Thursday, May 7, 2020

How HPE Pointnext Services ushers businesses to the new normal via an inclusive nine-step plan

The next edition of the BriefingsDirect Voice of Innovation podcast series explores a new model of nine steps that IT organizations can take amid the COVID-19 pandemic to attain a new business normal.

As enterprises develop an IT response to the novel corona virus challenge, they face both immediate and longer-term crisis management challenges. There are many benefits to simultaneously steadying the business amid unprecedented disruption -- and readying the company to succeed in a changed world.

Join us as we examine a Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Pointnext Services nine-step plan designed to navigate the immediate crisis and -- in parallel -- plan for your organization’s optimum future.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

Here to share the Pointnext model and its positive impact on your business’ ongoing health are Rohit Dixit, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Worldwide Advisory and Professional Services at HPE Pointnext Services, and Craig Partridge, Senior Director, Worldwide Advisory and Transformation Practice, HPE Pointnext Services. The timely discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Rohit, as you were crafting your nine-step model, what was the inspiration? How did this come about?

Dixit: We had been working, obviously, on engaging with our customers as the new situation was evolving, with conversations about how they should react. We saw a lot of different customers and clients engaging in very different ways. Some showed some best practices, but not others.

We heard these conversations and observed how people were reacting. We compared that to our experiences managing large IT organizations and with working with many customers in the past. We then put all of those learnings together and collated them into this nine-step model.

It comes a bit out of our past experience, but with a lot of input and conversations with customers now, and then structuring all of that into a set of best practices.

Gardner: Of course, at Pointnext Services you are used to managing risk, thinking a lot about security incident management, for example. How is reacting to the pandemic different? Is this a different type of risk?

Dixit: Oh, it’s a very different kind of risk, for sure, Dana. It’s hitting businesses from so many different directions. Usually the risk is either a cyber threat, for example, or a discontinuity, or some kind of disruption you are dealing with. This one is coming at us from many, many different directions at the same time.

Then, on top of that, customers are seeing cybersecurity issues pop up. Cyber-attacks have actually increased. So yeah, it’s affecting everybody -- from end-users all the way to the core of the business and to the supply chain. It’s definitely multi-dimensional.

Gardner: You are in a unique position, working with so many different clients. You can observe what’s working and what’s not working and then apply that back rather quickly. How is that going? Are you able to turn around rapidly from what you are learning in the field and apply that to these steps?

Dixit: Dana, by using the nine steps as a guide, we have focused immediately to what we call the triage step. We can understand what is the most important thing that we should be doing right now for the safety of employees, and how we can contribute that back to the community and keep the most essential business operations running.
Nine Steps to the New Normal
For IT to Follow in Two Phases
That’s been the primary area of focus. But now as that triage step stabilizes a little bit, what we are seeing is the customers trying to think, if not long-term, at least medium-term. What does this lead to? What are the next steps? Those are the two conversations we are having with our customers -- and within ourselves as well, because obviously we are as impacted as everybody else is. Working through that in a step-by-step manner is the basis of the nine steps for the new normal model.

Gardner: Craig, I imagine that as these enterprises and IT departments are grappling with the momentary crisis, they might tend to lose that long-term view. How do you help them look at both the big picture in the long term as well as focus on today’s issues?

Partridge: I want to pick up on the something that Rohit alluded to. We have never seen this kind of disruption before. And you asked why this is different. Although a lot of the responses learned by HPE from helping customers manage things like their security posture and cyber threats, you have to understand that for most customers that’s an issue for their organization alone. It’s about their ability to maintain a security posture, what’s vulnerable in that conversation, and the risks they are mitigating for the impact that is directly associated with their organization.
We have never seen the global economy being put on pause. It's not just the effect on being able to transact, protect revenue and core services, and continue to be viable. It's all of their ecosystems and supply chain being put on hold.

What we have never seen before is the global economy being put on pause. So it’s not just the effect on how an individual organization continues to be able to transact and protect revenue, protect core services, and continue to be able to be viable. It’s all of their ecosystem, it’s their entire supply chain, and it’s the global economy that’s being put on hold here.

When Rohit talks to these different dimensions, this is absolutely different. So we might have learned methods, have pragmatic ways to get through the forest fire now, and have ways to think about the future. But this is on a completely different scale. That’s the challenge customers are having right now and that’s why we are trying to help them out.

Gardner: Rohit, you have taken your nine steps and you have put them into two buckets, a two-mode approach. Why was that required and the right way to go?

One step at a time, now to the future 

Dixit: The model consists of the nine steps and it has two modes. The first one being immediate crisis management and then the second one is bridging to the new normal.

In the first step, the immediate crisis management, you do the triage that we were talking about. You adjust your operations to the most critical, life-sustaining kinds of activities. When you are in that mode, you stabilize and then finally you sustain on an ongoing basis.

And then the second mode is the bridge to the new normal, and here we are adjusting in parallel to what you are observing in the world around you. But you also start to align to a point of view with the business. Within IT, it means using that observation and that alignment to design a new point of view about the future, about the business, and where it’s going. You ask, how should IT be supporting the production of the new businesses?

Next comes a transformation to that new end-state and then optimizing that end-state. Honestly, in many ways, that means preparing for whatever the next shock is going to be because at some point there will be another disruption on the horizon.

So that’s how we divided up the model. The two modes are critical for a couple of reasons. First, you can’t take a long-term approach while a crisis unfolds. You need to keep your employees safe, keep the most critical functions going, and that’s priority number one.

The governance you put around the crisis management processes, and the teams you put there, have to be very different. They are focused on the here and the now.

In parallel, though, you can’t live in crisis-mode forever. You have to start thinking about getting to the new normal. If you wait for the crisis to completely pass before you do that, you will miss the learnings that come out of all of this, and the speed and expediency you need to get to the new normal -- and to adapt to a world that has changed.

