Preparing IT clients for an office move

The prospect of an office move or renovation brings about challenges and opportunities for everyone involved, as well as all kinds of emotional reactions.

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From the May, 2014 Issue of Cabling Installation & Maintenance Magazine

In many ways, the complexities of an infrastructure move within a commercial office parallel those of a theatrical performance.

By Jack Sturm, Environmental Systems Design Inc.

The prospect of an office move or renovation brings about challenges and opportunities for everyone involved, as well as all kinds of emotional reactions. Participating in a move that was planned by others does little to prepare you for the planning of another move. Planning a move is a unique puzzle that requires special consideration, and the effort to accomplish it is often underestimated. It can be compared to putting on a play. There's a lot to prepare, including building the set, advertising and selling tickets, getting costumes and props, rehearsing, and finally, performing. Everyone has a job to do and by the time of the first performance, they need to do it flawlessly. At the beginning of the process, everyone is anxious about what their role is going to be. As the planning takes place, it becomes clear what the result will look like and the performance isn't so scary.

An office move is like that, but there are some differences. You only get to perform it once, so there will be extra pressure to get it right. There is a lot of preparation, but no rehearsing. There are probably few move-planning veterans in your organization, so most of your peers cannot help you with their office-move experience. Preparing for it isn't hard, but there are a lot of pieces to organize and it is time-consuming. It's probably best to spread that effort out over time, assuming you start early enough.

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An overall project manager works with a multi-discipline, multi-faceted team--the cast of characters--most of whom are external to the organization making the move.

The purpose of this article is to help you understand the process of planning the IT portion of an office move--what is expected of you during the process, how to make use of resources, and how to prepare. If you've been invited to help plan a move, it implies that your management has trust in you to do it well. So take a breath and set your mind to believe that a move can be a rewarding experience, and that it will increase your wisdom and value.

Henceforth, I will refer to any project involving office construction, office renovation, and permanent or temporary office relocation as an office move. The impact of each type of move on an IT staff is similar.

Team-player roles

There will be a large cast of characters involved with the project from beginning to end. Most will be external to your organization, including the architect, engineers, contractors, vendors, and an overall project manager. Some of these players will bring numerous people to the project, and may even hire out for help when needed. There is a specialist for everything, and if you are heavily involved in planning or design meetings you'll get a glimpse of the diversity of expertise.

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This timeline of a typical office move shows there are two times when IT is particularly rushed. First is the brief time between when the engineer approaches IT for its criteria and the time when that criteria needs to be turned in. Second is the short amount of time between when IT rooms are available for move-in, and the actual move-in.

The goal of this group is to get the office requirements of your company, complete the design, and get the project built. The design engineer uses the drawings to document what is to be built, and the main audience of the drawings is the contractor. The drawings need to be prepared so that the contractor can bid the job accurately and then build it. Remember that the design process is all about feeding complete and accurate information to the contractors. They are the only ones who will actually build anything. However, things that you don't want the contractors to install, such as routers, switches and servers, will need to be done by your IT staff. For example, the drawings need to include information about the racks, patch panels, wire management and power-and-cooling infrastructure needed for your network equipment, but can (and usually do) exclude the installation of the IT equipment. The contractor will build according to the drawings.

At the beginning of the design process, one or more technology engineers will need to meet with IT representatives from your company to learn the project requirements for structured cabling, network, wireless, audio/visual (A/V), move migration and more. There may be an individual member of the design team for each aspect of the design's technology portion. These engineers are whom you will likely speak with the most, and who most closely understand IT. You will be asked to give your information to them. They will design the infrastructure that the contractor needs to build to support your technologies.

Design services are very much a-la-carte. It is important to hire an engineer capable of providing all the necessary services. For example, you may need help designing your A/V system, but if the engineer doesn't have a contract for it, it won't get done. At the beginning of the kickoff meeting, find out which design services are included in the contract, and determine if others are needed. They can usually be tacked on to the contract, and the sooner the better.

A mile in your shoes

As a design professional who has been the "hired help" for many office moves, I have seen firsthand and understand the circumstance you are in. The following description is my view of "walking a mile in your shoes" as a key participant in your office move.

Your boss tells you about a project to move the entire office to a new location, and you have never been involved in a move like this before. You figure the new office will be built and you'll spend one long weekend to move IT equipment and reconfigure it at the new location. Everything else will be built by then.

