Sustainability is an important consideration and effort for organizations of all sizes as the impact of climate change continues to become more evident.
The IT operations of an organization is no exception. Technology consumes vast quantities of electricity — to power data centers, devices, and networks that are used around the world — and it has become unavoidably clear that there is a need to understand, monitor, and improve IT operations sustainability efforts as part of everyday business operations.
"We are hearing from customers that there has never been more pressure to measure their sustainability outcomes and bring clarity to their green line," SAP's Chief Digital and Information Officer Florian Roth told ITPro Today. "Sustainable businesses are being rewarded by investors, citizens, and employees."
How IT Operations Look at Sustainability
The majority of organizations tend to look at sustainability as a function of regulatory compliance, according to Roth. But a growing number of companies are looking to do more.
"Early movers see an opportunity to lead and differentiate in their industry by driving sustainability into the core of their business to also transform their business models for new value creation, or to create and win in new markets," Roth said. "And this all starts with IT operations."
Sustainability is becoming a key focus area not only for IT operations, but also for digital transformation initiatives across sectors, according to Infosys Executive Vice President and Global Segment Head Ashiss Kumar Dash. Sustainability efforts fall under environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG), which is being broadly adopted by organizations.
"We're seeing more companies prioritize sustainability for their bottom line, and the tech assets are playing a key role in driving these efforts," Dash told ITPro Today. "Companies have reached an age of digital maturity never seen before, to the extent that being a top technology adopter is no longer an operational or financial differentiator — ESG must be at the forefront of technology operations."
Sustainability Is About More Than Just the Power Bill
There are a number of aspects to sustainability for IT operations.
At the most basic level is the utility bill, which reports how much energy an organization is using. However, there needs to be a transition from energy consumption to overall IT consumption, German Bertot, vice president and general manager of IT asset management at ServiceNow, told ITPro Today.
"While knowing how much the electric bill is can be a good starting point, IT energy consumption extends far beyond that," he told.
Consider a frequently faulty device, Bertot said. While it can help to know how much electricity it uses to operate, the bigger impact would be the amount of energy and resources that went into maintenance, like having to constantly ship assets back and forth for service and getting temporary assets to employees as they wait for their devices to be fixed, he said.
Cloud resource management is another example.
"What we see often are customers running their cloud services 24/7, even if operations only demand 12 hours a day," Bertot said. "This doesn't only contribute to wasted spend on unused services, but also leads to energy waste as these cloud services are only running because of their on-the-ground counterparts that require energy to run."
According to Chris Fenwick, ESG program director at OneTrust, a big sustainability concern is what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) refers to as scope 3 emissions. These are emissions that, while they are the result of activities from assets that a company does not directly own or operate, are a consequence of the company's business activity.
"Seventy-eight percent of a tech company's footprint is related to scope 3 emissions such as purchased goods and services, servers, and business travel," Fenwick told ITPro Today. "However, this is exceedingly difficult data for companies to gather and manage."
Data centers use a tremendous amount of energy to power CPUs, memory, storage, and cooling, according to SAP's Roth. He suggests that IT teams look beyond just the power bill when thinking about energy usage and prioritize data storage reduction.
"CIOs should implement technology that evaluates the amount of data on the server and derives tasks to force employees to delete their dark data and more quickly uncover and avoid unused resources," Roth said. "By minimizing this duplicative data, CIOs could majorly reduce the impact of data centers on the planet."
Best Practices for IT Operations Sustainability
There are a number of best practices for IT operations to consider to improve and advance sustainability efforts.
Intrinsic sustainability. Huseyin Dursun, head of platform services at VMware, said his company believes in the concept of intrinsic sustainability — where sustainability is a design goal for everything that is built, both for internal and external consumption.
"Intrinsic sustainability is a part of VMware's 2030 Agenda and the way we operate our business," Dursun told ITPro Today. "In addition to building sustainability into design plans, IT leaders should monitor and manage utilization, work with vendors who provide cleaner energy, as well as replace aged hardware with more energy-efficient ones."
Smart technology. To reduce energy consumption in IT operations, Infosys' Dash suggests that companies leverage smart workspaces, cognitive automation, and remote monitoring to manage power efficiency. These technologies can be used, for example, for turning off lights and heating/cooling at home or at the office, he said.
"AI-powered predictions around energy usage can improve the demand-supply dynamics around new energy sources and make the grid that's powering living and workspaces significantly greener," Dash said.
Holistic steering and reporting. SAP's Roth suggests making sustainability data available across the organization. As tech leaders, Roth said CIOs should implement technologies that enable transparency across financial, operational, compliance, environmental, and social key figures, so that the business can report its impact on environment, society, and communities.
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. The environmental impact of new technologies and the disposal of old are being weighted more heavily by CIOs, according to Roth.
"The CIO must lead the charge on recycling and reusing electrical and electronic equipment in offices, ensuring the company is managing e-waste in a safe and sustainable manner, handling the destruction of data media, and maximizing all reuse, resale, and recycling efforts," Roth said.