The supply chain crisis: Protecting the datacentre

In this guest post, Adam Bradshaw, commercial director at colocation provider ServerChoice, discusses what datacentre operators can do to protect their organisations from the worst of the UK’s supply chain issues.

Britain’s supply chain crisis has been a regular news items over the past few weeks, with concerns over how fuel and supply shortages will impact businesses into the winter months, while Brexit and trade concerns may extend these shortages further.

While many consumers may have taken the continuous supply of goods and services for granted, those who operate in the datacentre industry are all too aware of the importance of robust supply chains, as being able to ensure constant uptime is essential to any successful datacentre operator’s business model.

As such, a responsible datacentre provider places supply chain continuity at the forefront of their strategy. By building resilience into their supply lines and implementing contingency plans, datacentres can avoid shortages and any risk of downtime, even if something unexpected happens and impacts their supply chain.

Preparing for the worst

It is hard to predict how and why worst-case scenarios will arise, but that doesn’t mean that prudent planning for one should be neglected. Due to the risk-averse nature of the datacentre industry, all responsible providers are well-versed in planning for the worse case scenarios, and it all starts with a thorough assessment of the fuel supply lines, in case of untimely and unpredicted shortages.

Many datacentre operators will coordinate with fuel suppliers and schedule dry runs in the middle of the night to test resiliency and ensure 24/7 continuity of rapid fuel supply can be sustained no matter the conditions. Much like military war games, testing individual supply chain components under simulated conditions gives datacentre operators the confidence and knowledge of how to respond correctly when disaster strikes.

A supply chain shortage is not something any business wants to happen, and it is often something that many have not planned for. However, it is not impossible to be prepared for such an unwanted surprise, and there is much to learn from the datacentre industry and how it undertakes supply chain planning and assessment.

To avoid supply chain shortages, the primary consideration for all businesses must be establishing end-to-end visibility of their supply chain. Up-to-date insights and data on every link in the chain will allow businesses to assess the chain’s robustness and diverge resources if need be.

Having a geographically diverse range of suppliers should be another cornerstone of preparation for all businesses, meaning failure from one supplier does not present a mission critical incident for the organisation. For the datacentre industry, this planning is often embodied by fuel supplies, with responsible datacentres having suppliers based all over the country to ensure that fuel is accessible, no matter the circumstance.

With this in mind, it is essential that long-term contracts are negotiated with all suppliers. While the inability to shop around later may sound off putting to many, it is considerably effective at reducing risk. Longer-term contracts will improve a business’s standing with a supplier, as those operators with bigger contracts will be a higher priority for suppliers when any disaster strikes.

Emerging technologies, such as distributed ledger systems, also present promising new methods for improving supply chain transparency and traceability. However, for smaller businesses that may not have the scope or expertise to implement new technology, incorporating partners into supply chain planning is essential. This requires businesses to rely on accurate data provided by partners, as opposed to estimates of a supply chain partner’s capability, and it is imperative that all partners confirm whether they have contingency plans in place. By doing so, businesses will not only have clearer insights into the function of their supply chain, but they will also be able to ensure that partners can step up and continue to deliver services, despite any supply shortages or other external circumstances.

Future-proofing the supply chain

Unless a business is amongst a select few enterprises that have completely incorporated its supply chain through horizontal and vertical integration, it will be relying on external parties to meet its supply needs. The more external parties a business is dependent on, the higher the risk of supply failure due to the number of circumstances that are outside of immediate control.

Comprehensive supply mapping is the solution to such contingencies. This entails a rigorous assessment of each component of every supply line that the business relies upon. However, the comprehensive approach takes this a step further and involves gathering insights on the supply lines that your suppliers rely upon, as well as the workers involved at every step of the process.

This may sound like an exhaustive exercise for an event that may never actually occur, but most businesses don’t have the economies of scale to neglect planning for future supply chain risks. Ensuring your supply chain is resilient as the country navigates Brexit and trade concerns, as well as the expected difficult winter period, is going to be critical, as your business may well depend on it over the coming months.

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