That’s why we talk about the two-mode approach, which deals with the here and the now -- but at the same time prepares you for the mid- to long term as well.

Gardner: Craig, when you are in the heat of firefighting you can lose track of governance, management, planning architecture, and the methodologies. How are your clients dealing with keeping this managed even though you are in an intense moment?  How does that relate to what we refer to as minimum viable operations? How do we keep at minimum-viable and govern at the same time?

Security and speed needed 

Partridge: That’s a really key point, isn’t it? We are trained for a technology-driven operating model, to be very secure, safe, and predictable. And we manage change very carefully -- even when we are doing things at an extreme pace, we are doing it in a very predictable way.

What this nine steps model introduces is that when you start running to the fire of immediate crisis management, you want to go in and roll with the governance model because you need extreme speed in your response. So you need small teams that can act autonomously – with a light governance model -- to go to those particular fires and make very quick decisions.

And so, you are going to make some wrong decisions -- and that’s okay because speed trumps perfection in this mode. But it doesn’t take away from that second team coming onstream and looking at the longer term. That’s the more traditional cadence of what we do as technologists and strategists. It’s just that now, looking forward, it’s a future landscape that is a radically different one.

And so ideas that might have been on hold or may not have been core to the value proposition before suddenly spring up as ideas that you can start to imagine your future being based around.

Those things are key in the model, the idea of two modes and two speeds. Don’t think about getting it right, it’s more about protecting critical systems and being able to continue to transact. But in the future, start looking at the opportunities that may not have been available to you in the past.

Gardner: How about being able to maintain a culture of innovation and creativity? We have seen in past crises some of the great inventions of technology and science. People when placed in a moment of need actually dig down deep in their minds and come up with some very creative and new thinking. How do we foster that level of innovation while also maintaining governance and the capability to react quickly?

Creativity on the rise 

Partridge: I couldn’t agree more. As an industry and as individuals, we are typically very creative. Certainly technologists are very creative people in the application of technologies, of different use cases, and business outcomes. That creativity doesn’t go away. I love the phrase, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” the idea that in a crisis those are the moments when you are most innovative, you are most creative, and people are coming to the fore.

For many of our customers, the ideas on how to respond -- not just tactically, but strategically to these big disruptive moments -- might already be on the table. People are already in the organization with the notion of how to create value in the new normal.
Nine Steps to the New Normal
For IT to Follow in Two Phases
These moments bring those people to the surface, don’t they? They make champions out of innovators. Maybe they didn’t have the right moment in time or the right space to be that creative in the past.

Or maybe it’s a permission thing for many customers. They just didn’t have the permission. What’s key to these big, disruptive events is to create an environment where innovation is fostered, where those people that may have had ideas in the past but said, “Well, that will never work; it’s not core to the business model, it’s not core to driving innovation and productivity,” to create the environment where there are no sacred cows. Give them the space to come to the fore with those ideas. Create those kinds of new governance models.

Dixit: I would actually say that this is a great opportunity, right? Discontinuities in how we work create great cracks through which big innovations can be driven.

The phrase that I like to use is, “Never waste a crisis,” because a crisis creates discontinuities and opportunities. It’s a mindset thing. If we go through this crisis playing defense – and just trying to maintain what we already have, tweak it a little bit – that will be very unfortunate.
This goes back to Craig’s point about a sacred cow. We had a conversation with a customer who was talking about their hybrid IT mix, what apps and what workloads should run where. They had reached an uneasy alliance between risk and innovation. Their mix settled at a certain point of public, private, on-premises, and consumption-based sources.

But now they are finding that, because the environment has changed so much, they can revisit that mix from scratch. They have learned new things, and they want to bring more things on-premises. Or, they have learned something new and they decided to place some data in the cloud or use new Internet of things (IoT) and new artificial intelligence (AI) models.

The point is we shouldn’t approach this in just a defensive mode. We should approach it in an innovative mode, in a great-opportunity-being-presented-to-us-mode, because that’s exactly what it is.

Nine steps, two modes, one plan 

Gardner: And getting back to how this came about, the nine steps plan, Rohit, were you thinking of a specific industry or segment? Were you thinking public sector, private sector? Do these nine steps apply equally to everyone?

Dixit: That’s a good question, Dana. When we drew up the nine steps model, we drew from multiple industries. I think the model is applicable across all industries and across all segments -- large enterprise and small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) as well.

The way it gets applied might be slightly different because for an enterprise their focus is more on the transaction, the monetary, and keeping revenue streams going in addition to, of course, the safety of their employees and communities.
When we drew up the nine steps model, we drew from multiple industries. The model is applicable across all industries and segments -- large enterprises and SMBs.

But the public sector, they approach it very differently. They have national priorities, and citizen welfare is much more important. By the way, availability of cash, for example, might be different based on an SMB versus enterprise versus public sector.

But the applicability is across all, it’s just the way you apply the steps and how you bridge to the new normal. For example, what you would prioritize in the triage mode might be different for an industry or segment, but the applicability is very broad.

Partridge: I completely agree about the universal applicability of the nine steps model. For many industries, cash is going to be a big constraint right now. Just surviving through the next few months -- to continue to transact and exchange value -- is going to be the hard yards.

There are some industries where, at the moment, they are probably going to get some significant investment. Think about areas like the public sector -- education, healthcare, and areas where critical national infrastructure is being stressed, like the telephones providing communication services because everybody is relying on that much more.

There are some industries where not just the nine steps model is universally applicable. Some industries are absolutely going to have the capability to invest because suddenly what they do is priority number one, not just the same citizen, welfare and health services, but to allow us to communicate and collaborate across the great distances we now work with.

So, I think it’s universally applicable and I think there is a story in each of the sectors which is probably a little bit different than others that we should consider.

