Data Center Facility Operations Services: Tips for a Bulletproof Request for Proposal (RFP)
By now, I think we all know that no matter how well thought out a data center design is, human error can bring it all down. I’m sure many of you have seen the headlines and heard about seemingly unsinkable cloud services failing from operational mistakes. The facility operations and maintenance program, as much as (or more than?) the physical design itself, determines the success or failure of a facility. The mission critical nature of the site combined with the importance of the operations team’s role in maintaining it means that owners need to make management their top priority. Outsourcing the data center operations and maintenance (O&M) function of a data center is an increasingly popular, cost-effective way to ensure optimum performance. The benefits of outsourcing data center O&M functions to a company with advanced expertise include: increased uptime, reduced TCO, better capacity utilization, program standards based on industry best practices, longer asset life, and increased energy efficiency.
Setting Expectations for your Data Center Operations with a Request for Proposal
The process for procuring facility operations services should involve a Request for Proposal, or RFP. Unlike Request for Quotes and Request for Tenders, an RFP leaves the precise format and structure of the response to the discretion of suppliers. This is important when you’re seeking creative, innovative, and thorough solutions for managing something so important to the lifeblood of the organization. Schneider Electric’s new White Paper 273: Guide to Writing an RFP for Data Center Facility Operation Services lays out guidance on how to ensure qualification criteria are well-defined, performance requirements are clearly communicated, and vendor responses are detailed and complete enough to enable an objective and thorough evaluation. The paper was authored by Dave Gentry, Schneider’s VP of Global Facility Operations, who brings over 38 years of critical facility operations expertise. Let me cover 3 “keys to success” when considering outsourcing facility management.
1. Effective RFPs are Written Clearly and Concisely
Aside from the obvious point that vague, unclear descriptions and requirements will make it hard for service providers to give accurate and appropriately priced responses to the RFP, part of being clear also means giving responders a clear picture of the history and current status of the site. This should include information such as:
- Facility information: age, power capacity, redundancy, area, and layout
- List of assets (type, manufacturer, quantity)
- Description of existing service contracts: scope of work, length, termination date
- List of preferred vendors & suppliers for equipment and other services
- Existing staff size and schedule
- Challenges, constraints, and future facility plans/objectives (if known)
Not providing enough information about these points is a common mistake. Sharing your challenges and problems with bidders can result in uncovering helpful new strategies. In the end, this openness will help you better differentiate and evaluate the bidders based on how they respond to these opportunities.
2. Effective RFPs Describe Expected Outcomes in Detail
Your performance expectations for the Operations team should be described with just enough detail to ensure accurate pricing, but not be so specific that all vendors end up appearing to have the same capabilities. It is important to leave room for, or to encourage, innovation and helpful suggestions from bidders. In another detailed white paper, we have identified 12 essential elements of data center operations and maintenance programs. For each element, bidders should be asked to document their approach, capabilities, and experience. While you want to describe your expectations, you want to give bidders a chance to propose unique, innovative, and/or lower cost solutions. Overly specified requirements take that chance away.
3. Effective RFPs Clearly Explain Data Center Operations’ Processes
While staff experience, coverage models, training, and cost are important evaluation points, it is also critical that you understand each bidder’s capabilities regarding their operational processes and management. It’s also important for you to understand their process both in terms of mobilization (service start-up) and for the sustained operations phase. Particularly for an existing facility, you need to understand the exact plan for how the new operations team will take over. This needs to be planned and mapped out together. Process-related items that should be evaluated through the RFP include:
- Project methodology
- Project management
- Issue management
- Scope and change management
- Quality system
Now That You Have the RFP Fundamentals, You’ll Get the Best Results
So that’s it at a very high level. Fundamentally, it is about getting accurate responses and pricing without precluding vendors from proposing creative, innovative solutions to your data center management challenges – solutions that you may not have thought of before. The goal is to help streamline the procurement process, while ensuring the best results. Read White Paper 273: Guide to Writing an RFP for Data Center Facility Operation Services to gather more detail on best practices for process, technical specificity, and general tips for success when requesting data center operations.
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