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Deep Dive: Stephen Whatling, Chairman, Business Critical Solutions

Deep Dive: Stephen Whatling, Chairman, Business Critical Solutions

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Business Critical Solutions is dedicated to providing a full range of services solely within the business critical and technical real estate environments.  Having supported and delivered some of the most secure and resilient data centre facilities in the world for major financial institutions and global corporations, Whatling has extensive experience in leading companies delivering strategic consultancy for critical environments.

What would you describe as your most memorable achievement in the industry? 

I think it may be yet to come! Coronavirus has thrown up a set of challenges which have not been seen before. Just managing the business through this to the other side will be a great achievement.

What first made you think of a career in the data centre industry?

I originally trained as a mechanical engineer and was heavily involved with banking clients. I got involved with the first wave of the move from under desk IT to server room. After that, it was then to off-premise data centres and, having found my niche, I’ve stuck with it ever since.

What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position? 

I spend time setting and articulating the strategy and then I trust and support the team to deliver it. Measurement and quantification are everything as you need to know how you are doing and that the direction of travel is right. It is also important not just to look at simple metrics as businesses are much more complex than that.

What do you think is the current hot talking point within the data centre space? 

Undoubtedly, COVID-19. However, linked to this is the continuing skills shortage in the sector which will get worse before it gets better. Many graduate vacancies and apprenticeship schemes – both vital in the ongoing provision of skilled data centre staff – have been put on hold until the future is clear. This delay in recruitment, training and provision of engineers will further slow the development of new capacity.

How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?

I like to exercise, particularly running. No music or distractions, just me and the elements. It helps me clear my head and think. 

What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry? 

It would have to be M&A activity and of course, Edge. A positive that should come from the current situation is a move to near-shoring or on-shoring of critical services. Clearly, from recent events, healthcare manufacturing, healthcare consumables and pharmaceuticals production will migrate closer to home, but what about data? We have seen a trend towards near-shoring data centres as a result of the rise of Edge Computing and AI, and this is likely to accelerate with the realisation that data, data centres and access to the Internet are critical elements of our national infrastructure.

The opportunity is for home-grown businesses like ours to play a greater role in designing, constructing and providing the critical infrastructure of the future.

What are the region-specific challenges you encounter in your role?

The main issue is the availability of trained resource, particularly operational staff, which requires you to find alternative methodologies to deliver and operate.

What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months? 

There hasn’t been much change in the last 12 months but with the events of the last month, the next 12 months will be incredibly interesting. One thing is certain, demand for additional data centre capacity will increase even more as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown and whenever demand exceeds supply prices inevitably rise. 

Medium term, more capacity will come on-stream. While many construction projects are either on hold or being delivered later than planned due to workplace distancing measures and supply chain issues, the consultancy and design of new facilities is continuing at pace. At BCS, we are seeing no let-up for this which obviously can be serviced by home working. 

If you could go back and change one career decision, what would it be?

I wouldn’t, as I believe they are all part of the learning experience. The only thing I would change would be if I hadn’t learnt something from a decision that I had taken  – then it would be an opportunity missed.

What advice would you offer to somebody aspiring to become an executive in the industry? 

Go for it, it is great industry. I have travelled all over the world, met loads of great people and thoroughly enjoyed my time. At BCS we have an excellent graduate training programme – what a fantastic place to start!

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