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Sustainability touches every aspect of an organisation's business as we move towards measuring our carbon footprints. CIOs are in the box seat.

As chief information officer, you will almost certainly have been involved in your organisation's green IT initiative in the past 18 months, probably focusing on cutting data-centre energy consumption or developing a power-management strategy for IT assets. But what you may not be involved in is your company's transformation into a green business, or in other words, using IT to pursue sustainable initiatives. Your company is probably undergoing a sea change, and the question is: "Are you helping to shape it?"

Although technology organisations have focused on ensuring the tools they use are green, they have been far less involved in providing products and services to support customers' overall sustainability initiatives.

Manufacturers, energy producers, retailers and financial institutions are all charging towards sustainability. They want to reduce their carbon footprint through approaches involving building construction, product design, supplier relationships, energy production and internal business processes.

These initiatives do not fly under the radar; boards are approving them and senior executives provide staff. But what many are missing is advice from the CIO. Yet IT will be pivotal to the success of many sustainability efforts.

Databases will become emissions repositories; where profit includes a green aspect, supply chain-management systems will include decision support for profitable proximity; analytics will examine exposure related to asset portfolios or fleet service optimisation; procurement and supplier relationship-management applications will help evaluate the merits of recyclable materials, processes or packaging. The list goes on.

As information officer, you can get in front of this environmental sea change. Specifically, I see the following rationale for CIO involvement:

  • Measure it so you can manage it: As regulators, shareholders and customers become increasingly concerned about what organisations do to become greener, there will be a shift from green as a marketing message to a colour of accountability. IT provides the means to measure, monitor, report and certify progress towards goals. Much of the move to become greener is driven by a desire to reduce costs associated with raw materials, energy and distribution. The more difficult challenge will be to incorporate environmental measurements, such as greenhouse gas emissions, and redefining cost, especially when carbon is priced into the business model.
  • Gather the information that is essential in knowing what to change: Although going green involves complying with regulations and getting an environmental message out, it also requires knowing what processes need to be changed. Technology serves up the information for shaping these strategies. For example, when carbon is costed into the business equation, dealing with suppliers close by may be more economical in the long run, even if their products are expensive. This would have implications for a manufacturer's supply chain. Applying an optimisation routine to data can help a company select the best approach.

  • Sustainability requires a company-wide perspective: Many CIOs are able to support their organisations' corporate citizenship and sustainability goals. A respected information officer will understand all aspects of a business, whereas individual unit managers may have siloed perspectives
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  • Sustainability requires a value-chain perspective: The CIO is already engaged in collaborative initiatives with trading partners in his or her value chain.

  • IT supports executing for change: Going green may mean minimal company changes, or, at the extreme, a new business model. Although adding new applications or using existing tools differently requires training to ensure staff take advantage of new functionality, both changes capture new processes, making it easier to drive change.
  • There's business risk in climate change: The science of climate change can be argued, but those businesses not prepared will lose out. Government organisations are already preparing by taking advantage of complex weather models. Better choices for long-term investments in site selection, building construction and product-sourcing partners are predicated on weather information.

  • Information technology for achieving green outcomes is not a siloed initiative: Collaboration is needed between functional towers within organisations, within trading partner networks and across industry verticals. Each member of the business community makes daily decisions that affect every other participant. Technology needs to provide tools to manage and measure IT's green effects, as well as innovations to reduce every organisation's environmental footprint as we move from talk and qualitative information to action supported by quantitative analysis.

IT is a partner for business innovation and today that involves shifting to the green spectrum. CIOs who understand their roles in supporting sustainable business projects will come out ahead.

Chris Morris is director of services, IDC Asia Pacific. Email comments to cmorris@idc.com

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Tags sustainabilityGreen ICT

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