Any which way you look at it, CIOs are under pressure. Budget cuts compounded by the depreciation of the rand, legislation like the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act, and changing user and consumption habits have them firmly on the back foot.
Add to this their increasing responsibilities in reporting on issues that have traditionally not been part of their portfolio – such as sustainability.
Given that IT systems account for a considerable chunk of an organisation’s energy consumption, this extended responsibility certainly makes sense. But how does one prioritise the competing challenges of trying to ensure operational efficiency and profitability against a much longer-term objective such as business sustainability? Not easily.
“In our experience, when trying to identify the priorities of CIOs, the top ones are security, business enablement, innovation and cost reduction. Green IT is not on South African companies’ priority lists,” says Alfonso Gutierrez, Accenture SA infrastructure transformation practice lead.
A longer-term view on the green agenda is also being supplanted by immediate concerns such as energy security, with Eskom’s panicked calls for industry to cut power consumption taking precedence
Gutierrez says this immediate crisis is diverting attention to solutions to keep operations and data centres running during power outages, resulting in a focus on power emergencies rather than energy efficiency.
Tim James, director of SustainableIT, in Cape Town, says he’s seen a definite interest recently in smart power solutions that last peaked when rolling blackouts hit the country in 2008.
He admits to a degree of frustration with the local business fraternity, which has been rather reactive in its approach to the question of sustainability.
“I still don’t see CIOs seeing this as a real issue,” he says. “They’re still investing in technologies, not in sustainability in a broader sense.”
This will have to change, not only to keep businesses operating in an energy-efficient environment, but because of the focus on reporting organisations’ sustainability plans and performance. Then, of course, there’s the issue of the introduction of a carbon tax.
The National Treasury has announced it would start imposing a tax of R120 per tonne of carbon emissions from 2016, which it expects will garner in the order of R8 billion a year.
“Green IT adoption is going to be driven not only by concerns such as shareholder and customer perception, but also by regulatory requirements,” Gutierrez comments. “The carbon tax is something to consider as an external factor that is going to influence CIOs. At the moment, we’re seeing people more concerned about POPI and viewing the carbon tax as a bridge that they’ll cross when they get to it.”
This is a double-whammy for IT executives, because not only will they have to reduce energy and emissions, they also have to find ways to measure and report their emissions.
Gutierrez believes this presents a ripe opportunity for organisations able to help companies manage these potentially complex measurements and calculations. He says local expertise in this is small to non-existent, but will undoubtedly grow.
James believes the carbon tax regime will only come into effect in 2017, but that companies should already be planning for it. “Companies must understand this is a huge issue, and when it hits, it’s going to be like a steam train hitting,” he says.
Unfortunately, a move to the cloud or use of off-site services and facilities is not a silver bullet that will magically divert this burden from companies considering this route.
Says James: “Actually, if you outsource any service to a third party, it’s considered a Scope 3 emission in terms of carbon accounting. This applies to any downstream emission you buy as a service, whether it be air travel, car hire, the paper you use, or any outsourced service. If you outsource any service to the cloud, it becomes questionable whether you’re reducing emissions.”
While there may be an argument that the shared infrastructure also translates into shared energy usage, Gutierrez says cloud and hosting providers are starting to consider billing customers based on their power usage in these facilities. “Because of the high cost of energy, this billing model is no longer only about data centre space or computing power, but it will also consider energy consumption,” he says.
He suggests that measures in the near to medium term to lower the energy consumption of data centres, certainly as it relates to cooling, may include exploration of liquid-cooling systems. “Also, they’re starting to locate these facilities in cooler climates to reduce the need for energy-intensive cooling systems,” Gutierrez adds.
He sees the priorities for IT executives as starting to think about their current energy profile and to prepare a benchmark against green IT measures in their industry. “They need to understand their maturity and how far they are from the industry leaders. In order to demonstrate shareholder value, CIOs are also going to have to learn to communicate the benefits of these programmes properly,” he says.
James says CIOs are going to have to up their game and gain a far clearer understanding of the challenges they face to promote the sustainability agenda.
“In order for CIOs to have credibility, they’ll have to have their own house in order,” he says. “I would say that within the next 18 months, it all needs to be in place. A lot of organisations in South Africa still don’t even have the basics in place.”
The message for CIOs is clear: there’s no hiding from the fact that sustainability is not simply a watchword. Serious attention needs to be given to this issue and there is little to no time to waste prevaricating on this.
Source: IT WEB 20 May 2014