Stay on track, prioritize safety 

Gardner: Craig, you mentioned earlier that mistakes will be made and that it’s okay. It’s part of the process when you are dealing in a crisis management environment. But are there key priorities that should influence and drive the decision-making -- what keeps people on track?

Partridge: That’s a really good question, Dana. How do we prioritize some of the triage and adjust steps during the early phases of that crisis management phase of the model? A number of things have emerged that are universally applicable in those moments. And it starts, of course, with the safety of your people. And by your people, not just your employees and, of course, your customers, but also the people you interact with. In the government sector, it’s the citizens that you look after, and their welfare.

From inside of HPE, everything has been geared around the safety and welfare of the people and how we must protect that. That has to be number one in how you prioritize.

The second area you talked about before, the minimum viable operating model. So it’s about aligning the decisions you make in order to sustain the capability to continue to be productive in whichever way you can.

You’re focusing on things that create immediate revenue or immediate revenue-generating operations, anything that goes into continuing to get cash into the organization. Continuing to drive revenue is going to be really key. Keep that high on the priority list.

A third area would be around contractual commitments. Despite the global pandemic pausing movement in many economies around the world, there are still contractual commitments in play. So you want to make sure that your minimum viable operating model allows you to make good on the commitments you have with your customers.

Also, in the triage stage, think about your organization’s security posture. That’s clearly going to feature heavily in how you make priority decisions a key. You have a distributed workforce now. You have a completely different remote connectivity model and that’s going to open you up to all sorts of vulnerabilities that you need to consider.
Nine Steps to the New Normal
For IT to Follow in Two Phases
Anything around critical customer support is key. So anything that enables you to continue to support your customers in a way that you would like to be supported yourself. Reach out to that customer, make sure they are well, safe, and are coping. What can you do to step in to help them through that process? I think that’s the key.

I will just conclude on prioritization with preserving the core transactional services that enable organizations to breathe; what we might describe as the oxygen apps, such as the enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems of the world, the finance systems, and the things that allow cash to flow in and out of the transactions and orders that need to be fulfilled. Those kinds of core systems need protection in these moments. So that would be my list of priorities.

Gardner: Rohit, critical customer support services is near the top of requirements for many. I know from my personal experience that it’s frustrating when I go to a supplier and find that they are no longer taking phone calls or that there is a long waiting line. How are you helping your organizations factor in customer support? And I imagine, you have to do it yourself, for your own organization, at HPE Pointnext Services.

Communicate clearly, remotely 

Dixit: Yes, absolutely. The first one is the one that you alluded to, the communications channels. How do we make sure that people can communicate and collaborate even though they are remote? How can we help in those kinds of things? Remote desktops. This has, for example, became extremely critical, as well as things like shared secure storage, which is critical so that people can exchange information and share data. And then wrapping around all of that for safe remote connectivity, collaboration, and storage, is a security angle to make sure that you do all of that in a protected, secure manner.

Those are the kinds of things we are very much focused on -- not just for ourselves, but also for our customers. We’re finding different levels of maturity in terms of their current adoption of any of these services across different industries and segments. So we are intersecting the customers at different points of their maturity and then moving them up that maturity stack for fully remote communication, collaboration, and then becoming much more secure in that.

Gardner: Rohit, how should teams organize themselves around these nine steps? We’ve talked about process and technology, but there is also the people side of the equation. What are you advising around team organization in order to follow these nine steps and preparing for the new normal?

Dixit: This is for me one of the most fascinating aspects of the model. In our triage step we borrowed a lot of our thinking from the way hospitals do triage. And we learned in that triage model that quick, immediate reaction means you need small teams that can work with autonomous decision-making. And you don’t want to overlay on that initially a restrictive governance model. The quick reaction through the “fog of war,” or whatever you want to call it, is extremely critical in that stage.
We borrowed a lot of our thinking from the way hospitals do triage. We learned that quick, immediate reaction means you need small teams that can work with autonomous decision-making.

By setting up small, autonomous teams that function independently, that make decisions independently, and you keep a light-touch governance model, then that feeds in broader directions, shares information, and captures learnings so that you remain very flexible.

Now, the fascinating aspect of this is that -- as you bridge to the new normal, as you start to think about the mid- to the long-term -- the mode of operation becomes very different. You need somebody to collect all the information. You need somebody who is able to coordinate across the business, across IT, and the different functions, partners, and the customers. Then you can create a point of view about what the future holds.

What do we think the future mode of operations is going to look like from a business perspective? Translate that into IT needs and create a transformation plan, start to execute on that plan, which is not the skirmished approach that you’re taking in the immediate crisis management. You’re taking a much more evolved transformation approach that you’re going toward.

And what we find is, these modes of operations are very different. In fact, we advocate that you put two different teams on them. You can’t have the crisis management also involved in long-term planning and vice versa. It’s too much to handle and it’s very conflicting in the way it’s approached. So we suggest that you have two different approaches, two different governance models, two different teams that at some point in the future will come together.

Gardner: Craig, while you’re putting these small teams to work, are you able to see leadership qualities in people that maybe you didn’t have an opportunity to see before? Is this an opportunity for individuals to step up -- and for managers to start looking for the type of leadership qualities -- in this cauldron of crisis that will be of great value later?

Tech leaders emerge 

Partridge: I think that’s a fantastic observation because never more do you see leadership qualities on display than when people are in such pressurized systems. These are the moments of decision-making that need to be made rapidly, and where they have to have the confidence to acknowledge that sometimes those decisions may be wrong. The kind of leadership qualities that you’re going to see exhibited through this nine-step model are exactly the kind of leadership qualities that are going to give you that short list to potentially stand out for the next leaders of the organization.

