The World’s Largest Data Center Commissioning Firm
Primary Integration Solutions
From its headquarters in McLean, Virginia and six other facilities around the U.S., Canada and Ireland, Primary Integration Solutions has always been involved in mission-critical projects.
While most of the company’s work has been in the data center space, mainly supporting clients in maximizing the reliability and effectiveness of their systems, the company has done a fair amount of work in federal health care for the Department of Defense and for the Veterans’ Administration. Senior Vice President of Operational Risk Management Jim McEnteggart joined the company in 2009. He kindly took some time to explain what makes the company so popular.
Primary Integration Solutions is a leader in data center building commissioning and operational services for high-tech and e-commerce companies. Its superior assessment programs focus on infrastructure and operations, providing accurate data with which to track continuous improvement.
The company originally performed commissioning, but as client requests and market demands diversified over the years, Primary Integration Solutions expanded its services, taking on additional responsibilities in buildings’ life cycles. The company is currently organized into three separate lines of business, namely commissioning, operational consulting and MEP construction quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC).
Its commissioning department focuses specifically on quality assurance processes that start at the beginning of projects and work with building delivery teams throughout the course of projects to ensure that the owners’ project requirements are properly defined and implemented. This market segment consists of roughly seventy percent new builds and thirty percent for existing facilities that are being expanded or enhanced.
On the operational consulting side, the company works with clients at their existing facilities, helping them to improve their operational systems and maintain buildings through updated policies, training and the like. Its youngest line of business is its aforementioned construction QA/QC. This is an extension of the commissioning process, but the team spends a lot more time on site doing this than is typical for the industry. Whereas usual commissioning prescribes occasional site visits, its QA/QC program dictates having staff on site full time.
The company was started in 2005 by Kelly Decker and Shariar Zaimi, who sadly passed away in 2011. The company was founded on one clear goal, to get the best people in the industry together to do what they do best.
At the time, the two partners started several smaller subsidiaries in the professional services industry. Primary Integration Solutions was one of those companies, and it concentrated on the data center commissioning business. In 2006, Terry Gillick was brought in to run the organization. He became instrumental in increasing its success in the industry to such a degree that, over the years, the other subsidiaries slowly also turned to commissioning.
One tenet of its early days remains central to the company’s culture. Primary Integration Solutions treats clients’ facilities as its own. Even if the team finds something unusual in the system which is not part of its work, it is brought to everybody’s attention and is repaired. The company knows that even though a small glitch may not be a problem today, its clients have to operate and maintain facilities for thirty years or more, and so, problems are better solved immediately. “We take great care to serve our clients and make sure they get what they pay for and what they need,” Jim tells us.
The company mainly works in the United States but has completed projects in fifty countries on five continents. It also opened an office in Dublin, Ireland in 2015, which is an ongoing success. The company was recently acquired by Bureau Veritas, and the team is excited about the much greater global reach it will have with new offices in 140 countries. It will now be much easier to support its international clients.
Primary Integration Solutions is proud and fortunate that the largest portions of its clientele are industry leaders. In the early days, it worked more with Fortune 500 type companies and data centers, but in recent years, business has come to incorporate co-location and other service providers as well. A co-location center is a kind of data center in which the bandwidth or equipment can be rented. The company was lucky to work with leaders in the data center space such as Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase during the early years, creating a world class foundation to grow with the industry.
Over the firm’s twelve-year history, it has had over 2,000 engagements with 175 different clients; and in the last two or three years, it has worked extensively with three of the five top data center providers, as well as three of the top five cloud providers. The company is now at a point where a large part of its work comes from the real leaders in the data center industry. It is very happy to be part of these projects and works hard to do great work.
The company’s 123 employees, according to Jim, are some of the greatest people he has ever had the honor of working with. The company supports external training and has pretty a significant program that keeps team members’ knowledge current.
Team members are so close-knit that those who leave to pursue other opportunities often return. The company’s management team takes pride in the fact that everyone here is professional and is treated as such. “People appreciate that,” says Jim.
Jim is modest about his contributions to the company and his management style but has the talent to digest complex situations and boil matters down to the essentials. In his experience, solutions can present themselves clearly despite the noise. He is humorously known as being ‘subtle as a sledgehammer’ and prefers to deal with difficult situations head-on, concentrating on fixing the problem, not on assigning blame.
“It’s good to know how you got into a situation, but it’s more important to fix it, to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he says. This approach has solved many problems over the years and has also built trust and loyalty amongst team members and staff.
Such trust inspires people always to do better, and doing better is something for which Primary Integrated Solutions is well-known. In the phenomenal situation it recently faced, a client commissioned a thirty-megawatt data center to be ready in three weeks. This type of project would usually take about two months, but the client, a co-location company that builds data centers, had a third-party client with tight schedule requirements and significant penalties. Primary Integrations Solutions’ team of twelve worked around the clock with the contractors and other participants and got it done in three weeks, meeting the deadline and making Primary Integration Solutions proud.
With such passion and dedication, it is not hard to guess at the kudos the company has earned itself over the years. Last year, it was named number four in the list of commissioning giants, published by Consulting Engineer Magazine. Jim and the team are especially proud of this award as the company’s niche is the data center industry, whereas the other participants are general commissioners.
In mitigating the realities of the skilled worker shortage that most industries are experiencing, the company is getting creative. It is talking with several universities to come up with plans to make graduates more marketable in its industry. It also has a mentorship training program where young people get field experience and learn the skills they need to be productive.
Jim tells me that the most important traits people need to succeed in this business are a strong work ethic, self-motivation and the right attitude. “It is a demanding profession that doesn’t suit the faint of heart,” he says. Relevant education and work experience in other fields enable cross-training which is also of great benefit in this line of work. Ex-military staff and engineering graduates tend to fit the company’s bill best.
The company has an eye on doing more work in the international market in the future. It is well-established with the big players in the U.S, and, with its acquisition by Bureau Veritas, the time is ripe to extend its services to existing clients and gain a global reach. The company has to disseminate new knowledge to its team and clients so that everybody can do a better job.
End-user designs are becoming simpler for increased user-friendliness but back-end design is becoming increasingly complex. To achieve this end-user simplicity, manufacturers implement advanced control strategies and automation within these systems. Primary Integration Systems’ teams work to understand these devices to make sure that they work properly. At the same time, its innovation is being driven by everybody’s need for energy efficiency – a major force in the data center industry.
Given the velocity at which the modern market propels itself, the company sees clients abbreviating planning and engineering phases of projects, increasing the risk of unforeseen problems during construction and operations. Part of Primary Integration Solutions’ goal for 2018 is to educate prospective clients on the benefits of proper planning. By assessing projects during the planning phase, problems can be remedied prior to construction. This is a lot more cost-effective than pulling out equipment and doing field modification to correct errors that were missed earlier.
“Putting money into the planning is always beneficial. It really is cheaper to do things right the first time,” says Jim. This wise philosophy will no doubt secure the team great success in all its goals this year.