Earning the Role of Trusted Advisor for Data Centers and Energy Management

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In my days as a CIO, I viewed some of the best-known technology vendors not as product vendors in the usual sense, but as my trusted advisors.

For example, when I had database concerns, I turned to Oracle as a key advisor.  For networks, it was Cisco Systems.  For application services and server hardware, IBM and HP were trusted advisors at different points in my career.

What I didn’t have back when I was a CIO – and perhaps other IT leaders have lacked until recently – is a  trusted advisor for data center and energy management.

The importance of this new area is emerging because of the growing importance of energy efficiency and escalating costs within the IT domain. But before delving too far into this growing need, let me explain what separates a trusted advisor from a more traditional vendor.

As a trusted advisor, the vendor guides the customer organization with strategic plans and ideas that span multiple years. A trusted advisor spends the time to understand the customer’s operational plans and capital investment over the long term, while still providing solutions that meet short-term needs.

Here’s an example of what I mean. With a traditional vendor relationship, a cooling systems vendor might see that a customer has many data centers with older, inefficient cooling units, and push the sale of energy efficient units as an immediate need, across-the-board hardware standard. In contrast, a trusted advisor might study the life cycles of all the data centers involved and devise a plan that consolidates the least efficient data centers and updates and creates a smaller number of higher efficiency centers, thus providing a better long term strategy and return for my company. Trusted advisors will forego a short term sale to provide this type of valuable guidance and build a long-term relationship.

Or, a trusted advisor might determine that much of a customer’s data center infrastructure is too costly to replace in the near term because it has not yet fully depreciated, but rather should be fine tuned and optimized to maximize potential energy savings. This sort of advice might delay short-term product sales, but actually better suits the customer and the product asset management, truly helping the customer and their business.

The trusted advisor might get involved in helping the customer’s organization plan and document their technology standards, sharing technology roadmaps (investing time) then developing a detailed implementation plan covering upgrade schedules, managing in a consistent way the new standard rollout.

What is in it for the trusted advisor to take this long term perspective? The trusted advisor ends up with a solid long term relationship with the client and ultimately gets access to a larger sale and a qualified funnel of opportunity for years to come.

For CIOs, the need for a trusted advisor for energy management is a relatively new but pressing concern. Years ago, CIOs just didn’t get training or attend sessions on energy management, but with rising and volitile energy costs, and with broad realization that data centers are energy intensive, energy efficiency has become a major issue.

CIOs also are being asked to get involved in energy and “carbon accounting” efforts on a corporate wide basis, looking not just to data center operations, but all energy consumption areas for buildings, production facilities, or other infrastructure such as automated teller machines (ATMs) in a banking environment. Increasingly, they need a trusted advisor for energy whose expertise spans all types of building systems and electrical systems.

At Schneider Electric, we are actively assisting with energy management over a company’s broader assets. For example, in the Asia Pacific region, we are helping banks with energy and power management for ATM networks, branch offices, trading floors, office buildings and their data centers. With telecommuncations customers, we are in some cases helping them manage power and energy for communcations towers.

Because the trusted advisor relationship requires “skin in the game” on both sides, it tends to work well for larger scale global customers. However, the approach is still valid for many mid-sized clients, so you might even find aspects of the trusted advisor relationship trickling down to a reseller level where an elite reseller takes a consultative approach.

Vendors that have excelled at becoming trusted advisors have had the foresight to make acquisitions to expand their solution footprint, and bring in expertise for areas of growing importance. We’ve seen that over the decades with tech giants such as IBM who have evolved from “big iron” hardware vendors into much broader technology partners to customers. I believe Schneider Electric has displayed that same sort of acquisitive foresight when it comes to positioning itself as a trusted advisor for energy management of our customer’s entire infrastructure. A recent example of this is the M&C Energy Group acquisition, which adds to the strength around efficient energy procurement service.

Ulimately though, customers aren’t looking for a vendor with the broadest solution footprint. Yes, they want an advisor who can bring in a full range of solutions, but above and beyond that, they want the right advice and expertise tailored to their situation over the long haul. That’s what being a trusted advisor is all about.

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