ability to manage high profile, complex projects.”

Keysource is part of integrated property services group Styles&Wood Plc, which provides a full range of professional and contracting services to some of the UK’s premier brands and leading blue chip organisations.

This includes designing, project managing and delivering a diverse range of property programmes including minor refresh works, conversions, shell fit-outs, complex refurbishments and specialist technical services to the data centre and critical facilities sectors. It also provides building intelligence systems, which specialise in optimising the management, running and performance of the built environment.

Keysource announced as Finalists in the Datacentre Dynamics Awards

It’s great news that we have once again been shortlisted as a finalist in two categories at this year’s Datacentre Dynamics (DCD) EMEA Awards.

 

We have been recognised in the Public Services Digital Delivery category for our work with the Metropolitan Police Service, having been chosen as a key partner in the transformation of its data centre estate, as well as being responsible for managing IT assets, capacity, efficiency, certification and compliance.

 

And Tom Blundy, an employee at Keysource since 2013, has been chosen as a finalist for the Young Mission Critical Engineer of the Year Award in recognition of his creative design expertise and hard work on key projects such as Jaguar Land Rover, Sky and Unisys.

 

The Awards are part of a unique global series that provides worldwide recognition to outstanding individuals, teams and projects. An independent panel of industry experts reviewed all the entries for the awards before selecting the finalists. The award winners will be announced at the DCD Awards Gala Ceremony at the Hilton Hotel on Park Lane on the 7th December.

 

Mike West, Chairman at Keysource, commented:

“We are absolutely delighted to have been chosen as a finalist in two fantastic categories. It is testament to the hard work and commitment of our team, quality of our people and our ability to manage high profile, complex projects. We thoroughly look forward to finding out the result at the awards evening in December.”

Banking: Managing the industry’s new emphasis on data

Steve Whatling, MD at Keysource, looks at the data challenges facing the financial sector and what lessons can be learnt from economic and political instability…

The financial sector has gone through phenomenal change over the past decade. If we go back 10 years to the mid 2000s, the banking sector was entirely different. It was all about growth, with some financial institutions putting together 25-year strategy plans confidently based on year-on-year growth.

The retail banking platforms were still relatively traditional with low adoption of electronic banking as many customers still visited the branch network to carry out transactions. The CIO/CTO was often not part of the senior team and the data centre was the responsibility of the real estate or property department.

Whilst banks have always been concerned with privacy and security issues at this time there was low confidence in the security of cloud provision so they retained total control of their operations. There was no real outsourcing model and, as a result, with the exception of one or two they decided to build and run their own data centres – and of course they could afford to! So they built huge facilities in anticipation of this predicted growth and invested heavily.

Ten years on things are very different. The industry’s promised growth predictions have proven to be incredibly flawed and recent years have seen the global system in crisis, with the UK government stepping in and rescuing some institutions.

At the same time we have seen a phenomenal uptake of electronic, online and mobile banking, which has created a greater emphasis on the importance of technology and data. It has also been used as an enabler to reduce headcount, creating much-needed savings.

As a result the CIO/CTO is now right at the heart of everything with the IT strategy fundamental to the business. The financial sector CIO/CTO has had to embrace outsourcing and consider cloud provision, but is now often responsible for the property and Facilities Management associated with IT too.

Looking forward it is unlikely that we will see any new data centres built in the UK for the financial sector for many years. The sector is quite simply overprovisioned after building huge, highly resilient Tier IV and secure facilities in the early to mid 2000s that even the increase in electronic banking is failing to fill. There has also been considerable consolidation in the sector which has further exacerbated the issue.

There are also some legacy facilities which are outdated and run inefficiently as unfortunately there hasn’t been enough investment available to upgrade in recent years.

Meeting todays IT demand

What we are seeing today is institutions looking at their data centre facilities and trying to optimise the asset wherever possible by seeing how they can be more suitable for their current requirements and potentially commercially viable. This might involve selling, upgrading or subletting.

There are a number of additional challenges facing the sector. A key area is how to keep aligning the business to its fast-moving and ever-changing environment. There is no doubt that electronic banking will continue to grow and more IT investment will be required to meet the needs of the influential Millennial Generation.

Whilst we will continue to see significant growth within the electronic banking area, the real opportunities are in the emerging countries in Asia and Africa. Their systems are often years behind and the industry in some countries is really in its infancy. They will benefit greatly from the lessons learned by the West and our experience and expertise.

This article originally appeared on The Stack on the 6th October 2016. Continue reading it here

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