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IT strategy: Emerald city

It seems that finance directors and other senior executives are not as green
as they are cabbage-looking when it comes to swallowing the hype associated with
many ‘environmentally friendly’ products, technologies and services.

There are now more of these green offerings than you could shake a
sustainably sourced, environmentally friendly, organic stick at. But corporate
decision makers remain sceptical about the extent to which they can help save
the world – and closer to home, what they can do to help their businesses. After
all, we’ve all been here before many times, and the story remains much the same
as the one Hans Christian Andersen so elegantly told in his seminal guide for
senior corporate managers, The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Probably the most obvious iteration of this phenomenon that we have been
collectively subjected to recently was during the dotcom revolution when old,
tired and even obsolete offerings were given a new marketing gloss by simply
adding the letter ‘e’ as a prefix to their original names. Now we are seeing
manufacturers, vendors and service providers engaging in much the same
bandwagon-hopping; only this time it is environmental, or pseudo-environmental
credentials being touted.

But while more technologies and services are being given a thin veneer of
green paint to cover up their short-comings and make them more appealing, many
enterprise decision makers simply do not trust vendors’ environmental claims.
This is particularly true of those responsible for the energy-hungry data
centres that are increasingly being viewed as the worst culprits when it comes
to wasting precious resources.

Market analysis data from the Aperture Research Institute (ARI) indicates
many firms have left “alarming gaps” in their green agendas by ignoring their
data centres, despite the fact that these facilities are often the worst
offenders when it comes to energy consumption and data wastage.

A major problem is lack of trust between vendors and the data centre-owing
firms they supply.

Many of those interviewed by ARI were quick to dismiss vendors’ green claims
as hype. A particular bugbear in many cases was that the claimed benefits of
green initiatives could not be independently audited or properly costed, making
it impossible to formulate meaningful return on investment estimates.

There is another problem casting a shadow between the good intentions of
firms to reduce environmental impact and the actual execution of solid plans to
achieve these objectives. For many companies, it appears that poor communication
between senior board-level decision makers and their IT departments is hindering
moves to roll out greener IT systems.

According to new research, top-level executives are failing to take the lead
in green IT initiatives. Bell Micro’s study, Passing The Green IT Buck, polled
senior IT management at 350 UK enterprise organisations of various sizes and
industry sectors. It reveals that 79% of UK companies have failed to adopt a
formal policy on green IT. Only 7% of large organisations reported they had
found it necessary to assign a specialist project team that can drive green
changes across their business. Perhaps more tellingly, 91% of firms polled in
the report have failed to apportion specific budget to green IT issues.

Although there are good reasons to be sceptical about some vendors’
environmental claims, there is a growing body of research arguing that finding
the right green solutions could, in fact, save firms money, as well as helping
to save the planet. Organisations that are tempted to cut back on green PC
initiatives as part of wider IT cost-cutting efforts may find themselves out of
pocket in the near- to mid-term, according to analyst firm Gartner, which argues
that, for many companies, going green can help save money and alleviate pressure
on hard-pressed IT budgets. It asserts that firms that make the right choices in
green technology should find their initiatives typically do not add
significantly to ongoing operational costs. In fact, Gartner estimates that the
typically relatively small upfront costs associated with such projects are
usually easily recovered 12-to-18 months after programmes begin.

The simple advice is that firms need to treat green initiatives in exactly
the same way as all other IT projects. All the usual rules apply in terms of
choosing the right technology, rigorously calculating return on investment,
vetting vendors and focusing on the business benefits throughout. Finding the
right solution this way can help companies boost energy efficiency and
potentially offer the win-win scenario of saving money and improving process
efficiency while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions.

The environmental impact of IT is, even for the most dyed-in-the-wool climate
change sceptic, undoubtedly significant. According to some estimates, the IT
industry is guilty of producing as much carbon in the UK as the aviation sector.
It’s not that we shouldn’t be looking to go green, but we need to make sure that
we do so in the environmental, and not the naïve sense of the word.

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