‘Taking calculated risks should be part of every manager’s outlook’

17 Aug 2023

Tom Gorman. Image: Digital Realty

Digital Realty’s Tom Gorman discusses his role as director of operations and how the company is addressing sustainability in the data centre space.

Tom Gorman is senior director of operations for the EMEA region at data centre platform Digital Realty.

Prior to being appointed to his current position in 2021, Gorman was a data centre operations lead at Amazon Web Services for five years. He also previously worked at DPS Engineering as a senior engineering project manager.

At Digital Realty, Gorman’s responsibilities span across several areas of the business, from safety and security to facilities management and customer deployment.

“The essence of my job is the overall operation and management of the Digital Realty data centre footprint in Ireland, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” said Gorman.

“However, it’s very much a team effort and my role is made a whole lot easier by the dedicated teams I have around me.”

‘Everything we do is now geared towards how we can become more sustainable and efficient’

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

As it stands, I would say there are three main challenges to our sector.

Firstly, the moratorium on new grid connections is a big challenge for us and other providers in the sector. It’s having a real impact on our business as we continue our attempts to expand. In tackling this issue, we are exploring alternative energy sources, renewable technologies and sustainable technologies to try and bridge gaps during the moratorium. Additionally, the moratorium presents an added difficulty by impeding our customers’ strategic momentum and essentially slowing the growth of our digital economy in Ireland.

Taking into consideration the issues associated with the moratorium, it’s going to be essential for our industry to act as educators, particularly for policy-makers and decision-makers, in the importance of data centres to the digital economy.

A second challenge is to inform the public as well as decision-makers of just how essential this sector really is and how essential sustainable colocation services are when we look at the question of energy use by data centres.

Thirdly, there are challenges that are facing the country as a whole when it comes to infrastructure; in this instance, our overall digital infrastructure. I feel our overall preparedness is lacking, especially when we consider the growth of new technology such as AI.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

Sustainability has become a prerequisite for most of our customers, even surpassing costs in some cases. We are constantly on the lookout for the latest innovations in this space, be it through power, water supply, carbon capture, supply chain, the list goes on.

The more informed we become in this space, the more self-sustainable and energy efficient we can become. However, that being said, Digital Realty has been engaging with the sustainability question for nearly 20 years, we’re not new to this.

Branching out, there are several other opportunities we are pursuing including local initiatives such as heat recovery systems and district heating. As well as this, we have looked into power purchase agreements. I think overall, however, everything we do is now geared towards how we can become more sustainable and efficient in how we operate and grow.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

From day one, I had a keen interest in engineering so in my younger days I went down an academic route and studied mechanical engineering. At this time in the early ‘90s, there really weren’t a lot of opportunities in the sector in Ireland. However, Intel had just started to have a footprint in Ireland in 1992, so I was one of the lucky ones when I got an opportunity to join the company. This job set me on my way in my career in the semiconductor industry which I remained in until 2008.

When did data centres come in? I basically saw the industry as the next evolution in technology, so I was keen to make the switch from the more technical work I had been doing up to that time, to this sector that I was less familiar with. Thankfully, this switch was the right move for me and led me to my role with Digital Realty today.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

I think just going back to my career path, leaving a job in the semiconductor industry was a big one. Leaving a good job at a senior level to set up my own business in facility management from scratch was a huge challenge, when I consider that I made this decision during a recession. I didn’t make it easy for myself!

I have to say, however, that what I learned in the seven years that I ran the company, setting up my own business has most definitely stood to me and helped inform my decision-making.

What one work skill do you wish you had?

I think in some ways we all wish we had this, but it would have to be foresight. You always think what you could have done differently if you had the chance again. In a business sense, this translates to being more strategic, planning ahead and doing your research, but that all comes with experience.

All that being said, in your career you have to take risks and trust yourself. Taking calculated risks should be part of every manager’s outlook, in particular if they feel they are constrained by the industry they work in, if the environment is risk-averse for example. Always trust your instincts!

How do you get the best out of your team?

First and foremost, a manager is only as good as his team, that is important to note from the outset. Getting the best out of your team, in my experience, is simple. You first start by putting the right people in the right positions, maximising their skills and potential by putting them in a position that lets them excel.

I think once you get the right people in the right positions, then your job as a manager is really to facilitate them in working to the best of their ability and supporting their judgement. It is always good to give team members autonomy to make decisions. It is also important for any team to continue to grow and evolve. Growth is good in my eyes, it keeps things fresh and allows for new points of view and perspectives to be heard.

‘For me, face-to-face communication is very important in this industry’

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

It’s becoming less and less but I do feel there has always been a gender diversity challenge in the tech sector. Especially across mechanical, electrical-focused industries. Thankfully at Digital Realty, we have a 50/50 split in terms of gender, which is important.

While broader issues remain in the sector, I think for Digital Realty’s part, we run a number of initiatives including school programmes where we invite children from local schools, children from all different backgrounds, to educate them on what exactly happens in a data centre and how important they are to the tech sector. Additionally with our apprenticeship programmes, we are hoping to create that long pipeline of talent, with a view to opening opportunities for people from all backgrounds.

What’s the best piece of career advice you have ever received?

The best piece of career advice I’ve received is “you own your own career”.

It’s a piece of advice that I give to everybody I’ve worked with. The way I see it, if you wait for someone to give you something in your career it won’t come, you simply must go out and grab it yourself with both hands.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

Digital Realty has a number of sites in Dublin and I make it a habit to visit each site each week to meet with and work with the various teams. In situations where I may not be able to get to a particular site on a given day, we rely on and utilise platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, because the foundation of what we do is built on communication. I’m very much a face-to-face manager and prefer it this way when working with my colleagues so that helps me build on those foundations.

For me, face-to-face communication is very important in this industry, where problems tend to arise out of nowhere. It is critical to be flexible and on the floor, so when dealing with issues and coming up with solutions on the spot, communicating effectively and in an agile manner can help a lot.

In my experience, I’ve found that team dynamics and mentality are so important to what we do, so maintaining that through constant communication, ensuring everyone’s voice is heard, is key.

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