What we can do to mitigate the skills shortage in the data centre industry

What we can do to mitigate the skills shortage in the data centre industry

Data centre owners are now looking to achieve build cycles of six to nine months – a much leaner lead time as compared to the traditional timeframe of 12 to 18 months.

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Over 60 million new digital consumers have joined the Internet economy in Southeast Asia, nearly 2 years since the COVID-19 outbreak. With data now the lifeline of almost every business in APAC, regional demand for data centres has skyrocketed.

In fact, a recent industry report found that APAC now accounts for nearly 30% of the world’s total IT capacity. The APAC data centre industry seems to be all set to go forth and grow. Yet, one stumbling block remains in its way: a widening skills gap.

In a recent study, ABB Electrification revealed that more than 40% of industry professionals in APAC felt that data centre construction in the region has not been able to keep up with demand. Amid the industry’s continued reliance on traditional construction practices and a critical skills shortage, data centre operators are now struggling to keep pace with today’s data-hungry landscape.

What’s behind the data centre skills crisis

The talent challenge APAC faces today is two-fold: first, a skills gap arising from the evolving role of the data centre engineer; and second, increasingly complex data centre builds.

Digitalisation in data centres is driving demand for a new class of IT professionals with both traditional technical training and software-development capabilities. Data centre engineers must now not only operate and maintain the hardware, but also have a keen understanding of the software behind the digital infrastructure. Yet, amid a global tech talent crunch, such IT professionals are few and far between.

Secondly, data centre construction is known to be highly specialised work. With data centres today being tasked to handle bigger workloads with faster, better, and more frequent insights, such facilities have quickly grown in both scale and complexity.

Moreover, maintaining high levels of rigour, consistency and quality in the construction process are mission critical in data centres, where outages are highly disruptive and can cost financial losses of up to $5,600 per minute.

It is therefore not entirely surprising that access to specialist sub-contractors and trades topped the list of challenges that data centre operators continue to face post-pandemic, with nearly three in four (74.2%) respondents citing it as a key concern.

Talent recruitment and upskilling will no doubt be a vital priority for the industry moving forward. However, for businesses looking to ride on the data centre boom now, talent strategies will not be sufficient to address their pain points in time. What will be critical for the industry in the short term is the effective use of technology to bridge the skills gap and scale up operations rapidly.  

The talent challenge APAC faces today is two-fold: first, a skills gap arising from the evolving role of the data centre engineer; and second, increasingly complex data centre builds.

Kent Chow, Data Centre Segment Leader for Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa Region, ABB

 

Building fast and furious

Driven by strong market demands, data centre owners are now looking to achieve build cycles of six to nine months – a much leaner lead time as compared to the traditional timeframe of 12 to 18 months. To ramp up deployment speed in a tight labour market, a mindset shift in the construction sector will be critical. Data centre operators must switch up their build strategy, pivoting away from traditional construction practices to adopt a modern modular approach. 

Being much easier to install and commission, plug and play prefabricated solutions can reduce deployment time by up to 50 percent. Take eHouses for example – as these units are pretested and debugged prior to shipment, onsite installation is highly efficient and less labour-intensive. 

Since pre-assembly and pre-testing occurs offsite, the manufacturing process can also take place in parallel to onsite work, further accelerating speed to market. What’s more, data centre operators can also opt to use modular designs that have already been delivered and deployed previously, which can decrease engineering time by up to 80% and ensure greater reliability.

Importance of being smart

Keeping data centres up and running at optimal levels 24/7 is no easy feat – and this is where technology must come into play. Today, smart solutions can help to facilitate day-to-day operations while taking pressure off existing staff. For instance, digital switchgears can automatically collect, store, and analyse data to drive informed decisions in areas like maintenance planning. Such an approach represents a shift from preventive to predictive maintenance, enabling data centre operators to cut down on routine tasks, freeing staff up to focus on higher value work.

In addition, technological breakthroughs in remote assistance platforms have enhanced the efficiency of data centre maintenance and repair work. For us at ABB, we have seen strong success with our augmented reality (AR) service, named Remote Assistance for electrical systems (RAISE) which allows experts to connect directly with field operators, using AR to overlay instructions on real equipment. The real-time remote support enables onsite engineers to troubleshoot and resolve issues more effectively, delivering greater staff productivity and increased uptime.  

In a world that is rapidly changing and digitalising, data centres must also evolve alongside consumer needs. While the labour market will likely shift to fill the skills gap in time to come, APAC’s appetite for data will only continue to grow exponentially. Digitalisation via the implementation of productivity-improving technologies is therefore a strategic pivot necessary for the industry’s long-term success. 

Looking ahead, as the climate crisis intensifies, sustainability will also be a critical priority for APAC. Data centres of tomorrow must transform into state-of-the-art infrastructures that are not only highly productive and reliable, but also sustainable. Only then will data centres be able to stay ahead of the curve, ready to meet future consumer needs and continue their growth trajectory.

Kent Chow is the Data Centre Segment Leader for Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa Region, ABB

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