With any of these moments of crisis management and long-term planning, those that step forward and take on that burden and start to lead the organization through the thinking, process, strategy, and the vision are going to be that pool of the next talent. So nurture them through this process because they could lead you well into the future.

Gardner: And I suppose this is also a time when we can look for technologies that are innovative and work in a pinch to be elevated in priority. I think we’re accelerating adoption patterns in this crisis mode.

So what about the information technology, Craig? Are we starting to see more use of cloud-first, software as a service (SaaS) models, multi-cloud, and hybrid IT? How are the various models of IT now available manifesting themselves in terms of being applicable now in the crisis?

Partridge: This global pandemic is maybe the first one that’s going to showcase why technology has become such an integral part of how customers build, deliver, and create their value propositions. First, the most immediate area where technology has come into play is that massively distributed workforce now working from home. How was that possible even 10 years ago? How is it possible for an organization of 50,000 employees to suddenly have 70 percent to 80 percent of that workforce now communicating and collaborating online using virtual sessions?

The technology that underpins all of that remote experience has absolutely come to the fore. Then there are some technologies, which you may not see, but which are absolutely critical to how, as a society, we will respond to this.

Think about all of the data modeling and the number crunching that’s going on in these high-performance compute (HPC) platforms out there actively searching for the cure and the remedy to the novel coronavirus crisis. And the scientific field and HPC have become absolutely key to that.
The capability to instantly consume and to match that with what you pay has two benefits. It keeps costs aligned and it eases economic pressure by deferring capital spending over time.

You mentioned as-a-service models, and absolutely the capability to instantly consume and to match that with what you pay has two benefits. Not only does it keep the costs aligned, which is a threat that people are really going to focus on, but it might ease some of that economic pressure, because, as we know in those kinds of models, technology is consumed not as an upfront capital asset. It’s deferred over the use of its life, easing the economic stresses that customers are going to have.

If we hadn’t been through the cloud era, through pivoting technology to it being consumed as a service, then I don’t think we’d be in a position where we could respond as well in this particular time.

Dixit: What’s also very important is the mode of consumption of the technology. More and more customers are going to look for flexible models, especially in how they think about their hybrid IT model. What is the right mix of that hybrid IT? I think in these as-a-service models, or consumption-based models -- where you pay for what you consume, no more, no less, and it allows you to flex up or down -- that flexibility is going to drive a lot of the technology choices.

Gardner: As we transition to the new normal and we recognize we have to be thinking strategically as well as tactically at all times, do you have any reassurance that you can provide, Rohit, to people as they endeavor to get to that new normal?

Crisis management and strategic planning going hand-in-hand sounds like a great challenge. Are you seeing success? Are you seeing early signs that people are getting this and that it will be something that will put them in a stronger position having gone through this crisis?

In difficulty lies opportunity 

Dixit: Dana, for me, one of the best things I have seen in my interactions with customers, even internally at HPE, is the level of care and support that the companies are giving to their employees. I think it’s amazing. As a society and as a community, I’m really heartened by how positive the reactions have been and how well the companies are supporting them. That’s just one point, and I think technology does play a part in that, in enabling that.

The point I go back to is to never waste a crisis. The discontinuities we talked about, the great opportunities that this creates, if we approach this with the right mindset -- and I see a lot of companies actually doing that, approaching this from an opportunity perspective instead of just playing defense. I think that’s really good to see.
Nine Steps to the New Normal
For IT to Follow in Two Phases
If somebody is looking to design for the future, there is now more technology, consumption methods, and different means of approaching a problem than ever existed before. You have private cloud, public cloud, and you have consumption models on-premises, off-premises, and via colocation options. You have IoT, AI, and containerization. There is so much innovation out there and so many ways of doing things differently. Take that opportunity-based approach, it is going to be very disruptive and could be the making of a lot of great innovation.

Gardner: Craig, what light at the end of the tunnel do you see based on the work you’re doing with clients right now? What’s encouraging you that this is going to be a path to new levels of innovation and creativity?

Partridge: Over the last few years, I’ve been spending most of my time working with customers through their digital transformation agendas. A big focus has been the pivot toward better experiences: better customer engagement, better citizen engagement.  And a lot of that is enabled through digital engagement models underpinned by technology and driven by software.
Pick up the phone and speak to your HPE counterparts because they are there to help you. Nothing is more important to HPE than being there for our partners and customers.

What we are seeing now is the proof-positive that those investments made over the last few years were exactly the right investments to make. Those companies now have the capability to reach out very quickly, very rapidly. They can enable new features, new functions, new services, and new capabilities through those software-delivered experiences.

For me, what’s heartwarming is to see how we have embraced technology in our daily lives. It’s those customers who went in early with a customer experience-focused, technology-enabled, and edge-to-cloud outcome. Those are the ones now able to dance very quickly around this axis that we described in the HPE Pointnext Services nine-step model. So it’s a great proof-point.

Gardner: A lot of the detail to the nine-step program, and some great visual graphics, are available at Enterprise.nxt. An article is there about the nine-step process and dealing with the current crisis as well as setting yourself up for a new future.

Where else can people go to learn more about how to approach this as a partnership? Where else can people learn about how to deal with the current situation and try to come out in the best shape they can?

Dixit: There are a lot of great resources that customers and partners can reach out to with HPE, specifically of course,, and a specific page around COVID-19 responses and great resources available to our customers and partners.

A lot of the capabilities that underpin some of the technology conversations we have been having are enabled through our Pointnext Services organization. So again, visit to be able to get access to some of the resources.

And just pick up the phone and speak to HPE counterparts because they are there to help you. Nothing is more important to HPE at the moment than being there for our partners and customers.