An invite to a mandatory meeting shows up, with a vague comment about your expertise being needed, with no specific details. You show up to the meeting, which also is attended by a number of others including representatives from a hired project manager, the architect, engineering consultant, contractor and various management figures from your company. During that meeting, you are asked to describe your IT systems. You respond with an overview of your systems. Then you're questioned about requirements for the new location, including communications cabling, power, racks and more. During the meeting you realize that you have a chance to make changes and upgrades--to finally set up the IT environment that you know is appropriate for your systems--but you haven't had time to prepare it. The consultant on the other side of the table tells you that he needs your information in 48 hours or he can't make his deadline, implying that such a missed deadline would be your fault. With more time, you could have prepared for the project with information to make positive changes that are aligned with your company's philosophies and budget. You're already working on projects to migrate some portion of your IT systems to a new platform, and trouble tickets take up the rest of your time. This project deserves time for planning, but someone else's lack of forethought made that impossible because you were not informed sooner.

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Pressured, you rush to assemble the criteria and send it out. Afterwards there is very little communication with the consultant, and you're left to do your part for the move. Meanwhile, the network switches you planned to buy for the new office are superseded by a new model that requires a different power plug. You aren't aware of the plug change until the switches show up, which is just days before the move-in, and you can't plug them in. The contractor is happy to oblige with an emergency change order, accompanied by a steep bill. Your management believes that the problem could have been prevented, and nobody wins.

This scenario is very common, although the technical details could be about anything. "Who's going to buy this?" "Who's going to install that?" It should all be discussed when you meet with the design engineer. But when something changes after that meeting, it's up to you to update everyone immediately.

A seasoned consultant knows that you're always working on an upgrade or migration of some kind. You're understaffed, overwhelmed with daily activities and fires, and underappreciated. IT isn't a revenue center for your company, and your budget reflects it. But a move project can be good both for the company and for you personally. You can get ahead of it by understanding three key items: 1) You must recognize the signal to begin; 2) You must know that all changes to criteria must constantly be shared with designers; and 3) You need a good roadmap of the entire process.

A mile in my shoes

Now to provide you the outlook from my perspective, I work on designs for office relocations for a living. Most of my clients have never personally been through the planning of an office move. It is easy for me to tell the haves from the have-nots; the haves bring up concerns based on past pain.

Typically our firm is asked to provide a competitive bid for the design work. When we win the project, a project manager is assigned and the hours are divided up for all of the designers on our team to use. That's where I come in. I work on just one aspect of the design, and it's a big process. I have to get the client criteria; coordinate with the building, architect, vendors, contractors, our internal design team, and our quality-control group; produce a writeup; produce drawings; verify it all with the client; assist with contractor bidding; and visit the site during construction to ensure that it gets built per the design. The same goes for every member of our team.

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An often-overlooked asset to an office move is a network diagram. Regardless of how simple such a diagram is, it can be a significant help and can be used as a means to determine network architecture and performance.

The accuracy of my design has to be as tight as a drum, or problems will occur. If criteria change between the time we get the client criteria and the move-in date, we have to react in some way to get updated design info to the contractor. It takes time and money just to change the design, and then additional money to affect that change in the field.

A different viewpoint

Back to your role in your organization's office move: This could be a great boon for your career and for the company as a whole. Write your pain points down and determine how you could improve things if you had a clean slate. You may not actually get a clean slate, but at least some things can be fixed during the move project. Include things that improve productivity, efficiency, business resilience, flexibility and the employee experience. Think about future changes--what can be included now to make them smoother? This should be nothing more than a brainstorming activity. Just write it all down. You'll use it during the project-planning stage. Below is a list of items to get you started.

  • Main crossconnects (MCs, also frequently referred to as main distribution frames or MDFs) and intermediate crossconnects (MCs; IDFs) without height restrictions or water pipes, and easy access to racks
  • Having enough rack space for equipment and growth
  • Improved cable management
  • More power capacity, redundancy and uninterruptible power supply (UPS) backup
  • New cabling to support a faster network
  • Redundancy in backbone cabling
  • Thorough labeling of everything
  • Rooms for equipment deliveries and burn-in
  • IT office with extra power and data cabling
  • Coordinated WiFi
  • Mirrored local and cloud data-based storage

As soon as you get a whiff of the move project, it's on--that's your cue to start the planning process. It may not sound like your boss's voice telling you to start. But make no mistake, you need to start it and carry your part of it through to success. That means the IT systems need to be up and running one day one. Don't miss this critical cue, no matter how quiet or obscure it is.

