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Brandon Oliveri-O’Connor, Director of EMEA, Procore, here he writes about how construction management must transform in order to deal with the demands of data centre projects.

The digital world is often thought of as intangible, yet in reality it is reliant on physical infrastructure. Data centres act as the physical foundations upon which our digital economy is constructed: rather than just floating in a cloud, data sits securely in their servers. And, as our digital economy grows, so must the industry construct new data centre capacity to support it. This provides a great opportunity for UK-based main contractors and subcontractors alike.

In the UK, data centres drive the nation’s world-class digital services market which is home to a range of economic and social activity, from medical research through to environmental monitoring or online learning. Not only do data centres provide a backbone enabling the digital services sector to remain competitive, but are a thriving industry themselves. They even showcase the UK’s position as a centre of excellence, attracting global business. In raw numbers, each new data centre provides between £397 million and £436 million GVA each year to the UK economy.

Data centre capacity must continue to expand in order for the UK to remain a global digital leader, and to achieve its ongoing strategic and economic priorities. However, while the UK data centre market is actively growing, it’s fair to say that developing these mammoth structures comes with its own distinct set of complications. Today, data centre operators are thinking about the strategic shifts they need to make to capture the opportunity of increased demand. The good news is that operators have the ability to influence the whole lifecycle of a project, mandate the choice of technology and suppliers used, and bring to a data centre project a complete understanding of the challenges of their clients’ businesses.

The construction phase of a data centre project is perhaps the most complex and critical. Here, deficiencies in design and delivery become most evident, while it’s this phase that is most liable for cost and timeline overruns.

By bringing their influence to bear during the construction phase, operators can have a material impact on the overall success of a project. With so much riding on data centre projects, this will always be time and money well spent. Now is the time for construction management to continue to transform and fully meet the demands of data centre projects.

Overcoming complexity and moving at speed 

Data centre builds today are more complex than ever. From complex cooling systems to energy use and security, data centre development has several challenges. And, as scale and complexity grows, so do budgets, meaning investors (from technical specialists to private equity, pension and sovereign wealth funds) are increasingly integrated in the process. While this means funding is usually in strong supply, demands are stringent: speed to market is a key measure of competitiveness, meaning construction must be streamlined – missing delivery dates isn’t an option.

Meanwhile, more stakeholders than ever need to be kept up to date on progress. Keeping clients looped in on every step of a project means real-time insights are essential, with log-jams created by waiting on reports are likely to lead to dissatisfied clients and penalties.

To unlock the high-value potential data centre projects present to the construction sector, technology can be used to reduce risks of delay and drive the transparency necessary to keep multiple stakeholders satisfied.

Applying a single platform approach to data centre construction

With the challenging complexities and compressed timescales of data centre construction, contractors need a way to coordinate and gain visibility of financials, quality, safety, resources and analytics in real-time during the build phase.

Manual processes that otherwise continue to stifle construction progress must be banished to achieve this. At the cutting edge of data centre demands, bringing pen and paper as a management solution is akin to transporting the building materials by horse and cart: it’s simply unsustainable.

Here, construction-specific technology can provide a vital solution. Single platform technology gathers all key insights in one place which can be accessible across web, iOS and Android. It helps operators gain a true, full picture of a project’s status, ensure every stakeholder is aligned on the latest information and saves precious time by streamlining processes, driving up quality, and reducing risks of mistakes. Meanwhile, insights can be used to deliver knowledge back to those on the frontlines of construction, enabling them to improve processes and optimise projects. What’s even better is that the more data that is captured and analysed, the more accurate predictions about the future become, resulting in a greater level of insight that can be used to create new solutions, optimise processes and more – it’s called the Data Flywheel model.

With enough data, this self-fuelling model can create an unstoppable momentum for construction businesses as the vast amount of information it produces can continue to be captured, pulled apart and redelivered as intelligent insight so better estimates can be made – whether it’s looking at potential delays, or issues.

Thanks to a unified, single platform which connects stakeholders, processes and their data, owners and contractors can begin to leverage this flywheel to drive improvements in everything from project progress, to supply chain developments and safety and performance. This will be vital for the sector, not just in the immediacy, but in realising the rich potential this data promises.

International construction specialist, Ardmac, is one example of a company that has experienced the benefits having provided over 400,000m² of white-space and over 600MW of capacity for some of Europe’s largest data centres. With platform technology, Ardmac has achieved far greater insight into performance across its projects – helping it to save time and reduce the chance of errors.

Cutting-edge industries require cutting-edge construction

The UK’s leading digital industries are relying on a construction sector that can keep pace with its growth. As the demand for data centres rises, the construction industry has an opportunity to unlock high-value developments and secure customers which, given the trajectory of the sector, can offer a pipeline of future projects.

While the challenges — from technical complexity to stakeholder management — are pronounced, they can be met by new approaches to construction management, with single platform technology acting as a lynchpin. Such tools streamline communications and workflows, drive alignment around accurate information, and enable teams to work accurately and at pace, helping them meet stringent deadlines and quality demands.

By embracing single platform technology, the construction industry can meet the calls from our world-beating data centre industry with an equally world-beating approach to construction management. In doing so, the construction industry will not only bolster its own position, but further cement its vital role at the heart of the UK’s economic strategy for years to come.

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