Gardner: We are going to be doing more podcast discussions on dealing with the nine-step program as well as crisis management and long-term digital transformation here at BriefingsDirect, so look for more content there.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

International Data Center Day highlights how sustainability and diversity will shape the evolving modern IT landscape

The next BriefingsDirect panel discussion explores how March 25's International Data Center Day provides an opportunity to both look at where things have been in the evolution of the modern data center and more importantly -- where they are going.

Those trends involve a lot more than just technology. Data center challenges and advancements alike will hinge around the next generation of talent operating those data centers and how diversity and equal opportunity best support that.

Our gathered experts also forecast that sustainability improvements -- rather than just optimizing the speeds and feeds -- will help determine the true long-term efficiency of IT facilities and systems.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

To observe International Data Center Day with a look at ways to make the data centers of the future the best-operated and the greenest ever, we are joined by Jaime Leverton, Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer at eStruxture Data Centers in Montreal; Angie McMillin, Vice President and General Manager of IT Systems at VertivTM, and Erin Dowd, Vice President of Global Human Resources at Vertiv. The International Data Center Day observance panel is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Erin, why -- based on where we have come from -- is there now a need to think differently about the next generation of data center talent?
Dowd: What's important to us is that we have a diverse population of employees. We think about diversity from the perspective traditionally around ethnicity and gender. But when we consider diversity, we think about diversity of thought, diversity of behavior, and diverse backgrounds.

That all makes us a much stronger company; a much stronger industry. It's representative of our customer base, frankly, and it's representative of the globe. We are ensuring that we have people working within our company from around the world and contributing all of those diverse thoughts and perspectives that make us a much stronger company and much stronger industry.

Gardner: We have often seen that creative and innovative thought comes when you have a group of individuals that come from a variety of backgrounds, and so it's often a big benefit. Why has it been slow-going? What's been holding back the diversity of the support talent for data centers?

Diversity for future data centers 

Dowd: It's a competitive environment, so it's a struggle to find diverse candidates. It goes beyond our tech type of roles and into sales and marketing. We look at our talent early in their careers, and we are working on growing talent, in terms of nurturing them, helping them to develop, and helping them to grow into leadership roles. It takes a proactive approach, and it’s more than just letting the talent pool evolve naturally. It is about taking proactive and definitive actions around attracting people and growing people.

Gardner: I don’t think I am going out on a limb by observing that over the past 30 years, it's been a fairly male-dominated category of worker. Tell us why women in science, technology, engineering, and math, or the so-called STEM occupations, are going to be a big part of making that diversity a strength.

Dowd: That is a huge pipeline for us as we benefit from all the initiatives to increase STEM education for women and men. The results help expand the pool, frankly, and it allows candidates across the board, that are interested at an early age, to best prepare for this type of industry. We know historically that girls have been less likely to pursue STEM types of interest at early ages.

So ensuring that we have people across the continuum, that we have women in these roles, to model and mentor -- that's really important in expanding the pool. There are a lot of things that we can be doing around STEM, and we are looking at all those opportunities.

Gardner: Statistically there are more women in universities than men, so that should translate into a larger share in the IT business. We will be talking about that more.

But we would also like to focus on International Data Center Day issues around sustainability. Jaime, why is sustainability the gift that keeps giving when it comes to improving our modern data centers?
Leverton: International Data Center Day is about the next generation of data center professionals. And we know that for the next generation, they are committed to preserving the environment, which is good news for all of us as citizens. And as one of the world's biggest consumers of energy, I believe the data center industry has a fundamental duty to elevate its environmental stewardship with energy efficient infrastructure and renewable power resources. I think the conversation really does go well together with diversity.

Gardner: Alright, let's dive in a little bit more to the issues around talent and finding the best future pool. First, Erin please tell us about your role at Vertiv.

Dowd: I am the Global Business HR Partner at Vertiv. So my focus is to help us design, build, and deliver the right people strategy for our teams that have a global presence. We focus on having super-engaged and productive people in the right places with the right skills, and in developing career opportunities across the continuum -- from early level to senior level of contributors.

Gardner: We have heard a lot about the skills shortage in IT in general terms, but in your experience at Vertiv, what are your observations about the skills shortage? What challenges do you face?

Dowd: We have challenges in terms of a shortage of diverse candidates across the board. This is present in all positions. Increasing the diversity of candidates that we can attract and grow will help us address the shortage first-hand.

Gardner: And in addition to doing this on a purely pragmatic basis, there are other larger benefits. Tell us why diversity is so important to Vertiv over the long term?
We have challenges in terms of a shortage of diverse candidates across the board. This is present in all positions. The diversity of candidates that we can attract will help us.

Dowd: Diversity is the right thing to do. Just hands down, it has business benefits, and it has cultural benefits. As I mentioned earlier, it reflects not only on our global presence but also on our customer base. And research shows that companies that have more diverse workforces outperform and out-innovate those that don’t.

For example, companies in the top quartile of the workforce on diversity are 33 percent more likely to financially outperform their less diverse counterparts, according to a 2018 study from McKinsey. We have been embracing diversity, which aligns with our core values. It’s the right competitive strategy. It's going to allow us to compete in the marketplace and relate to our customers best.

Gardner: Is Vertiv an outlier in this? Or is this the way the whole industry is going?

Dive into competitive talent pool 

Dowd: This is the way whole industry is going. I come from a line of IT companies prior to my tenure with Vertiv. Even the biggest, the most established companies are still wrestling with the competitiveness affiliated with the tracking of candidates that have diversity of thought, diverse backgrounds, diverse behaviors, and diversity on ethnicity and gender as well.

The trend is toward engineering and services, and everywhere we are experiencing turnover because it's so competitive. It’s a very competitive environment. We are competing with brother and sister companies for the same types of talent.

