Setting a green IT baseline will bear fruit

Forrester recommends performing a deep assessment of your green-tech initiatives to ensure they're on track

Companies worldwide are recognizing the value of embracing green tech -- and not just IT vendors such as HP, IBM, Cisco, and Dell. Organizations large and small, from universities to SMBs to sprawling corporations such as Procter & Gamble, have embraced sustainable technology practices for one (or more) of the usual reasons: saving money on various forms of waste, cutting carbon emissions, complying with current or future legislation, and simply being better environmental stewards.

Yes, an array of organizations has adopted a range of various green technologies to achieve an assortment of sustainability-oriented goals. Therein lies the beauty of green tech; from PC power management to server virtualization to telepresence to supply-chain oversight, there's something for everyone, including plenty of opportunities to reap rewards from any given solution. But there, too, lies a challenge: Where is a CEO, CIO, CSO (chief sustainability officer), CTH (chief tree-hugger), or whomever is charged with drafting and carrying out an organization's grand green battle plan supposed to begin?

[ Learn how 2009 InfoWorld Green 15 winners such as Procter & Gamble, the U.S. Postal Service, and Burt's Bees have reaped the rewards of green tech. | Carbon regulations, both present and future, are spurring green-tech initiatives. ]

Research company Forrester recently released a report titled "The Value of a Green IT Maturity Assessment" to guide organizational leaders in devising a sensible green-tech agenda. According to report authors Doug Washburn and Christopher Mines, the process starts with "understanding the state of green IT policies and practices within your organization." That is -- and this goes for any green-tech project -- measure your starting point to figure out what green-tech projects do or do not have potential, as well as how to assess your projects' progress down the road.

Rolling up your sleeves
OK, so that may not be rocket science. The challenge, again, is pinpointing what areas in your organization to assess in the first place. The datacenter (if you have one) is an obvious place to start, given the high rate of inefficiency commonly observed in these facilities, thanks to underutilized servers, insufficient airflow, overcooling, and the like. Additionally, the overall management of your organization's facilities -- lighting and cooling, for example -- is a target for greening through building management systems.

But greening opportunities in the datacenter merely scratch the surface. There's also the desktop, where PCs and monitors often spend hours turned on but doing no work. Then there are the print rooms and stations where piles of single-sided, full-color prints end up abandoned and tossed in the recycling bin. There's the room no one likes to enter that's brimming with outdated computers, monitors, peripherals, and the like.

The aforementioned areas -- the datacenter, facilities, and distributed IT -- fall under the category of Green IT 1.0 in Forrester vernacular. The overseer of green IT initiatives should also assess progress and opportunities in the realm of Green IT 2.0, which includes business processes and strategy, encompassing technologies such as videoconferencing, teleconferencing, telecommuting, carbon management, and supply-chain optimization. A step beyond that (which may not be on most companies' radar at the moment) includes public policy and infrastructure, which comprises the smart grid, green cities, and climate change policies.

Forrester's "green IT maturity assessment" plan first entails setting a baseline by tracking down what green-tech projects are (or are not) under way, as well as the depth of those projects: "for example, powering down only 40 percent of your PCs versus 80 percent, or having server utilization rates at 20 percent versus 50 percent."

Forrester shows a sample checklist of potential project categories and subcategories, each of which would be rated as "needs improvement," "improving," "robust," or "best in class." Categories might include Datacenter, Distributed IT, and Business Operations. Subcategories might include under Process and Governance, for example, "green IT action plan," "regulatory compliance reporting," "green IT procurement policies," "e-waste disposition plan," and others. Under the category of Datacenter are subcategories such as "facility consolidation and resource efficiency," "optimizing datacenter architecture," "systems and asset management," "server energy and resource efficiency," and "application portfolio management."

Depending on the size of your organization, your operations, your budget, your business operations, and your green objectives, the process of devising your list of categories and subcategories, not to mention gathering the data to establish meaningful baselines, may be quite time-intensive. There are, after all, so many opportunities for greener IT-driven practices at any organization. If you're a law office, you might not need to worry at all about datacenter issues but may choose to focus on areas such as printing (paper and ink waste; energy-efficient printers; electronic document management) and travel reduction (videoconferencing). If you're a hardware manufacturer, you'd want to look at your supply chain, from the materials that go into your products (do they comply with ROHS?) to how they're packaged and distributed.

Planning for action
The next step is "identify gaps and next steps for green IT initiatives." See what's working and what potential each project has in its current state. Determine what projects should be launched to address particular green-tech goals. Moreover, determine which projects -- either those under way or being considered -- should be abandoned entirely: "For example, while cloud computing, data center outsourcing, and colocation services have a very powerful greening effect and represent a mature green datacenter strategy, company culture or regulations might prohibit CIOs from taking such actions."

Step three: "Document the goals of a green IT program to ultimately demonstrate value." Now that you've established your baseline, settled on the promised projects, and ditched the unpromising initiatives, it's time to figure out how to track each project's progress and tie it to specific green objectives so as to prove each project's worth. For example, you could measure how much energy your fleet of PCs consumes before implementing power management to set your baseline, then closely measure PC electricity usage once power management is in place. Over time, you could plot the savings on a colorful graph, both in dollars and in carbon emissions, and present it to shareholders to illustrate that the project is meeting stated green objectives of cutting energy waste and shrinking your company's carbon footprint.

The assessment process, according to the Forrester report, can also be an aid in "buttressing the case for more resources, skills, or budget." If, for example, you can demonstrate that your pilot server-virtualization project holds promise, you can make a compelling case for funding to train more of your IT staff on the art of virtualization.

Staying on track
Notably, Forrester does offer an IT maturity assessment service. I suspect you'll find a host of consulting companies offering similar services that may be worth exploring if the prospect of developing your baseline and devising green-tech targets is too daunting.

Moreover, it's critical to remember that the baseline, time-intensive though it may be, is merely a first step. Ongoing measurement is essential to ensure that your projects are on track and that you remain focused on your company's green priorities, whether they're saving money, reducing waste, or cutting carbon emissions. There are green-oriented project-management products on the mark aimed at helping you along, such as CA's ecoSoftware line, which comprises ecoMeter and ecoGovernance. The two complementary offerings (available separately) are designed to keep organizations focused on both the progress and purpose of their sustainability initiatives. Additionally, Microsoft has an Environmental Sustainability Dashboard add-on for Dynamics AX.

Forrester's report "The Value of a Green IT Maturity Assessment" is available for $499.

This story, "Setting a green IT baseline will bear fruit," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in green IT on InfoWorld.com.

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