Essential Data Center Operation Knowledge Capture and Transfer

by Chris Pinc, Director of Data Center Operations

Technology has empowered us with greater communication tools. It also throws unique data, reports and dashboards at us every day. Yet, all this information lacks any resemblance in the way of knowledge-sharing.

Especially in data centers, where so much of the knowledge is gathered through experience and contextual understanding – from nuances in cabinet design to the circumstances surrounding past mechanical issues. This knowledge shapes incoming data and information streams for purposeful action, goals or plans. However, much of this knowledge is typically either lost, hidden or trapped; and in far too many cases, unavailable for use.

As an industry, it is essential that we examine the state of our knowledge: who has it, how it is captured and what is its accessibility. Here are just a few examples to start you engage your thinking about how knowledge is captured and transferred within your organization. In the end, it is essential that knowledge transfer is elevated to a strategic initiative so that there is leadership focus.

It is rare that you find a data center operator who has been with an organization more than 10 years and plans on staying for another five. These individuals are repositories of institutional knowledge and indispensable. However, the reality is that today’s workforce is an ever-changing dynamic; people are coming and going – and so is the knowledge they possess.

The methods for capturing and sharing knowledge between key stakeholders need to be equally as diverse as the data center facilities we oversee. Historically, our knowledge has incorporated policies, processes and test documentation deposited into our file repositories and checked them off as done in our audit reports. This antiquated process refuses to take into consideration the importance of unique knowledge, and no longer fulfills the requirements of today’s working world – putting many corporations at risk.

Technology-Enabled Knowledge

As our workforce and technology advance, we need to go further in our ability to capture and provide access to our unique knowledge. The explosion of technologies that have supported our social interaction have paved the way for business as well. We need to incorporate these technologies into our own buildup of a knowledge repository in cost-effective ways.

So rather than a binder-bound checklist for decommissioning equipment, consider augmenting it with a video of the process or replacing written equipment inventory with an interactive database that can be accessed via smart phone.

Additionally, the power of obtaining, manipulating and engaging live data can itself become a new branch of knowledge that can spur on a variety of creative and impactful metrics, understandings and capabilities. The key with implementing many of these technologies is that once they are set up, we gain from the free streaming of data they provide. Additionally, communication applications provide a mechanism for instantly sharing concepts and ideas on a topic-by-topic basis.

Knowledge Capture and Recovery

Incorporating these new capabilities takes thoughtful leadership, focus and some trial and error. With so many options and combinations of solutions, it will be important for each organization to review what tools and applications are currently in place to leverage those investments while keeping in mind that technology is a tool for facilitating knowledge transfer.

At its core, technology is only as good as the knowledge that is acquired. Knowledge recovery begins with an assessment of what information has already been captured; followed by a determination of what is missing, identification of knowledge points most at risk, appraisal of technology gaps and recognition of the individual(s) with key expertise. Knowing this information puts us in a position to outline a remediation plan, after which it becomes an ongoing task of collecting information and clearly documenting nuances particular to your environment.

Knowledge capture is concentric to knowledge transfer. The two form ongoing processes that require maintenance and periodic updates – just like the living data center. These processes must be owned and supported in order to continue providing value, and should be built the organizational culture.

In my experience, the individuals with unique knowledge don’t readily recognize that their expertise and internal data isn’t captured anywhere. I’ve also found that the folks that built the system typically aren’t around when updates are needed.

In the end, knowledge needs to be captured on an ongoing basis because unfortunately, you don’t realize what you don’t know until you need it. Knowledge capture and transfer needs to be a commitment that is built into every aspect of data center operation. That is why as part of our standard operating procedures at Parallel Technologies, we compile all the information gathered during a project as well as details on the new configuration so that the information was readily accessible going forward. We also provide recommended strategies to the client for capturing system relevant data on an ongoing basis.

If you are interested in discussing knowledge capture and transfer strategies in more detail, please contact Chris Pinc at cpinc@ptnet.com.

Parallel Technologies’ Director of Data Center Operations Chris Pinc presented on the topic of “Transferring Knowledge” at AFCOM 2019 in Phoenix. An expanded version of this piece was published in the April 2019 issue of the AFCOM Journal.

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Eva Keiser