As I mentioned previously, if we attract people who are diverse in terms of thought, ethnicity, and gender we can expand our candidate pool and enhance our competitiveness. When our talent acquisition team looks at talent, they are expanding and enhancing diversity in our university relations and in our recruiting efforts. They are targeting diverse candidates as we hire interns and then folks that are later in their careers as well.

Gardner: We have been looking at this through the demand side, but on the supply-side, what are the incentives? Why should people from a variety of backgrounds consider and pursue these IT careers? What are the benefits to them?

Dowd: The career opportunities are amazing. This is a field that’s growing and that is not going to go away. We depend on IT infrastructure and data centers across our world, and we're doing that more and more over time. There's opportunity in the workplace and there are a lot of things that we are specifically doing at Vertiv to keep people engaged and excited. We think a lot about attracting talent.

But there is another piece, which is about retaining talent. Some of the things we are doing at Vertiv are specifically launching programs aligned with diversity.

So recently, and Angie has been involved in this, we have a women at Vertiv resource group called Women at Vertiv Excel (WAVE). And that group is nurturing women, encouraging more women to pursue leadership positions within Vertiv. Really it looks at diversity in leadership positions, but it also provides important training that women can apply in their current positions.

Together we are building one Vertiv culture, which is a really important framework for our company. We are creating solutions and resources that make us more competitive and reflect the global market. We find that diversity breeds new and different ideas, more innovation, and a deeper understanding of our customers, partners, employees, and our stakeholders all around the globe. We are a global company, so this is very important to us. It's going to make us more successful as we grow into the future.

Another thing that we are doing is creating end-to-end management of Vertiv programs. This is new. We continue to improve this. It integrates behavioral skills and training designed to look at the work that we do through the eyes of others. We utilize experiences and talent effectively to grow stronger and stronger teams. Part of this is about recruiting and hiring. It has an emphasis on finding potential employees who possess a diverse experience of thought and perspectives. And diversity of thought comes from field experiences, from different backgrounds, and all of this contributes to our values as an employee in our organization.
Together we are building one Vertiv culture, which is a really important framework for our company. We are creating solutions and resources that make us more competitive and reflect the global market. We find that diversity breeds new and different ideas, more innovation, and a deeper understanding of our customers, partners, and employees.

We also are launching the Vertiv Operating System. Now this is being created, launched, and built with an emphasis on better understanding of our differences, in bridging gaps where there are differences, and in ways that bring out the best in everybody. It's designed to encourage thought leadership, and to help all of us work through change management together.

Finally, another program that we've been implementing across the globe is called Intrinsic. And Intrinsic supplies a foundational assessment designed to improve our understanding of ourselves and also of our colleagues. It's a formal experiential program that's going to help us all learn more about ourselves, what makes our individual values and styles unique, but then also it allows us to think about the people that we are working with. We can learn more about our colleagues, potentially our customers, and it allows us to grow in terms of our team dynamics and the techniques that we are using to manage conflict, stress, and change.

Collectively, as we look at the full continuum of how we behave at Vertiv in the future we are building for ourselves, all of these efforts work together toward changing the way we think as individuals, how we behave in groups, and ultimately evolving our organizational culture to be more diverse, more inclusive, and more innovative.

Gardner: Jaime at eStruxture, when we look at sustainability, it aligns quite well with these issues around talent and diversity because all the polling shows that the younger generation is much more focused on energy efficiency and consciousness around their impact on the natural world -- so sustainability. Tell us why the need for sustainability is key and aligns so well with talent and retaining the best people to work for your organization.

Sustainability inspires next generation 

Leverton: What we know to be true about the next generation is when they look to choose a career path, or take on an assignment, they want to make sure that it aligns with their values. They want to do work that they believe in. So, our industry offers them that opportunity to be value-aligned and to make an impact where it counts.

As you can see all around us, people are working and learning remotely now more than ever, and data centers are what make all of that possible. They are crucial to our society and to our everyday lives. The data center industry is only going to continue to grow, and with our dependence on energy we have to have a focus on sustainability.

It represents a substantial opportunity to make a difference. It's a fast-paced environment where we truly believe there is a career path for the next generation that will matter to them.

Gardner: Jaime, tell us about eStruxture Data Centers and your role there.

Leverton: eStruxture is relatively new data center company. It was established just over three years ago and we have grown rapidly from our original acquisition of our first data center in Montreal. We now have three data centers in Montreal, two in Vancouver, and one in Calgary. We are a Canadian pure-play -- Canadian-owned, -operated, and -financed. We really believe in the Canadian landscape, the Canadian story, and we are going to continue to focus on growth in this nation.

Gardner: When it comes to efficiency and sustainability, we often look at power usage effectiveness (PUE). Where are we in terms of getting to complete sustainability? Is it that so farfetched?

Leverton: I don’t think it is. Huge strides have been made in reducing PUE, especially by us in our most recent construction, which has a PUE load of sub 1.2. Organizations in our industry continue to innovate every day, trying to get as close to that 1.0 as humanly possible.

We are very lucky that we partner with Vertiv. Vertiv solutions are key in driving our efficiency in our data centers, and we know that progress can be made continually by addressing the IP load deficiency and that is a savings that is incremental to PUE as well. PUE is specifically about the ratio of IP power usage and the power usage of the equipment that supports it. But we look at our data center and our business holistically to drive sustainability even outside of what the PUE covers.

Gardner: It sounds like sustainability is essentially your middle name. Tell me more about that. How did you focus the construction and placement of your data centers to be focused so much on sustainability?
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Leverton: All of our facilities have been designed with a focus on sustainability. When we have purchased facilities, we have immediately gone to upgrade them and make them more efficient. We take advantage of free cooling wherever possible. As I mentioned, three of our data centers are in Montreal, so we get to take advantage of about eight months of the year of free cooling where the majority of our data centers are using 99.5 percent hydro-power energy, which is the cleanest possible energy that we can use.