You can begin two parallel initiatives immediately. 1) Start asking questions about the project and don't let up until you get answers. 2) Start planning the project.

That may sound counter-intuitive, but both tasks can take place simultaneously. The rest of this article outlines the process for getting the information and planning, with or without it. You can do a surprising amount of groundwork without it. Understand that the details of the project can change at any time, no matter how confident your management or the design team is about the project's progress--even after "final" designs are done and construction has begun. Assume that the design is fluid until the project is done. Assume it, but don't contribute to it. That's a big pitfall; avoid contributing to the fluidity with delay or indecision, even if others do without recourse. Early planning will help prevent this problem.

Asking the questions

There's no doubt that more information is better than less. The next section will get you started on planning even if you don't get these answers right away. They will be needed eventually, and you should assume that they will have to be dragged out of the people who have them. The answers may not be available today or tomorrow. But you can make it clear that you need the answers because they have a profound effect on your planning. Keep the pressure on until you get answers.

The questions are fundamental.

  • What: What is expected of you during the process?
  • When: When will the project start and end? What are your milestones?
  • Where: If your office is moving, where is it going? Are several options under consideration?
  • Type: Is this a move to a new address? To a different floor in your present building? A renovation of your current floor(s)?
  • Why: Is this to accommodate growth? Downsizing? Lower lease rates?
  • Who: Is the whole office moving? Just one department or business unit?
  • How big: What size is the new office relative to your current location? How many floors? Are they all contiguous or are there gaps between your company's floors?
  • Future: Is this the first phase of many? What's the end game? What do you need to plan now to make all phases go smoothly?
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IT professionals must be involved in the project early to ensure equipment and services are available when needed; they also are significantly involved late in the process--"crunch time"--because they must wait until a number of other construction processes are completed.

Planning without information

Here is a list of things you can do to prepare for the project once you know it's going to take place. These things can be accomplished even if you're given no information about the project. The fact is, at least half of the info comes from you.

Take inventory of IT equipment--Create a spreadsheet with a listing of the equipment, and categorize it three ways: 1) existing to be discarded, 2) existing to be reused, and 3) new. The engineer is interested in numbers 2 and 3. For those items include the quantity, item description, power draw, and receptacle requirements. The design engineer may want additional information such as requirements for temperature and humidity for each item.

The engineer understands that you might not be able to specify equipment until you see the floor plan. For example, some companies have a policy to use 48-port stackable switches in closets up to a maximum of 4, and beyond that they go with a chassis switch. Just be up front and clear about it because it has a huge effect on the design for room size, racks, power and cooling.

Determine premises cabling requirements--Will the phone system be VoIP? If it isn't already, is it advantageous to consider changing it as you move to the new location? Will you be patching PCs and laptops directly from your VoIP phones, or from the faceplate? How many cables are needed at the various premises locations? Consider requirements for typical offices (usually one faceplate with two or three jacks), executive offices (often has two or three faceplates, each with one or more jacks), cubicles, wireless access points, conference tables, and training rooms.

Patch cords--The contractor likely will assume that they have no scope involving patch cords unless they are indicated in the design. What colors and lengths should they be? Who should purchase them, your IT staff or the contractor? Who should install them, your IT staff or the contractor?

List them out by purpose, such as this.

  • Premises: Faceplate to phone, Category 6, 7-foot length, blue
  • Premises: Phone to PC or laptop, Category 6, 4-foot length, blue
  • Premises: Security cameras, behind TVs, and wall phones, Category 6, 2-foot length, blue
  • MDF: Switches, non-PoE ports, Category 6, 4- to 10-foot length, white
  • MDF: Switches, PoE ports, Category 6, 4- to 10-foot length, blue
  • MDF: Servers/storage/routers/gateways, Category 6, 4- to 10-foot length, blue
  • IDF: Switches, non-PoE ports, Category 6, 4- to 10-foot length, white
  • IDF: Switches, PoE ports, Category 6, 4- to 10-foot length, blue

Note that the contractor will assume no responsibility unless it is clearly defined in the drawings. On some projects, the contractor purchases them and leaves them for the IT group to install. On other projects, the contractor also installs them. You may want the contractor to install the cords in the premises, but to take care of the cords in the MDF and IDFs yourself. Be sure this is all clear to the design engineer so it gets included in the drawings for bid and construction.

Investigate service providers--Determine the circuits, and let the engineer assist with specifying the cable. For example, if you are upgrading your phone system at the time of moving, you may need a different type or capacity of phone circuit.

