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Information Technology and Sustainability Enabling The Future: Bringing best practices to the business

May 8, 2014

Harpeeet is an experienced IT consultant with strong strategic, analytic, architectural and leadership skills. His has broad experience in IT management, architecture and has lead teams in various projects. He specializes in IT architecture, Program governance, IT roadmaps and strategy.

He is positive, results-driven and innovative individual with proven success in balancing operational synergies and business growth with client satisfaction, offering over 13 years’ experience in management and architecture positions in world-class organisations within the IT industry.

He is presently working as Program Architect for Department of Attorney General & Justice. He has been involved in architecture road map for the overall design and is working to establish synergy between various programs to be hosted in cloud environment.

Harpreet has passion for IT Strategy and Architecture, Adventure Sports and Travelling.

He can be contacted on harpreet.bhatia@outlook.com

Introduction

In recent years climate change has become an international concern, touching on politics, an uncertain economy, business and international security. Sustainability in an enterprise can mean small adjustments or a major reorientation. Information technology (IT) is not itself a big part of the problem, as it is estimated to contribute only a small percentage of global carbon emissions. But it can be a big part of the solution. In addition to datacenter optimization and other operational issues, companies are now leveraging IT capabilities to facilitate sustainability initiatives across the enterprise in new areas, including fleet management, paperless billing, and construction and facility management, among others.

For sustainability initiatives to be successful, executives must lead by example while also welcoming bottom-up ideas and initiatives. Strategists should consider how all goals, from a reduction in electricity usage to carbon neutrality, can best be supported by IT systems, and how technology will play an integral part in the firm’s long-term strategy to reduce its carbon footprint.

In this paper I highlight some of the steps initiated by various organizations in aligning their goals towards sustainability.

What does it mean?

Information Technology (IT) has been a successful business that has continued to sustain a growth rate above other business models in the last 10 years. IT now plays a vital role in almost all spheres of life and social development. It is the one of the few industries that has common terms and definitions across the globe and binds them together for human development and enhancement. This kind of growth also highlights two emerging challenges that must be handled by businesses, government departments and to an extent the human race: First, climate change and second, our ability to create a sustainable global environment.

Data is growing at an astonishing rate as mentioned in my previous paper of “Big Data”, the amount of information created, captured, and replicated in 2012 reached 281 billion gigabytes—more than three million times the infrmation contained in all the books ever written and growing at an exponential rate.

This leads to couple of important questions that IT has to look at:

How can IT minimize its impact on the global environment?

How can IT support process changes that can create a more energy efficient world?

Environmental impact of IT

As the proliferation of data takes place in today’s digitally dominated world, there is an increasing pressure on IT industry to develop trends and process that are economically sustainable. In addition to this near-ubiquitous connectivity and access to information has empowered people to also contribute to the world’s knowledge base from every part of life; but this ever-expanding digital universe is not a panacea: It has had environmental consequences. It consumes large amounts of resources to build out data centers and server farms, and it’s driving higher demands for energy.

According to Gartner, the average utilization rate for server’s ranges from 5 percent to 15 percent and for non-networked storage, 20 percent to 40 percent. This means that IT companies are consuming a significant amount of resources with quite low utilization. At the same time the data or information that is expanding may never or only rarely is accessed. Clearly, the IT industry must minimize the environmental impact of rapid information growth by attaining higher levels of efficiency.

In order to mitigate the IT environment impact the following key technology initiatives can support this goal:

Virtualization and consolidation of services
Virtualization and consolidation are essential to energy conservation in the data center, where IT managers have installed more and more systems to enhance performance, redundancy, and availability, but without a focus on power or cooling efficiency. Virtualization addresses these inefficiencies by separating software from the underlying hardware, so that a single computer can run multiple operating systems and applications. In turn, better utilization of servers and storage means deployment of fewer machines—thereby using less electricity for power and cooling.

Information Lifecycle Management (ILM)

Information lifecycle management (ILM) is based on the premise that the value of information changes over time. ILM uses automatic intelligence to store information in the most appropriate and energy-efficient storage device at every point in its lifecycle. For example, business-critical and real-time information requires systems that offer the highest reliability and performance—and therefore demand more resources and power. When that information reaches a less critical state, ILM moves data to storage that consumes less energy.

Developing an IT sustainable strategy

IT sustainability encompasses the study and practice of using information and computing technology resources efficiently and effectively in ways that the planet can support indefinitely. As organizations developed a cohesive IT sustainability strategy, the following steps are needed to be followed:

  • Established organisation roadmap and baseline measurements that are focused towards reducing green house emission and meeting standards that are established by a competent authority.
  • Addressed consumption and waste while creating a sense of urgency across IT organization.
  • Redesigned organisation business processes from the top down to reinforce sustainability principles and practices in everyday actions and decision making.
  • Encouraged creative involvement and innovation from employees.
  • Strategy development and education: Develop an IT sustainability strategy and roadmap to educate and provide leadership to the organization on the principles and importance of sustainable business practices.
  • Develop and deliver sustainability metrics: Apply appropriate metrics and communicate sustainability performance while accommodating regional needs.