We virtualize our environments as much as possible. We carefully select eco-responsible technologies and suppliers, and we are committed to continuing to increase our power usage effectiveness without ever sacrificing the performance, scalability, or uptime of our data centers, of course.

Gardner: And more specifically, when you look at that holistic approach to sustainability, how does working with a supplier like Vertiv augment and support that? How does that become a tag-team when it comes to the power source and the underlying infrastructure?

Leverton: Vertiv has just been such a great partner. They were there with us from the very beginning. We work together as a team, trying to make sure that we're designing the best possible environment for our customers and for our community. One of our favorite solutions from Vertiv is around their thermal management, which is a water-free solution.
Our commitment is to operate as sustainably as possible. Being able to partner with Vertiv and build their solutions into our design right from the beginning has had a huge impact. 

That is absolutely ideal in keeping with our commitment to operate as sustainably as possible. In addition to being water-free, it's 75 percent more efficient because it has advanced controls and economization. Being able to partner with Vertiv and build their solutions into our design right from the beginning has made a huge, huge impact.

Gardner: And, like I mentioned, sustainability is the gift that keeps giving. This is not just a nice to have. This is a bottom-line benefit. Tell us about the costs and how that reinforces sustainability initiatives.

Leverton: Yes, while there is an occasional higher cost in the short term, we firmly believe that the long-term total cost of ownership is lower -- and the benefits far outweigh any initial incremental costs.

Obviously, it's about our values. It's critical that we do the right thing for the environment, for the community, for our staff, and for our customers. But, as I say, over the long-term, we believe the total cost is less. So far and above, sustainability is the right thing to do.

Gardner: Jaime, when it comes to that sustainability formula, what really works? It's not just benefiting the organization that's supplying, it’s also benefiting the consumer. Tell us how sustainability is also a big plus when it comes to those people receiving the fruits of what the data centers produce.

Leverton: Sustainability is huge for our customers, and it’s increasingly a key component of their decision-making criteria. In fact, many hyperscale cloud providers and corporations -- large corporate enterprises -- have declared very ambitious environmental responsibility objectives and are shifting to green energy.

Microsoft, as an example, is targeting over 70 percent renewable energy for its data centers by 2023. Amazon reached a 50 percent renewable energy target in 2018 and is now aiming for 100 percent.

Women and STEM step IT up 

Gardner: Let's look at the sustainability issue again through the lens of talent and the people who are going to be supporting these great initiatives. Angie, when it comes to bringing more women into the STEM professions, how does the IT industry present itself as an attractive career path, say for someone just graduating from high school?
McMillin: When I look at children today, they're growing up with IT as part of their lives. That's a huge advantage for them. They see firsthand the value and impact it has on everything they do. I look at my nieces and nephews, and even grandkids, and they can flip through phones, tablets, they are using XBoxes, you name it, all faster than adults.

They're the next generation of IT. And now, with the COVID-19 situation, children are learning how to do schooling collaboratively -- but also remotely. I believe we can engage children early with the devices they already know and use. And with the tools that they're now learning for schoolwork, those are a bridge to learning about what makes that work. It’s the data center industry. All of our data centers can be a part of that as they complete their schooling and go into higher education. They will remember this experience that we're all living through right now forever -- and so why not build upon that?

Gardner: Jaime, does that align with your personal experience in terms of technology being part of the very fabric of life?

Leverton: Oh, absolutely. I'm really proud of what I've seen happening in Canada. I have two young daughters and they have been able to take part in STEM camps, coding clubs, and technology is part of their regular curriculum in elementary school. The best thing we can do for our children is to teach them about technology, teach them how to be responsible with tech, and to keep them engaged with it so that over time they can be comfortable looking toward STEM careers later on.

Gardner: Angie, to get people focused on being part of the next generation of data centers, are there certain degrees, paths, or educational strategies that they should be pursuing?

Education paths lead to STEM careers 

McMillin: Yes. It's a really interesting time in education. There are countless degrees specifically geared toward the IT industry. So those are good bets, but specifically in networking and computers, there's coding, there is cyber security, which is becoming even more important, and the list goes on.

We currently see a very large skill set gap specifically around the science and technology functions. So these offer huge opportunities for a young person’s future. But I also want to highlight that the industry still needs the skill sets, the traditional engineering skills, such as power management, thermal management, services and equally important are the trade skills in this industry. There's a current gap in the workforce and the training for that may be different, but it still has a really vital role to play.

And then finally, we'd be remiss if we didn't recognize the fact that there are support functions, finance, HR, and marketing. People often think that you must only be in the science or engineering part of the business to work in a particular given market, and that really isn't true. We need skill sets across a broad range to really help make us successful.

Leverton: I am an IT leader and have been in this business for 20 years, and my undergraduate degrees are in political science and psychology. So I really think that it's all about how you think, and the other skills that you can bring to bear. More and more, we see emotional intelligence (EQ) and communication skills as the difference-maker to somebody's career success or career trajectory. We just need to make sure that people aren't afraid of coming out of more generalized degrees.

Gardner: We have heard a lot about the T structure, where we need to have the vertical technology background but also we want those with cultural leadership, liberal arts, and collaboration skills.

Angie, you are involved with mentoring young women specifically. What's your take on the potential? What do you see now as the diversity is welling up and the available pool of talent is shifting?

McMillin: I am, and I absolutely love it. One of the things I do is support a women's engineering summer camp probably much like Jaime's daughters attend, and other events around my alma mater, with the University of Dayton. I support mentoring interns and other early career individuals, be they male or female. There is just so much potential in young people. They are absolutely eager to learn and play their part. They want to have relevance in the growing data center market, and the IT and sustainability that we talked about earlier. It's really fun and enjoyable to help them along that journey.
There are two key themes I repeat. One is that success doesn't happen overnight. So enjoy those small steps on the journey, learn as much as you can, and don't give up. The second is keep an open mind about your career, try new things, and doors you never imagined will open up.

