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Digital Realty Case Study

06 December 2019
Digital Realty powers the world’s increasingly digital economy. The company supports the data center, colocation and interconnection of more than 2,000 organizations across five continents, 14 countries and more than 210 data centers. 

Its customers include companies of all sizes across many sectors, including communications, information technology, financial services, energy, healthcare, manufacturing, consumer products and more. Digital Realty provides its customers with global strength, local expertise and exceptional reliability. The firm boasts 12 consecutive years and counting of 99.999% uptime, the best in the industry.

In everything it does, Digital Realty is dedicated to quality, information security, sustainability and health and safety. The company has robust physical security and cybersecurity systems in place that include surveillance systems, access control systems, multi-factor authentication protocols and continuous monitoring. These systems protect against cyberattacks, theft, natural disasters, accidental damage and other threats.

Digital Realty is also committed to developing efficient, environmentally responsible data centers that help its customers reach their sustainability goals. Since 2007, it has achieved more than 60 sustainable building certifications, and more than half of its certified projects have earned Gold- or Platinum- equivalent ratings.

The Right Certification And The Right Partner

In 2004, Digital Realty had 21 properties in North America. By 2005, the company had expanded into Europe, and in 2010, it purchased property in Singapore and expanded into Asia. As Digital Realty continued to expand globally, it needed a system to drive and monitor quality, operational consistency and continued operational improvement across all its operations. The company also needed an established compliance program that would provide external verification of its internal controls in a way that would be recognized across the globe.

International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards are developed through global consensus and, because of this, help break down barriers to international trade. Because of the globally recognized status of ISO standards and their proven ability to drive results, Digital Realty set out to obtain five ISO certifications. Digital Realty knew that these internationally recognized standards would provide an auditing platform that would help it make improvements across all operations, which aligned with the company's corporate goals and helped increase customer confidence.

Digital Realty also wanted to choose the right partner for their certification journey. After getting to know NQA, the company decided that we were the right fit to help it achieve its certification goals. We had the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) accreditation that Digital Realty and its customers required, a global footprint that could support Digital Realty’s global portfolio and a team of professional, knowledgeable auditors.

Digital Realty and NQA discussed the company's needs and goals, and NQA provided a proposal for certification, which Digital Realty approved. As Digital Realty prepared its management systems for the certification process, NQA's team learned more about Digital Realty’s business and prepared to conduct the audits needed for Digital Realty to achieve certification.

An Ambitious Plan

Digital Realty wanted five ISO certifications to help it meet operational consistency, quality and continuous improvement goals. NQA was ready to bring its experience and expertise to the auditing process to support Digital Realty in achieving its objectives and improving its operations. Digital Realty aimed to achieve certification to the following five ISO standards — ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 27001, OHSAS 18001 and ISO 50001.

1. ISO 9001

ISO 9001 is the international standard for Quality Management Systems (QMS). More than 1 million certifications have been issued to organizations in 178 countries. The standard provides Digital Realty — and the other organizations that use it — with a framework and a set of principles that help it to consistently satisfy its customers and other stakeholders. ISO 9001 provides a basis for effective processes and people to help the company consistently deliver effective services. In this ISO 9001 case study, complying with the requirements of ISO 9001:2015 also means that Digital Realty incorporates the seven universal management principles that underpin the standard:

  • Customer focus

  • Relationship management

  • Leadership

  • Engagement of people

  • Evidence-based decision-making

  • Process approach

  • Improvement

Some of the benefits ISO 9001 certification offers include improved customer satisfaction, improved stakeholder relationships, improved operational consistency, legal compliance, improved risk management and proven business credentials.

2. ISO 14001

ISO 14001 is the ISO standard for environmental management systems (EMS). More than 360,000 ISO 14001 certificates have been issued globally, making ISO 14001 the most popular EMS in the world. This standard lays out requirements for formulating and maintaining an EMS. In this ISO 14001 case study, Digital Realty uses this standard to control the environmental aspects of its operations, reduce its environmental impacts and ensure legal compliance. ISO 14004, "Environmental Management Systems – General guidelines on principles, systems and support techniques," serves as a companion to ISO 14001. Some of the benefits ISO 14001 provides Digital Realty include improved environmental management, legal compliance, enhanced stakeholder relationships, reduced operating costs and proven business credentials.

