In this this edition of “Voices of the Industry,” Robert McClary, Chief Operating Officer at FORTRUST, explains how to train your staff to fight human error at its source.
According to multiple studies, human error accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all downtime events. It’s a huge problem that cannot be overlooked, and oftentimes data centers will try to design around human error instead of directly confronting it as a phenomenon that can be mitigated or eliminated.
The unfortunate truth is that some in the data center industry would rather you spend money, not on training, but on complex PLCs and over-redundant designs to try to circumnavigate human error instead of fixing it head on. Engineers and contractors will insist that they have solved the human error problem with design and they stand to make plenty of money from those they manage to convince. The fact remains that even the most well intentioned personnel can manage to make mistakes in spite of the complexity and redundancy of the design or piece of technology standing in their way.
Human error can be difficult to combat, and it takes a significant amount of time and effort, but in the long run, it is far less costly than the futile attempts to fight human error with data center design.
Data centers that are looking for an easy or quick fix should know that one doesn’t exist. The article below won’t offer a checklist, nor a collection of best practices, but a description of the psychology behind the elimination of human error and some advice on how to achieve the necessary mindset and culture to protect against it.
The Military Model
The first step is to establish a mindset of ownership, attention to detail, and discipline throughout an organization. In essence, these are the same philosophies and behaviors that are continually taught in a basic military training environment. Although a data center training program obviously doesn’t quite line up with a military training program, data center staff should be taught to adopt a very similar mindset to a military recruit. Military members are continually trained to repeat the same tasks again and again without making mistakes. Since data center operations require the operations staff to repeat the same processes over and over, yet with the same attention to detail as the very first time, it makes sense to follow the military’s example.
Each operational practice that happens within the data center should be conducted according to a documented, validated and well-practiced procedure. Procedures take time and effort to create, document, and maintain, but their consistent use is the best way to mitigate human error. Procedures structure repeatable actions that will produce repeatable results. Having a library of procedures in place encourages consistency, helps establish a knowledge base among data center staff, and supports continuous training and learning.
Emphasis on Training
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Data centers should create an in house training program that aims to constantly improve the level of knowledge, skills, and competency of the organization’s data center team. A successful program will deliver relevant information and training to employees and team members continually, while empowering individuals to take responsibility for their own level of knowledge, skills, and competency. If either of these elements sags, so too will the program; both are equally important for the training to ultimately be a success.
Your highly trained operations staff must be expected to frequently perform inspections and walkthroughs of the data center with a documented procedure in hand. This procedure should include a list of items to be inspected, measurements to record, how the information should be recorded, and how the results should be disseminated. This disciplined routine will improve employee’s attention to detail and impart a sense of ownership, two qualities that are vital to the organizational mindset necessary to eliminate human error. Additionally, catching small issues during inspection means they will be corrected before they can turn into larger problems later on. You will get what you inspect, not what you expect!
Find the Right People
Although many people can be trained to operate a data center, some take to the work, environment, and the mindset better than others. Attention to detail and a disciplined nature are difficult to instill. Look for candidates who are dependable, who take pride in their work, and who are mission focused. Those who have previously worked in organizations that emphasize attention to detail, discipline, and teamwork make great hires. While creativity and individualism are highly prized in other industries, these qualities won’t mesh well with the type of operations staff a data center should form. The data center staff should be able to work together as a team, to be able to check on each other’s work and take pride in their collective efforts at the end of the day.
The elimination of human error is not about how to run a data center better, but how to manage your employees better. Once you have imparted a mindset of ownership, attention to detail, and discipline to your staff, you can remove the complexity out of the design and the infrastructure, because you have a team you can trust. Too much redundancy and complex designs become unnecessary. Designing a data center or piece of equipment to prevent human error is impossible, but designing people to prevent human error is the simple solution to one of the data center industry’s biggest problems.
Robert McClary is Chief Operating Officer at FORTRUST.