I get asked for advice, and there are two key themes that I repeat. One is that success doesn’t happen overnight. So enjoy those small steps on the journey that we take to much greater things, and the important part of that, is really just keep taking the steps, learn as much as you can, and don’t give up. The second thing is to keep an open mind in your career, being willing to try new things and opportunities and sometimes doors are going to open that you didn’t even imagine, which is absolutely okay.

As a prime example, I started my education in the aerospace industry. When that industry was hurting, I switched to mechanical. There is a broader range of that field of study, and I spent a large part of my career in automotive. I then moved to consumer and now I am in data center and IT. I am essentially a space geek and car junkie engineer with experience in engineering, strategy, sales, portfolio transformation, and operations. And now I am a general manager for an IT management portfolio.

If I hadn't been open to new opportunities and doors along my career path, I wouldn’t be here today. So it's an example for the younger generation. There are broad possibilities. You don’t have to have it all figured out now, but keep taking those steps and keep trying and keep learning -- and the world awaits you, essentially.

Gardner: Angie what sort of challenges have you faced over the years in your career? And how is that changing?

Women rise, challenges continue 

McMillin: It’s a great question. My experience at Vertiv has been wonderful with a support structure of diversity for women and leadership. We talked about the new WAVE program that Erin mentioned earlier. You can feel that across your organization. It starts at the top. I also had the benefit, as many of us I think had on this podcast, of having good sponsors along the way in our career journeys to help us get to where we are.

But that doesn’t mean we haven’t faced challenges throughout our careers. And there are challenges that still arise for many in the industry. In all the industries I have worked, which have all been male-dominated industries, there is this necessity to have to prove yourself as a woman -- like 10 times over -- for your right to be at the table with a voice regardless of the credentials you have coming in. It gets exhausting, and it's not consistent with male counterparts. It’s a “show me first” and then “I might believe,” it's also BS. That’s something that a lot of women in this industry, as well as in other industries, continue to have to surpass.

The other common challenge is that you need to over-prove yourself, so that people know that the position was earned. I always want people to know I got my position because I earned it, and I have something to offer not because of a diversity quota. And that’s a lot better today than it's been in years passed. But I can tell you, I can still hear those words, of accusations made of female colleagues that I knew throughout my career. When one female gets elevated in a position and fails, it makes it a lot harder for other females to get the chance of an opportunity or promotion.

Now, again, it's getting better. But to give you a real-world example, if you think about the number of industries where there are women CEOs. If they don't succeed, boards get very nervous about putting another woman in a CEO position. If a male CEO doesn't succeed, he is often just not the right fit. So we still have a long way to go.

Gardner: Jaime at eStruxture, what's been your experience as a woman in the technology field?

Leverton: Well, eStruxture has been an incredible experience for me. We have diversity throughout the organization. Actually we are almost at 50 percent of our population identifying as non-white heterosexual male, which is quite different from what I've experienced over the rest of my career in technology. From a female perspective, our senior leadership team is 35 percent women; our director population is almost 50 percent women.
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So it's been a real breath of fresh air for me. In fact, I would say it really speaks to the values of our founder when he started this company three years ago and did it with the intention of having a diverse organization. Not only does it better mirror our customers but it absolutely reflects the values of our organization, the culture we wanted to create, and ultimately to drive better returns.

Gardner: Angie, why is the data center industry a particularly attractive career choice right now? What will the future look like in say five years? Why should people be thinking about this as a no-brainer when it comes to their futures?

Wanted: Skilled data center pros 

McMillin: We are in a fascinating time for data center trends. The future is very, very strong. We know now -- and the kids of today certainly know -- that data isn't going away. It's part of our everyday lives and it's only going to expand -- it's going to get faster with more compute power and capability. Let’s face it, nobody has patience for slow anymore. There are trends in artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, and others that haven't even been thought of yet that are going to offer enormous potential for careers for those looking to get into the IT space.
We are in a fascinating time for data center trends. The future is very strong. Data isn't going away. And nobody has patience for slow anymore. There are trends in AI, 5G, and others that haven't even been thought of yet.

And when we think about that new trend -- with the increase of working or schooling remotely as many of us are doing currently -- that may permanently alter how people work and learn going forward. There will be a need for different tools, capabilities, and data management. And how this all remains secure and efficient is also very important.

Likewise, more data centers will need to operate independently and be managed remotely. They will need to be more efficient. Sustainability is going to remain very prevalent, especially edge-of-the-network data centers and enabling the connectivity and productivity wherever they are.

Gardner: Now that we are observing International Data Center Day 2020, where do you see this state of the data center in just the next few years? Angie, what's going to be changing that makes this even more important to almost every aspect of our lives and businesses?

McMillin: We know now the data center as an ecosystem that is changing dramatically. The hybrid model is a product that's enabling a diversification of data workloads where customers get the best of all options available: cloud, data center, and edge, as our regional global survey of data center professionals are experiencing phenomenal growth. And we also see a lot more remote management to operate and maintain these disparate locations securely.

We need more people with all the skill sets capable of supporting these advancements on the horizon like 5G, the industrial internet of things (IIoT), and AI.

Gardner: Erin, where do you see the trends of technology and human resources going that will together shape the future of the data center?

Dowd: I will piggyback on the technology trends that Angie just referenced and say the future requires more skilled professionals. It will be more competitive in the industry to hire those professionals, and so it's really a great situation for candidates.
It makes it important for companies like Vertiv to continue creating environments that favor diversity. Diversity should manifest in many different ways and in an environment where we welcome and nurture a broad variety of people. That's the direction of the future, and, naturally, the secret for success.