IT sustainable initiatives

IT has long practiced what is now termed sustainability, investing in and implementing technologies that could result in increased efficiency and lower costs. Early implementation strategies matured into the sustainability programs organizations use today to manage and measure efforts on a holistic basis across the entire enterprise, integrating sound practices, efficient technologies, and improved metrics. Below are few initiatives that show how IT is shaping up the enterprise landscape to be sustainable.

Server Refresh
In 2004, Intel IT adopted an accelerated server refresh strategy across the entire design computing environment, removing less energy-efficient servers that were more than four years old. The result was that an Intel client received a USD 250,000 rebate from a local power company after demonstrating that new machines performed the same amount of work while consuming less power.

Data Centre Efficiency Program
Data centre efficiency refers to data centre consolidation, accelerated server refresh, implementation of server virtualization and grid computing, standardization of processes and design specifications, reduction of server and storage platform reference designs, use of power-efficient servers, and energy-saving data center design. Implementing these steps will reduce the cost of the land space that will lower the cost of hiring the data centre.

Data Centre Design Optimization
Thermal storage systems provide cost-effective, temporary cooling in high- and medium-density data centres. Air-cooled data centre designs complement organizational primary strategy of achieving high density at lower cost. Data centers that deploy these designs are showing trends of reduced electricity usage and lower green house emissions.

Mobility Drive
IT should encourage adoption of mobile computing as a corporate-wide strategic initiative as it will help the organization to move towards mobile computing with notebook computers consumes 25 to 35 watts less power compared to desktop computers

Data Centre Virtualization and Asset Utilization
Data center virtualization initiative enables design engineers to transparently use compute server resources worldwide, increasing server utilization and reducing expenses. Ongoing programs ensure that IT enables only essential applications and supporting infrastructure, eliminating redundant or unused applications and freeing valuable IT resources.

Dematerialisation
Organizations focus on reducing the raw materials required to provide customer solutions began with early implementations of the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and eBusiness adoption. From human resource services to financial services, along with customer and business-to-business applications and processes, IT solutions have changed how we do business.

IT sustainable mindset and principles

Building a sustainability mindset strengthens business efficiency, reduces consumption and waste, and enhances organizational capacity to reduce carbon footprint. Corporate culture plays a vital role in changing the mindset towards decision making processes and employee involvement, to be more sustainability-focused and to adapt to new thinking and methodologies. Below image outlines the steps that are needed to develop a cohesive, integrated strategy that created awareness along with a sense of urgency within organizations.

According to Intel, the following principles play an important role in decision making and are included in measurement models, standards, and processes. These criteria can also influence the selection of programs and suppliers toward those with sustainable business practices.

Principal

 

Description

Select sustainable suppliers

 

Utilize suppliers who adhere to sustainable business practices and provide capabilities that enable Intel’s sustainability strategy.

Promote IT’s sustainability innovations across organisation

 

Actively share sustainability-related concepts, results, and innovations to further develop sustainable IT enterprise platforms.

Reduce travel

 

Reduce direct travel and enable collaboration alternatives.

Measure, monitor, and reduce energy consumption

 

Measure and monitor resource consumption—including reuse, recycle, and waste—based on industry standards.

Enable sustainable facilities

 

Partner with other organizations to enable energy-efficient buildings around the world.

Promote sustainability within the industry

 

Share sustainability strategies, best-known methods (BKMs), and results with industry peers.

Enable global sustainability compliance

 

Work with business partners to identify, assess, and enable corporate sustainability regulations that require IT capabilities.

Facilitate dematerialization

 

Reduce the raw materials used in conducting business; for example, substitute high-carbon products and processes with lower carbon alternatives.

Enable sustainable behavior

 

Educate, encourage, and enlist employees by sharing BKMs, successes, and challenges and by inviting their input into programs and projects.

Conclusion

Technology alone cannot make companies more eco-friendly but IT is one important element of a broader strategy that includes solid leadership and constant communication of corporate goals. The following are some points to keep in mind for executives looking to take advantage of IT to further their sustainability efforts:

  • Involve IT early on in discussions about sustainability initiatives. Leaving IT out of the discussion limits the collection, analysis and sharing of data and best practices, and promotes the further fragmentation of sustainability efforts.
  • Create an enterprise-wide governance strategy that includes IT and all key areas of the business. Cross functionality leads to cross-fertilisation, so ideas will flourish, but a strong central strategy will ensure that business units will work together and will not draw up separate, competing initiatives.
  • Lead from the top. When the rank-and-file workers see corporate executives take a clear stance on corporate sustainability through formal governance and strategic use of IT resources, corporate culture will follow suit.

References

Wellsamdt, S & Snyder,S. 2009, ‘White Paper’, Building a long-term strategy for IT sustainability, pp7-8, viewed 28 Jan 2014.
Booth, N 2013, IT vendors face mandatory carbon accounting rules, digital image of TechWeek Europe, viewed 02 Feb 2014 https://www.techweekeurope.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/shutterstock_43183900.jpg