Diagram your network--Having a diagram handy is often overlooked. No matter how simple your network is, a diagram can be a big help. It can be used as a means to evaluate network architecture and performance. Alternatives to Ethernet networks are gaining traction now, but are only suited to certain situations. You may benefit from a Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON), or changes to your storage area network (SAN) architecture. As a diagnostic tool, a diagram can help you find problems in your network. It also helps to explain your network details to others.

You may want to make a more-detailed diagram with information showing how many units of each piece, and make and model of the pieces.

Determine WiFi coverage needs--Do you need to cover the entire office space, or do you just need targeted coverage near conference rooms, lunch room, and other select locations? The trend now is total coverage throughout the office space, but some companies may prefer to limit the use of WiFi in certain areas. Of course, a layout can't be put together until floor plans are available, but you can assemble your criteria.

How many cables should be run to each access-point location? With the advent of the 802.11ac standard, bandwidth per access point can scale beyond the capacity of a 1-Gbit/sec Ethernet connection. New access points are becoming available that can take multiple Ethernet connections and aggregate them together for added bandwidth. There is also speculation that the access-point manufacturers will start incorporating 10-Gbit jacks, which would require Category 6A cable or even fiber. Consider futureproofing while you can.

Determine backbone cable requirements--The backbone from your MDF/server room to your IDFs/closets is not to be confused with the service-provider circuits. Will you need fiber? If so, which type and how many strands? Voice cable? Coaxial? Other? Do you need redundant pathways? Here again, you might not be able to answer everything without more project information, but fill in what you can.

Regulation or compliance requirements?--Does anything need to be improved to satisfy government or industry standards such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, Sarbanes-Oxley, security, military, or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)? If you are uncertain, ask your designer when you meet.

Wish list (with priorities)--Is it time to revisit things that have been put on the back burner for a while? Some typical items might include a phone-system upgrade, backup strategy, uptime strategy, use of cloud computing, use of colocation facilities, faster local area network (LAN) and wide area network (WAN) connections, and distributed antenna systems.

You can list these things and prioritize them. Put a price to each and see how that affects the priorities. Step into your boss's shoes and take a hard look at the list. Which items are essential for day-to-day operation? Which will advance the resiliency of the company? Which will provide useful capabilities to employees? Which are nice to have, but not really contributing something useful?

When a project is announced, it means the winds of change are stirring. You may be able to effect some positive changes on your company's behalf rather than just maintaining the status quo.

Once you get the information

When you get a schedule and floor plans, you can take your documentation from the above tasks to the next step. Look back to the information you assembled and determine what more can be filled in. Your consultant will need to help in certain areas, but don't wait to start; do what you can as soon as possible. Remember that you might not be given a cue for each of your milestones. Your deadline is looming.

  • Continue the inventory of IT equipment--With a floor plan and maybe a meeting with the architect and engineer, you should be able to determine which rooms the IT equipment will go into.
  • Determine premises cabling requirements--For each type of user location, how many cables are needed? List out areas by type and determine how many faceplates are needed in each, and how many cables are needed at each faceplate. Talk to your internal project participants to understand how specialty rooms will be used, such as conference rooms, training rooms, multipurpose rooms, café, reception, security, network operations center, and any others.
  • Investigate service providers--Who has service near the building location? What services do they have available? Can they commit to your schedule? Do you like your existing service but they don't cover the new building? Can they still provide service by using another carrier's cabling?
  • Network diagram--Now that you can see how the IT rooms lay out, can you refine your diagram to reflect that? Make a copy and rearrange it to reflect the result you want.
  • Determine WiFi coverage needs--Are there spaces shown on the floor plan that you didn't anticipate? Training rooms, public hearing rooms, patios or balconies? Document your WiFi coverage expectations.
  • Determine backbone cable requirements--By now you should have an idea what type of network equipment you will use at the new site, and how many users will be serviced by each IDF. Does that affect your predictions on backbone cabling?
  • Improvements for regulation or compliance?--Final determinations need to be documented now. Speak with your management and consultants as needed.
  • Wish lists (with priorities)--Can some of the things you listed previously be incorporated in the new plan?

Make it a priority to work with the design engineer to determine if the MDF and IDFs are big enough. Also, plan to make your equipment purchase well ahead of time.

This helps to make sure that it's available on the critical installation date. You can often arrange for an install and burn-in. All of these best-practice steps take time to plan and implement.

