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Project Managing Asia's Data Centre Boom: Steps to Success

By Brian Shuptrine, Director, Singapore, Turner & Townsend

Project Managing Asia's Data Centre Boom: Steps to SuccessBrian Shuptrine, Director, Singapore, Turner & Townsend

APAC is catching up fast in a market that has tradition­ally been dominated by North America. By 2020, if predictions are correct, the region will be the biggest data centre market in the world. Adding to Asia’s concentration of data centre capacity in Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore, come scores of projects in Indonesia, India, Korea, Taiwan and China.

The sheer number of projects, combined with the variety of cultural and regulatory environments, presents a raft of challenges in this fast-moving era. From a project management perspective, the secret of success is to do the basic things well: good planning, the right people and execution against the plan.

1. Proper planning

Time is what we don’t have. But our analysis shows it’s a false economy to cut back on time for planning. Poor planning is the most common cause of cost and time overruns on data centre projects in the region.

Macro-level planning at the feasibility stage is vital. Employ an expert early to ask questions about location, size, IT load, operational specifications and power, all considered with business data and forecasting in hand. The impact of local planning permissions and other approvals should be included in the assessment.

Failing to set realistic cost and time constraints can lead to poor decisions down the line. For example, if the timeline is too tight, design-and-build procurement may look like the only option, despite the fact that the local market is not set up to deliver through this route.

2. Procurement strategy

From a turnkey project to one where each element is individually procured, we see many options for delivering data centres in APAC.


Selecting the right one depends on multiple factors including the way the local market operates, immediacy of need and appetite for risk.

In our experience, employing the right designer—either directly or as part of a design-build team - can be the difference between success and failure. A track record in data centres isn’t enough. Assess the experiences and capabilities of the individuals who will be working on the project day-to-day.

As a rule of thumb, design-build contracts tend to work well in more mature markets, whereas a more traditional design-bid-build route  can be safer in newer markets. 

 Fewer packages means fewer interface risks, but owners will almost always want to split out some business-critical elements such as air conditioning or key mechanical or electrical components to ensure they are right. It’s a case of balancing the risks and costs to find the sweet spot.

3. Cultural awareness

When team members and suppliers are brought in from outside a home market, language is not the only barrier, although it can be a significant one. Cultural nuances can impact on everything from communicating in meetings to insurance requirements. Having a local advisor, or someone with knowledge of the market, helps navigate these issues.

As a rule of thumb, design-build contracts tend to work well in more mature markets, whereas a more traditional design-bid-build route can be safer in newer markets


In newer markets, the supply chain may not be aware of industry jargon. Documents and communications should use plain language with key terms well defined for the whole team.

Practices and standards relating to safety and quality will vary hugely. Risks are higher in markets with relatively unskilled labour. Failing to manage these issues can result in reputational damage to a company and its brand.

4 .Nurture the supply chain

It is impossible to find all the capabilities needed in a new market. Having assessed skills and experience locally, it may be necessary to supplement with specialists and suppliers from mature markets.

However, this approach isn’t sustainable in the longer term. Project management strategies should include training and knowledge transfer for local supply chains.

Some of the major players in the data centre market have taken this approach further, employing local firms, which they believe will share their goals and behaviours in a partnering-style arrangement. They will then work with these local suppliers to build up their capacity and capabilities.

5 Shared goals

In a booming market, it’s important to work out what motivates people; often this isn’t the pay cheque. Communicate the goals and aspirations of a project in a way that inspires.

Good project managers are good communicators, good negotiators and show leadership around the key boundaries of a project. When selecting team members, it pays to look at individuals’ behaviours including their ability to learn, rather than focussing only on technical skills. With the right approach, they can assess their own strengths and weaknesses and work to fill any skills gaps.

In conclusion

In APAC’s fast-moving data centre market, it is vital to get the basics of project management right when delivering new assets. The first step is detailed and informed planning to ensure that the right procurement and delivery decisions can be taken. Plan early to save later.

Building on a rigorous feasibility phase, project leaders must establish the right processes and practices while assembling a team with the capabilities to deliver the project in its particular location. Setting the right ethos and goals is as important as ensuring that the right controls and governance are in place.

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