Scaling Data Center Development Through Program Management 

In today’s digital landscape, the demand for data centers continues to surge, driven by exponential growth in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and storage needs. With staggering statistics reflecting the industry’s expansion—projected to reach $117 billion by 2032—data center developers are at a critical juncture.

While traditional growth has encompassed the MidAtlantic, expansion is taking place in regions like North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, where there is space and power capacity to support development. 

Amidst this rapid growth, leading data center developers are recognizing the need for a strategic overhaul: a streamlined approach for identifying target locations, selecting optimal sites, and navigating complex design and permitting environments.

This approach must be not only efficient but scalable, supporting simultaneous development across geographic regions while maintaining cost controls and accelerating speed-to-market. In order to achieve this ambitious expansion, developers need a strategic partner who understands their goals and operational intricacies. 

Here’s how implementing a Program Management approach can help developers and end-users meet capacity demands while reshaping the future of data center development. 

What is Program Management?

Program Management is a strategic approach encompassing processes and tools that empower developers and end-users to efficiently develop multiple sites concurrently. By leveraging thorough due diligence checklists, formal site selection strategies, and standardized design frameworks, developers can obtain the information they need up front to optimize the speed and scalability of their projects.  

Implementing a program management approach in the mission critical sector allows developers and end-users to tailor guidelines and processes that support their unique operations and goals.  

Streamlining Site Selection and Due Diligence

In today’s data center environment, speed-to-market is key, and the efficiency of site selection and due diligence processes can significantly impact project timelines and outcomes. To navigate this terrain successfully, developers are increasingly turning to standardized forms and checklists that outline key elements and due diligence checklist items. 

See related: Site Selection for Data Centers

By systematically assessing critical factors this strategic approach not only accelerates site selection but also enables the swift identification and mitigation of potential challenges. 

Key elements considered in this process include:

  • Availability of Utilities: Access to reliable power and water infrastructure is fundamental to data center operations. By evaluating utility availability and capacity upfront, developers can gauge operational feasibility and identify necessary infrastructure upgrades or extensions. 

See Related: Data Centers – Succeeding With Imperfect Sites

  • Zoning Considerations and Permitting Timelines: Zoning regulations and permitting timelines vary across jurisdictions. By integrating these considerations into the due diligence process, developers can proactively navigate regulatory landscapes and expedite approval processes. 
  • Community Pushback: Community engagement is critical, as the narrative surrounding data center development continues to evolve. Assessing community sentiments early on allows developers to anticipate potential objections and devise strategic engagement strategies. 
  • Relationship with Brokers: Collaborative relationships with brokers can facilitate site identification and guide developers toward target areas aligned with their strategic objectives. 
  • Earthwork Analysis: By reviewing the existing topography and modeling the proposed development with AGTEK software during due diligence, more accurate timeline and construction costs can be identified. 
  • Other Due Diligence Items: Beyond the basics, comprehensive due diligence encompasses geotechnical assessments, environmental impact evaluations, and detailed surveys. Addressing these aspects early on enables developers to evaluate risk factors and make informed decisions. 


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Developing Design Guidelines and Standards

The key to enhancing operational efficiencies is to identify a strategic partner who can seamlessly integrate with your organization, learn its nuances, and customize design guidelines and specifications tailored to your unique needs.  

By immersing themselves in your business operations, a seasoned teammate like Bohler can help develop critical processes to expedite site evaluation, streamline information organization, and navigate various departments within your corporation. This development model may include: 

  • Market Evaluation and Corridor Identification: Close collaboration with the real estate team to identify potential sites based on water and power capacity, permitting requirements, and projected timelines. This rigorous assessment ensures that every site selected aligns seamlessly with your development objectives.
  • Design Standards: Establishing robust design standards to ensure consistency and efficiency across projects. Creating prototypes and standard layouts for utilities and buildings, incorporating redundancy standards to enhance operational reliability. If necessary, detailed Program Criteria Manuals for each project phase, setting a definitive roadmap for execution.
  • Program Coordination: Managing a large-scale development program requires clear and consistent coordination across multiple stakeholders. A Program Manager takes charge of external consultant coordination, fostering transparent communication and delineating clear roles and responsibilities through a Work Responsibility Plan. Our teams interact daily with various stakeholders, be it project architects, MEP engineers, or regulatory authorities, ensuring seamless project progression and mitigating potential bottlenecks.

Program Management in Action

In 2022, a leading data center provider was poised for rapid and efficient operational expansion. However, lacking the necessary design framework to meet their ambitious goals, the developer turned to Bohler for guidance.  

“Drawing on our extensive program management expertise, we methodically created tailored design guidelines and standardized development stages for their test fits,” says Megan Baird, PE, Associate in Bohler’s Herndon, Virginia, office.  

“This was accomplished through a thorough understanding of their specific requirements and operational nuances, as well as the ability to manage multiple projects concurrently across multiple sites throughout the country,” shares Megan. 

As a result, the data center provider was able to: 

  • Identify Potential Issues Faster: By systematically assessing key elements, we helped to identify potential challenges at an early stage, enabling proactive problem-solving and risk mitigation. 
  • Streamline Go/No-Go Decisions: Clear and comprehensive due diligence streamlined decision-making processes, empowering developers to make informed go/no-go decisions swiftly. 
  • Evaluate Risk on Individual Locations: With offices in strategic locations across the country, and relationships developed with local jurisdictions, we were able to understand the unique risks associated with each region. This allowed us to inform the client’s strategic investment and optimized project outcomes. 

Ready to optimize your growth plan through a program management approach?

Connect with our Mission Critical team today. 

About Michael O'Shaughnessy

Michael is an accomplished Associate and Branch Manager of Bohler’s Herndon, Virginia office, specializing in Stafford, Fairfax, and Loudoun County projects. With a robust background in design and land development, he excels in client and project management across a diverse portfolio of data center, mixed-use, and residential developments.

He is currently overseeing the planning and site design of a significant 250-acre high-profile campus, demonstrating his expertise in large-scale project management. Michael has also spearheaded the design and permitting of nearly eight million square feet of mission-critical facilities throughout Northern Virginia.

Michael’s special capabilities encompass a broad spectrum of skills, ranging from site feasibility and due diligence to zoning regulations, site planning, and stormwater management. His multifaceted expertise and commitment to excellence contribute significantly to the success of our projects and the satisfaction of our clients.

About Kate Curll, PE

Kate serves as Associate and Branch Manager of Bohler’s Charlotte office, where she is dedicated to helping clients and employees succeed across the region. Guiding her team in identifying and acting on new opportunities for real estate developers, Kate focuses on strengthening and growing Bohler Charlotte’s operations.

Her team is designing and permitting manufacturing and distribution projects for several high-profile clients across the region, while Kate directly oversees the development of a confidential data center project. Her efforts are centered on office growth, mentoring staff, and increasing Bohler’s market share through program work with clients.

Before her move to Charlotte, Kate worked in Washington, D.C., and contributed to the ongoing revitalization of D.C.’s Union Market. By looking at the big picture and understanding the overall infrastructure improvements, Kate helped developers work together for the success of the entire community.

In addition to her project management responsibilities, Kate helps lead Bohler’s Women’s Professional Network, an employee resource group committed to driving positive change within the firm. Through this group, she has facilitated numerous networking and professional development opportunities for young women at Bohler, serving as both a mentor and a role model.

Kate’s passion for supporting the growth and development of her colleagues is a cornerstone of her professional journey, and she is proud to contribute to an inclusive and empowering work environment.

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