Make a schedule detailing when new equipment will arrive, existing equipment will move, when things should be installed, programmed, et cetera. Also remember to discuss the room-turnover dates with the contractor.

The construction process

IT may not be included in construction-progress meetings, and you could miss important changes to the scope or schedule. Changes are fairly common so it's helpful to get yourself invited or seek updates from someone who does attend the meetings. Changes usually include things that reduce construction cost, like the reduction of electrical service, downgrading fire protection, eliminating redundancy of communications cables, field changes to room shapes and sizes, movement of doors, etc. Expect changes to occur.

Meanwhile, IT will need to arrange carrier services and procure technology equipment. If you're staying on top of the changes mentioned above, you'll have a handle on how it affects the number of switch ports you'll need. You'll have to determine when to place the order so that you have the right amount of switches, and have enough time to program them and burn them in.

On the construction side, the technologies portions of the installation are typically the last to get finished and the most-rushed because of the order in which things are installed. Unfortunately they are also the first to be scrutinized by your company staff because they expect everything on the network to operate as soon as they move in.

During any interior office construction project, the major components are always built and installed in the same order, including: 1) walls, ceiling and infrastructure; 2) floor finishes; 3) furniture such as desks, cubicles and conference room tables.

Those are some of the big milestones. Hundreds of other pieces are built in parallel to these items, including structured cabling. Cables can be installed and terminated in wall locations before the furniture arrives, but cables that terminate into modular furniture can only be routed out to the floor and then left to wait. Delivery and installation of furniture comes late in the process because it has to wait for the other things to finish first. The cables that feed them are often laced into the furniture and then terminated and tested in the last few days of the process. That may happen after the wiring closets are turned over to you, and the contractor will need to have access to the closets in the last few days to complete the cable testing. That makes it inconvenient for you to do your work. Plan for these obstacles.

While it would be nice to have the technology infrastructure installed on site well before move-in, that is usually avoided because the equipment would be vulnerable to theft. Also, the construction site is dusty and filthy. Even if the IDFs are cleaned and turned over before move-in, it isn't a good environment for network equipment. The site will only be truly clean after the final cleaning, which usually is a few days or even hours before move-in.

If changes come up, it is critical to inform the design engineer so that drawings can be updated and sent to the field. Don't expect anyone on the team other than the design engineer to have a working knowledge of your IT systems.

It sounds like a cliché, but organizing is the key to making an office move project run smoothly. The director of a play needs to create a plan with the stage crew to design and construct the set, and to choreograph the set changes during performance. The role of IT is similar because it requires planning, design, construction and well-timed actions.

Plan as much as possible early because there may not be a curtain call for you. A lot can be planned now; some needs to wait for information from the overall project team. Start with brainstorming, followed by identifying tasks and putting them into a schedule. Major design changes can happen at any time, so try to accept that you will need to be adaptable. Coordinating the IT plan with the overall plan helps everyone stay on schedule and avoids problems.

Planning a successful office move can be rewarding when you know what to do. The experience will give a more-in-depth understanding of your IT systems, a chance to partner with colleagues and consultants, an opportunity to make upgrades and changes, and can reveal to you new things about how your company operates. It will make you more valuable to your company and to the workforce in general. So embrace the change and prepare for the performance of a lifetime.

Jack Sturm, RCDD, CTS is a senior associate and technologies infrastructure expert with Environmental Systems Design Inc. (www.esdesign.com).


The top 10 painful surprises for IT during an office move

  1. You're responsible to provide design criteria for outside consultants that you didn't personally hire.
  2. The amount of project criteria is larger than you realized, and the impact of it to other people is more significant than you realized.
  3. The final, complete and accurate criteria are due within days after you're told about the project.
  4. You're responsible to get voice and data services ordered.
  5. You needed to place orders for service providers two months before you knew about the project in order to get them installed and turned on in time.
  6. You need to provide a clear, accurate budget for new office equipment within days after you're told about the project.
  7. You may get some initial deadlines, but they will change and you may not get the updates.
  8. Any missing information or lack of clarity on your part is subject to complaints from outside parties such as the architect, engineer, project-management consultant and contractors. Complaints will go to your boss.
  9. Your performance during the project will be under more scrutiny than at any other point in your career.
  10. Almost all that scrutiny will come to bear during the move-in weekend. Nobody will really know if the time you spent budgeting, planning, placing orders and installing was effective until they show up that Monday morning.
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