Energy use results in two major consequences: expense and environmental impact. Most organisations care a great deal about the former and somewhat less about the latter. They are highly interested in how to cut their expenditure.
Of course, if their brand starts to suffer or the government starts punishing them for their lousy green credentials, then maybe they'll sit up and take notice. But the drivers will be image- and regulation-focused rather than green for its own sake.
What's this got to do with IT? Quite a lot, as it happens. In the first instance, IT can be a voracious gobbler of power. Datacentres use power to drive the computer equipment and then an equivalent amount to maintain the operating environment. Any saving on running kit can be doubled.
But that's not all. Most companies burn energy in their daily operations, whether transport, manufacturing or simply running the offices. And, at the heart of what most companies do is IT. Some say that an additional energy consumption by IT can be repaid five-fold by savings elsewhere in the organisation.
The trick for IT is to insert itself where it can do the most good. It may be that, by cutting its own energy needs, it can power the new applications out of its savings. Candidate applications are anything that removes the need for physical movement of people and goods; anything that optimises transport; and anything that helps run the company more energy efficiently.
Examples might include online collaboration, remote working, remote sensors to monitor storage tanks, reservoirs, vending machines and so on. It could also include the e-ing of business documents, making them digital from birth or scanning them at the first opportunity. Vehicle management software can blend deliveries with collections, optimise routing and, maybe, monitor driving habits. And all that's without mentioning savings in the data centre through auditing and eliminating applications and equipment and virtualising what's left so it runs on fewer machines.
A little trickier, because facilities management might rear its head, are building lighting, lifts, air conditioning and installed equipment could all be theoretically managed by IT. Then, different industries can benefit from IT-supported energy saving measures.
To even start, you need buy-in from the top of the company. Staff, generally, are more receptive to environmental measures. (Which are, in turn, cost savers.) They'll switch off unused kit, print double-sided, grey-scale and use pdfs instead of printed materials if asked, and if it's easy. They'll use desktop video, screen sharing, instant messaging and so on, which cut travel and, in some cases, improves personal lives.
IT has the potential to collect, analyse and distribute information about energy use. From this, organisations can prioritise and take action. Then loop back to 'collect' to see the results. This loop will be continuous. And IT should be at its heart. But, only 27 per cent of IT departments are accountable for their own energy use.
Clearly, something's wrong.
By David Tebbutt, programme director at Freeform Dynamics.