centre of attention LOOKING AHEAD The UK’s data centre industry must do more to educate clients and develop a training infrastructure if it’s going to capitalise on the opportunities open to it, writes Steve Martin of the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA). O ur industry is at a crossroads. Over the last year some of the biggest names in the world of technology have announced their intentions to build new data centres her e, and the UK is hotly tipped to become the biggest market in Europe for this technology by 2020. But despite the growth and growing confidence in the UK’s data centre market, clients’ understanding of the industry – and the technology it designs and develops – is still relatively low. Part of the problem is the fact that very few of them have data centre specialists within their businesses, and when data centre management is just one aspect of a senior figure’s job, it can be difficult – if not impossible – for them to develop an in-depth knowledge of what it involves. Even when a client has in-house expertise in this area, it’s common for the commissioning process to be heavily influenced by their procurement department, which increases the risk that the contract will be awarded to the supplier who puts in the most competitive offer. I’m not saying price 12 isn’t important, but making it the deciding factor when judging data centre tenders is far from an ideal approach – and, in some cases it can end up costing the client more in the long run. There have been occasions where clients have not only lost the initial saving they made by choosing the cheapest contractor, but they’ve actually had to invest more in upgrading or fixing their data centre after the installation has taken place and the technology hasn’t been able to fulfil the role it was designed for. In this scenario, it isn’t just the clients who are affected. There’s a risk of the industry being labelled as low cost and low quality or as expensive troubleshooters – an unfair, inaccurate image that disregards the care and attention the industry takes in designing and building data centres, and the importance we place on client service. This might be part of the issue – the care the industry takes in designing and building data centres creates an opening for firms who don’t share those values to win work at the expense of the established firms in the industry, because they can offer to carry it out for a lower price. One potential solution would be to develop something for clients that enables them – or their procurement department – to know what to look for when reviewing tenders for a data centre contract, similar to Pre-Qualification Questionnaires (PQQs). PQQs have been used successfully in the construction industry to ensure suppliers are only invited to tender for work they have the technical ability and relevant experience to carry out, and have been adopted by both public and private sector clients – although not by the entire market, as yet. However, one issue the construction industry has faced is that PQQs have become increasingly complex, when they should provide a simple, effective way of ensuring clients only shortlist people who can deliver the required work. The same problem could arise in our industry due to the lack of agreed standards or guidelines, and it could lead to the process of tendering for work becoming increasingly laborious – as well as making the already challenging process of developing a PQQ more convoluted.