Some reflections on Green IT 08 Day 1

Today saw the start of Green IT 08 at the Design Centre, Islington. It’s a combination mini-exhibition and conference. It was interesting to see a mix of customers, vendors and analysts sharing their views. And, my, how the field has consolidated in the past year or so.

Then, a lot of IT people were discovering green issues for the same time. Waves of evangelism ensued and, indeed, are still washing over us. But what I found interesting is the stage we seem to have reached with green, or climate change, or carbon – take your pick. I hesitate to mention that I was in IT when decimalisation came along, when VAT came in and, of course, when we had Year 2000. Like ’green’ all of these created huge amounts of heat and steam followed by action in the IT world, especially since all three had a specific deadline. Green doesn’t really have a deadline but the pattern is being more or less repeated. Lots of confusion, lots of explanation and, perhaps now, a more or less common understanding.

Most of the speakers today were agreed on what needs to be done. I liked the Highways Agency idea of dividing the actions up according to whether they’re down to the individual, the ICT department or the Enterprise to take them.

With few exceptions, money was declared the number one driver. Regulation was up there. And green was usually seen as a useful by-product. Nothing new there. Although some people suggested that green was the primary driver – but it seemed to me that, while this might be true among some staff, it wouldn’t normally get buy-in from the boardroom.

I liked JP Rangaswami’s (MD of BT Design, which embraces ICT) fairly hard-nosed message of, essentially, “cut the carbon” (my words, not his) and cascade the authority for doing so from the board down through champions. These are senior departmental “go to” people who advise and encourage, act as a sounding board and, when necessary, veto things like unnecessary flights. He doesn’t believe that all answers are known yet but he does believe in avoiding dithering because this leads to inaction.

I also liked the plain speaking of Her Majesty’s Government’s CIO John Suffolk. He doesn’t like having his agenda driven by IT people who advocate the latest technology without being able to explain what benefits it delivers. He’d rather copy someone else’s success. He has adopted the champion/challenger approach in which he champions what he thinks is good and will only consider a challenger if it wins by a sustantial margin.

His bottom line is, “know what good looks like” and challenge suppliers to meet these requirements. To give an example, he mentions people who are pleased that servers are being 30 percent utilised. He asks, “would you run an office that’s only 30 percent utilised? He seems to see some of the madness in the IT industry for what it is and continually questions “Why?”.

Perhaps the sheen is beginning to go off green and it is heading to becoming part of business, just as has Quality, which was quite a fashionable topic some years ago. This has to be for the good. A green thread which runs through everyone’s thinking is probably the best way to impact an organisation’s environmental footprint.

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