3. ISO 27001

ISO 27001, which is also known as BS EN 27001:2013 establishes a framework for an Information Security Management Systems (ISMS). This ISMS helps Digital Realty to maintain legal compliance as well as the continued confidentiality, availability and quality of the information in its data centers. ISO 27001 may be the most relevant standard in this case study, as Digital Realty's data centers house large amounts of sensitive data. This standard plays an integral role in helping Digital Realty respond to customer and legal requirements, and it assists in protecting against a range of security threats, including cybercrime, data breaches, vandalism, terrorism, damage and misuse. It is technology and vendor-neutral. Benefits of ISO 27001 include improved customer confidence, enhanced business continuity, legal compliance, improved risk management and globally recognized business credentials.

4. OHSAS 18001/ISO 45001

OHSAS 18001 (now known as ISO 45001) is an international standard for Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems. More than 90,000 organizations in more than 127 countries across the globe are certified to OHSAS 18001. This standard offers a framework for managing occupational health and safety, including risk management and legal compliance. On March 12, 2018, ISO replaced OHSAS 18001 with ISO 45001. ISO 45001 builds on the foundations of OHSAS 18001 and includes a new structure that makes it easier to integrate the standard with other ISO standards. Digital Realty is an OHSAS 18001 case study since they achieved certification before the change. Through this health and safety certification, Digital Realty can deliver safe working environments for staff and sub-contractors, improve stakeholder relationships, improve risk management, ensure legal compliance, improve customer satisfaction and customer safety, win more business and improve its corporate social responsibility programs.

5. ISO 50001

Energy use management in Digital Realty’s data centers is a key factor in its environmental performance. Because of this fact, ISO 50001, the international standard for energy management, is another critical standard in this case study. This standard provides a framework for improving energy efficiency and ensures legal compliance, including with the Energy Saving Opportunities Scheme (ESOS) UK legislation. ISO 50001 certification demonstrates a commitment to continual energy management improvement. ISO 14001 provides the basic framework for this standard. The most recent version of ISO 50001 was released in 2018. ISO 50001 provides benefits such as reduced operating costs, improved efficiencies, reduced carbon footprint, legal compliance and proven business credentials.

The Benefits Of Integrating Standards

Digital Realty also decided to integrate their systems to increase their efficiency, improve their effectiveness and reduce costs. Integration also allows for fewer external audits, which reduces disruption and helps prevent audit fatigue. Digital Realty established an integrated management system (IMS) — a single system that assists an organization in managing multiple aspects of its operations and maintaining compliance with multiple standards. An IMS helps an organization eliminate redundancies, standardize operations and reduce risk. Digital Realty's IMS is an integral part of its business model.

The majority of ISO standards now use a common structure. This structure, called Annex SL, is designed to help organizations take an integrated approach to compliance with ISO standards. The latest versions of ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 27001, ISO 45001 and ISO 50001 all use the Annex SL structure. NQA offers fully integrated audits of management system standards, which provide assurance that your integration is effective and identify opportunities for integration improvement.

Finding Certification Success

To find success on the road to certification, Digital Realty knew it needed a commitment from senior management to secure appropriate resources to the program, gain stakeholder support and encourage active engagement in corrective actions to drive continuous improvement. NQA ensured it had this commitment, which helped Digital Realty to find success in the initial certification process and over the long term.

Once Digital Realty was prepared, NQA's auditors conducted the Initial Certification Audit, which consists of two stages. During the first stage, the auditor performs a documentation review assessment to ensure that the company is ready for a full audit. During stage two, the auditor conducts a full audit to verify that the company fully complies with the requirements of relevant standards.

Digital Realty notes that the NQA auditors were knowledgeable about its business, which helped the process go smoothly and enabled the auditors to provide relevant feedback. The auditors worked well with the staff, navigated challenging situations and delivered feedback in a way that helped staff approach corrective actions in a positive way, Digital Realty said.

Through this process, Digital Realty successfully achieved certification to all five ISO standards — ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 27001, OHSAS 18001 and ISO 50001 — since initial certification in Q4 2011. The company was also able to improve its operations and continues to do so today through its commitment to continual improvement. Certification to these standards provides Digital Realty with an auditing platform that helps to identify operational non-conformances, provides effective root cause analysis and drives corrective action across the organization.

They also provide senior management with a monitoring tool that gives them insight into how actions align with corporate goals and procedures. Crucially, the certifications boost consumer confidence in Digital Realty’s operations and help ensure that the company is meeting all local legislative requirements.

As Digital Realty continues to expand into new global markets, it maintains compliance with the standards of its ISO certification. NQA remains a partner for Digital Realty in the certification process, helping Digital Realty to improve its operations and increase customers' confidence in the company.

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