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Meeting the demand for digital transformation

As digitization accelerates, how can the industry increase support for IT and engineering professionals amid a growing skills shortage? By Marc Garner, VP, Secure Power Division, Schneider Electric UK&I.

Today the pressure placed on frontline workers in the face of the third UK lockdown has been unprecedented. According to an article published by the NHS in October 2020, mental health problems are one of the main reasons for staff absences, with data showing that anxiety, stress and other related illnesses accounted for 28.3% of all sickness leave in May 2020.


New UK government laws to try and reduce the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, ease stress on the NHS, and to protect both the UK public and healthcare professionals from the disease have been implemented nationally. And while lockdowns have required many businesses to close and staff to work remotely, in the new normal technology has quickly become the go-to means of supporting the economy.


Digital demands are growing


Amid growing demands for accelerated digital transformation, continuity for business and mission-critical applications have become key concerns for IT professionals. So much so that in 2020, data centre employees were named key workers, fundamentally elevating the status of the industry and increasing the criticality of its role within the digital economy.


According to IDC, Digital Transformation (DX) investment is growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.5% from 2020 to 2023, and is expected to approach $6.8 trillion (£4.8T). Indeed as more organisations become dependent on digital infrastructure the pace of digitization shows no sign of slowing.


The pressure to ensure uptime, therefore, has placed greater stress not only on the networks, power and IT infrastructure underpinning the sectors reliant on them – those that include healthcare, education, and business - but on the professionals who support them. Such stress has been prevalent within tech for years and according to a survey by Regus in 2015, 49 percent of IT workers said they were closer to burnout at that time than during the five years previous.


Fast-forward to 2020 and a survey by Blind revealed that 57 percent of respondents answered ‘yes’ when asked if they were suffering from burnout, while a 2020 survey from Harvey Nash Group also found over one in three tech professionals say their mental health had deteriorated during the Covid-19 pandemic.


Looking forward, CBRE predicts a 400MW surge in capacity that offers strong positive outlook for the data centre sector. Yet other pressures are placing great strain on industry professionals who are tasked with keeping the lights on at all times - not least of which are the out-dated infrastructure systems and networks picking up the increased demand.


The need to prevent downtime According to the Uptime Institute’s 10th annual-data centre survey, “outages are occurring with disturbing frequency and are becoming more damaging and expensive.” In fact, one third of survey participants admitted to experiencing a major outage in the last 12 months and one in six claimed it had cost them more than $1m (£730K). According to the 2017 Centrica Resilience Report 39 percent of businesses also experienced unscheduled downtime as a result of an energy-related failure.


Interestingly 75 percent of Uptime respondents also cited that downtime could have been prevented with better management, processes or configuration, meaning a proactive or well-round approach to maintenance might have ensured both peace of mind and mitigated any unforeseen issues.


Clearly resilience and business continuity have been key sector priorities for some time, but how do we begin to address such growing needs when the sector itself is experiencing an endemic skills shortage? And while experienced engineers and consultants continue to work tirelessly, is there a way we can use tech to help reduce stress or avoid downtime remotely?


Addressing the skills gap According to the UK Government’s Review of the shortage occupation list 2020, an insufficient supply of adequate skills and experience, and an ageing workforce are two key reasons for skills shortages in the IT and engineering sectors. Moreover, 30 percent of full-time, working age employees in this group were over 50, compared with 32 percent across other occupations.


Needless to say that when it comes to digital infrastructure, experience within the sector is paramount, but are businesses doing enough to attract new skills into the industry? Methods that some employers have found to be ‘effective’ include increasing salaries, expanding training in their existing workforce and within their trainee and apprenticeship programmes.


Indeed many members of the electrical, IT and channel communities have already taken advantage of new government incentives around kick-starting and apprenticeships, hoping to attract and employ new members of staff into IT and engineering. Yet some have also begun to transform their organisations with new diversified service models that support end user demands.


Partner expertise is paramount


What’s become apparent is that having access to an expert digital ecosystem is essential for customer uptime, especially when we look at the growing demands placed on critical infrastructure. IDC states that by 2025, 75% of business leaders will leverage digital platforms and ecosystem capabilities to adapt their value chains to new markets and industries, meaning the role of technology partners is becoming increasingly important.


In many cases, service providers are beginning to bridge the skills gap, using their expertise, their position with vendors and digital technologies to support customers seeking to mitigate the impacts of downtime. Such services might include remote monitoring, on-site troubleshooting and next-day replacement parts for mission-critical applications, where an outage will have a direct effect on profitability or customers.


One barrier to this approach has previously been cost, however, research detailed in Schneider Electric white paper #283 found that the savings gained by a using partner or


service provider increases substantially as equipment ages. With a fleet of 100 Uniterruptible Power Supplies (UPS), for example, working with a service partner can offer savings of up to 59 percent under a typical managed service level agreement (SLA), demonstrating a highly cost effective way of increasing resilience.


For businesses dependent on IT uptime, access to service partners with specialisations in critical power, data centres and edge computing also offers on-demand support to help ensure reliability across distributed sites. Yet many organisations are also embracing technology as the enabler, using cloud-based software solutions to gain real-time insight into the health and status of their mission-critical infrastructure remotely.


So what’s the answer?


With demands increasing at a rapid rate and growing skills gap to address, having access to expert service partners is essential for business continuity. And with the accompanying pressure to ensure IT uptime across a greater number of sites, both customers and service providers also need access to the right tools or software solutions to reduce the pressure caused by unexpected downtime.


Today Schneider Electric is helping to both minimise stress for IT Professionals and increase reliability via vendor-agnostic artificial intelligence (AI) software; delivering data-driven insights that offer visibility from anywhere, at any time. Moreover, by employing a proactive approach to maintenance or servicing, end-users could also save up to 59 percent over the lifecycle management of their IT – a compelling business case for reducing stress, as any.


To learn more about Schneider Electric EcoStruxure IT and its Award-Winning Monitoring and Dispatch Services, click here.

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