Time for Occupational Training Standards & Regulations?
Top–of–Mind for Digital Infrastructure Leaders
This is the second in a series of five blog posts reflecting the top-of-mind issues discussed during the most recent Infrastructure Masons Advisory Council meeting, held in London in November. The Advisory Council is made up of end users and partners from across the digital infrastructure ecosystem.
In last week’s post, Advisory Council members shared their thoughts on the challenge of talent – today and tomorrow. Central to their concern is finding the right person for the job at the right time and in the right place. On-the-job training to build today’s talent and working with educational institutions to develop the next generation of talent are clear parts of the solution.
Standards might be another.
Because another aspect of the talent challenge, said one member, is “There’s no actual career body to police us. You could have an electrician with 34 years of experience in rewiring homes and the next day, he could be working on a 5 megawatt suite subbing out UPS’s. You’re relying on the integrity of the company that’s taking him on.”
“You could have an electrician with 34 years of experience in rewiring homes and the next day, he could be working on a 5 megawatt suite subbing out UPS’s.” – Click to tweet
Occupational training standards and/or licensing would probably help guarantee the skill level of contractors, the member said. He stressed that specific experience in a data center will certainly give a skilled worker the edge. “Quite often, we’ll bid for work and we’ll lose out and we’ll find that the winning bid went to a company that doesn’t have any experience around data centers, but has very experienced electrical mechanical engineers. But they don’t understand the environment.”
And that is dangerous. “There are complications working in a critical infrastructure environment that could completely wipe out businesses and yet anyone can walk into a data center and do work on it.”
Perhaps time has come for digital infrastructure leaders to look at how other industries certify their skilled workers, the Advisory Council member said. “Take petrochemicals, for instance. There are certifications required before you can start electrical testing. Even skilled contractors shouldn’t be working in these environments unless they’ve got some kind of accreditation.”
Another member agreed to the need to think about standardization for skills. “We should think about accreditation,” he said. “The medical industry has accreditation. Same in aviation. In other industries, regulation came in and demanded industry standards after people died. The seriousness of that drove the regulation.” So too in digital infrastructure, he predicted. “In a few years, the loss of a data center will cause somebody to die.”
“This industry is becoming so critical. In a few years, the loss of a data center will cause people to die.” – Click to tweet
Transparency through regulation
One end user echoed the idea that the industry has become so vital to the economy that it may need to be regulated to some extent.
“This industry is becoming so critical. We’re becoming so dependent on data centers, that we can’t avoid [some regulation],” he said. “If you look at your failures, in the modern data centers, it’s never a single event, it’s always a combination. The way data centers are designed today, yes you may have a human error but that triggers a chain of events that lead to a failure. We need to learn from events. There’s so much secrecy, we need more transparency in this industry. Obviously secrecy is justified. But the ability to learn from our mistakes is the only way for us to avoid them.”
Secrecy may be justified, but another end user stressed the importance of breaking through barriers created by competition. “When the FAA has a problem the whole industry knows everything about it and it is addressed immediately or the planes are grounded. They share,” he said. “Having standards and adhering to them and also learning from each other with those processes I think is important.”
“We need more transparency in this industry. The ability to learn from our mistakes is the only way for us to avoid them.” – Click to tweet
Still room for self-regulation
Several members agreed that the growing importance of digital infrastructure – really, humanity’s reliance on it – makes sharing and communication critical, but before welcoming government regulation there is still a need to develop more self-regulation programs. (And the time is now. As an article by the Forbes Technology Council recently put it, the self-regulation window is closing for tech companies.)
“That’s the interesting bookend to the discussion. Government regulation,” another Advisory Council member said. “What is the future? What do we know today about the landscape ahead of us? Could this become even more difficult? And what could we do to come up with methods or approaches before somebody … a government person … comes up with an idea that we’ve got to live with?”
“I’m reminded of the phrase, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’” another member joked, sparking a room full of nervous laughter.
“What could we do to come up with methods or approaches before [the government] comes up with an idea that we’ve got to live with?” – Click to tweet
One end user mentioned a cooperative approach used by the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) as a possible model. “Through the SIA the industry players agreed on standards. Then within the factories/ fabs, they could count on that standardization. Is it getting to the point where the digital infrastructure industry needs an SIA equivalent?”
In fact, there is an initiative through which stakeholders in digital infrastructure share information about incidents. It’s called DCIRN (Data Center Incident Reporting Network), and iMasons is its North American sponsor. DCIRN is an open, publicly available database of infrastructure incidents that is being developed as a tool to help the industry improve safety and reliability of infrastructure system.
“It’s early days,” said one Advisory Council member who has been involved in the project. “We’re making great progress. We’re working with people like Uptime. We’re just getting the first incident reports out now.”
The principle, he said, is to keep incident reports completely anonymous. Incidents can’t be associated with a person, a data center or a manufacturer. And “the intention is that this will make data centers safer, more reliable and as we become more reliant on digital infrastructure, we could save lives as well.” Importantly, the effort is driven by industry, not government.
No doubt – the regulators are coming
Of course, some players in the digital infrastructure industry have long been regulated. For example, in order to work with firms in highly regulated industries like banking and health care, data centers must comply with international design standards. To ensure their own compliance with financial and privacy regulations, firms in these industries require their data center providers to deliver levels of security and reliability that other industries don’t.
But that is changing. More companies across more industries are looking to meet higher standards, even if it’s not required by regulation.
“There’s no doubt the regulators are coming, especially in the EU, to many industries that have been perhaps hiding in the long grass up to now.” – Click to tweet
For example, one partner said that even though he does not yet have data centers in Europe, potential clients are very interested in compliance with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). “We are getting into real aggressive conversations with potential clients about compliance,” he said. “An interesting dynamic for operators and end users is that it is unclear, when talking to the lawyers, who owns what liability where.”
Another partner, an electrical mechanical supplier, said that the possibility of regulation is one of two or three issues that regularly bubble up with his clients. “There’s no doubt the regulators are coming, especially in the EU, to many industries that have been perhaps hiding in the long grass up to now,” he said. “I’m not saying digital infrastructure is certainly one of those industries, but as an industry we should be very aware that the world is going to change.”
Come back next week for the 3rd installment in our top-of-mind series and hear from the Advisory Council on Scale and the Supply Chain.