Lean. It’s Not Just for Supermodels Anymore
Sometimes it’s easier to look busy than to work efficiently. This is a pretty accurate description of the data center industry right now. Data centers are being built off-site, data centers are being built on-site, data centers are even being built in what might be described as quasi-factories. Merge this with the current trend of compelling customers to pick out and customize everything but the bathroom tile and you’ve got a whole lot of building going on…albeit inefficiently.
In assessing the bulk of today’s data center building efforts there is one glaring need that is unfulfilled…the presence of an efficient supply chain. At Compass we’ve adopted what is commonly referred to as a “lean” production process. What this means to our customers is that we have worked with them and the leading suppliers in the industry like Schneider Electric, Cummins and Trane to develop our product. This unique partnership allowed us to define everything from the transformer to the pre-installed BMS software and develop a streamlined process that enables us to quickly build, commission and deliver a data center within strict time parameters. As a result, our customers have the assurance that all of the components used in their data center are fully integrated, optimized for the configuration and work together as required under full load.
This concept of lean production isn’t new. In fact, it’s origins are found in the work statistician W. Edwards Deming conducted with Japanese manufacturers in the wake of WWII. Deming’s philosophy emphasized focusing on the capabilities that were deemed to be essential by the customer, and building the underlying supply chain and production processes around the principle of continually improving the company’s ability to deliver the product to the customer. In many respects this is analogous to Apple’s approach to the iPod. Cull out the extraneous “nice to have” features from those core capabilities that the customer would use on a repeated basis and then ruthlessly focus on delivering them within an easy to use, reliable and cost-effective package.
Our decision to adopt the lean principles of an efficient and reliable supply chain required us to make several conscious decisions. The most prominent of these was realizing that our customers would not have the ability to select their own component suppliers. As in the case of the iPod, our research identified that customers viewed this as nice to have but not a core requirement for their data centers. While we realize that this may be off putting for some, we believe that the best way to deliver the highest quality product possible is by working with our suppliers to form an effective delivery team. In a lean environment the goal is continuous improvement. This can only be accomplished through a close and on-going relationship with our suppliers in which we are constantly seeking to improve on the product we deliver. The resulting benefits provided by this structure are simply not possible in situations where the “ground rules” are constantly in flux through the use of different suppliers for each data center we build.
At Compass, we feel that this adherence to the goal of continual improvement embodied by lean processes makes us a stronger data center provider. More importantly, our customers understand that the benefits delivered by a high performing cohesive supply chain are superior to using a particular UPS supplier. Obviously, our commitment to the lean philosophy is not shared by a number of our competitors who view every project as a new adventure in data center design and construction. While there is room in the market for all of us, we feel that our goals of enhanced performance and a continually improving product are shared with the bulk of today’s data center customers.