#Data Centres

Savills Critical Facilities Group: how knowledge builds trust

Amber Donovan-Stevens
|Feb 5|magazine17 min read

While Savills was founded in 1855, Critical Facilities Services only became a part of its brand in the mid-2010s, when it purchased American-based tenant representation specialist, Studley Inc. The Critical Facilities team has served clients since 2000, when it began working as a consultancy focused on helping companies define strategy around its data center needs, whether that meant building a facility or leasing space from a provider. “Our core focus,” Rick Drescher, Corporate Managing Director of Technical Services, says, “is representing users of space and services. Across all business lines, we focus on user representation”. In the late 2000s, cloud service providers rapidly gained popularity, which led to an increased client demand for analysis and discussion of outsourced infrastructure alternatives. Ian Zilla, Executive Managing Director, adds that “it became clear that, to really engage with customers appropriately, we needed to understand their entire infrastructure stack from a detailed technology perspective, starting with applications and moving deeper into systems and network requirements, as well as legacy platforms.”

According to Zilla, in the early 2010s, the team was looking to expand its IT expertise to engage clients on a more technical level. In came Drescher, a 20-year IT professional with a focus on network engineering and large-scale infrastructure project experience. Drescher notes that he and Zilla pair in two fundamentally connected areas: the technical aspect, helping clients analyse their current and future technical requirements and developing strategies to get them there based on what is important to them; and the financial analytics and structure aspect, which focuses on strategic acquisition planning and identifying financial structures that best suit each client and project. Critical Facilities works with a wide array of clients at different stages of their company life cycle, from startups to Fortune 100 businesses, meaning customisation and specialisation are key elements of its client dynamic. Both Zilla and Drescher have IT backgrounds. According to Zilla, this allows them to connect to IT clients as they are knowledgeable about both their experiences and the subject matter. Drescher notes, “We’ve been in the trenches of IT and understand the challenges those professionals face. Our goals are to reduce friction by educating various organisational stakeholders, and move digital initiatives forward to help empower our clients’ businesses.”

A point of pride for Savills is its hiring strategy that seeks out-of-the-box problem solvers with diverse backgrounds and varied expertise. “We look at what a project is likely to need from a skillset perspective. While many of the engagements brought to the company have common elements, each client has access to our full team to provide the best possible advisement for their specific situation,” Drescher says. This can mean anything from bringing on an additional IT specialist to analyse challenging network connectivity needs in a particular geography, to consulting with an engineer to review technical drawings and ensure the client is being delivered what they are expecting. 

“The real value of having a multidisciplinary team is being able to meet our customer where their need is,” Zilla says. The team is analytical, with a consulting-focused planning process. It provides advisory, strategic and transactional services, as well as real estate and financial planning from the beginning of any project. This allows clients to know from the start what their requirements are and what decisions lie ahead. “We are continuously keeping updated on the latest developments in the data center industry, and, just as importantly, on what technology trends are shaping infrastructure moving forward,” Drescher says. “We’re a nimble firm that gets creative with client solutions.”

With how quickly technology solutions change, it is difficult for users to discern between options. “The speed at which new technologies are being released is a constant challenge,” Drescher says. “People are apprehensive about making decisions on something that they could change their mind on in 12 months’ time. There is a lot of analysis paralysis around which choices are correct but rarely is the best decision to do nothing.” This is where Savills comes in, as a trusted advisor. A proven track record of experience in the field, as well as its exposure to the marketplace, allows the firm to be a knowledgeable partner in a constantly changing industry with an overwhelming amount of options for end users. As a firm that believes in providing clients an objective view of their best options, Savills Critical Facilities Services values partners with the same priorities. “We’ve been fortunate enough to partner with firms that have the same user-first belief system we do,” Zilla says.

“Ultimately, it comes down to ensuring the customer feels comfortable with their final decision. Clients often face a lack of transparency from service providers. Different service providers don’t always provide services, such as colocation, in the same way,” Drescher explains. “We understand the provider landscape and the areas where they excel. We are able to engage the right potential partners for our clients. It takes a solid understanding of each client’s technical, financial and operational goals to dig into the details of what’s being offered from various proposals. It’s about making sure our client is entering into a partnership with a service provider that meets their current and future needs most closely.”

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This wide base of knowledge allows Savills to build client trust. IT knowledge is increasingly important; real estate and IT are now interwoven thanks to phone systems, cloud computing and network services. An often-overlooked element of cloud migration, for instance, is the effect it will have on network connectivity. By providing a strategic planning process that does a full technical and operational assessment, the company mitigates these challenges. Zilla notes: “It creates trust and a partnership. Decisions are made by the entire organisation, which helps solve problems as they come up through objective, data driven analysis. The need for deep IT and financial knowledge is a must.” Client trust is important as many transactions between Critical Facilities and clients are long term, lasting 12-24 months. “There is nothing more important than building a trusting relationship,” he adds.

Savills’ involvement in the Asian and European data center markets has been expanding rapidly, a trend that will continue based on demand from the cloud technology industry, as well as expanding end user needs. As a result, sustainability is increasingly becoming a priority for tech companies, with users driving the change by demanding greener alternatives. “The good news,” Drescher says, “is that the industry is addressing it. Energy efficiency continues to improve across several key areas. Utility providers are providing more access to renewables, equipment manufacturers continue to develop more efficient MEP systems for data centers, and most importantly, service providers and end users are incorporating these advancements into their designs. 

“We’ve talked about open-source software,” Drescher continues, “but now there’s open-source infrastructure. People are contributing for the greater good of the industry, trying to lessen the impact on the planet as data center growth continues.” According to Zilla, there is also an economic incentive to go green. “People feel more of a responsibility to the planet, and tech innovators and markets are responding to that feeling with services that align with client’s corporate sustainability initiatives.”

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