With the conference season in full swing, the leading UK political parties are all keen to convince both businesses and individuals of their green credentials. Gartner today advised government chief information officers (CIOs) that they need to take a leadership position with regard to green IT as the issue becomes increasingly politically sensitive. Gartner predicts that by 2010, environmental-related issues will be among the top five IT management concerns for more than 50 per cent of state and local government organisations in North America; Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA); and Australia.
Andrea Di Maio, vice-president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, said although green IT is an important theme for many industries, government organisations will be more exposed to it as they play key roles in regulating and supervising the environmental impact of IT. He advised government CIOs and IT organisations to take IT issues seriously and prepare for how these issues will affect work priorities in the future. "IT is at once a contributor to environmental problems and part of many solutions," he added. "Governments will need to deal with both aspects at the same time as green IT leads to new IT investments as well as changes in the way that IT spending is assessed and managed."
According to Gartner, IT is in the midst of the current debate on climate change, both as a culprit and a possible saviour. Although IT clearly contributes to energy consumption and pollution, it also offers ways to reduce environmental impact. As the pressure mounts on policy makers to take positions and positive actions towards relieving environmental concerns, government IT organisations that report to them will need to support those actions, and, as a consequence, lead by example. "Many would think that green IT is a private sector issue but we firmly believe that government will feel a greater impact," said Mr Di Maio. “Government finds itself in the position of being both a polluter and regulator of pollution with pressures coming from political, regulatory and economic corners. Just as businesses in many industries are increasingly using environmental pro-activeness as a marketing tool, governments can also earn political capital by appearing environment-conscious."
Mr Di Maio said that many governments - especially at local levels where there is often more direct or politically sensitive responsibility for the quality of the environment - are already investigating and engaging in IT-intensive projects that aim to reduce air and water pollution. Examples include:
In addition, Gartner foresees that green IT will affect many aspects of IT management and operations. "The move towards greater consolidation and the use of shared services in government is already happening as a consequence of cost pressures. Centralised data centres and networks are likely to be better managed from an environmental impact perspective by leveraging virtualisation, better utilisation and capacity management," said Mr Di Maio. "Consolidation of IT procurement will also ease the selection of vendors that meet green IT requirements and better manage equipment disposal in compliance with relevant regulations." Gartner also believes that the case for open source will be strengthened as government organisations look to use less powerful machines and that the objective of reducing energy consumption and procuring devices with a lower environmental impact will encourage the use of thin client architectures. Mr Di Maio added that increasingly environmental impact, energy consumption and compliance with green IT policies will become significant decision making criteria for IT investment and in geographies and governments where green issues are top concerns; new models will emerge to evaluate, demonstrate and communicate the environmental value of IT.
While most government IT organisations will be affected by green issues, the degree of impact will differ by geography, tier and domain although Gartner expects that the degree of geographical variation to lessen over time. Local governments with a direct responsibility for environment, waste management, land and buildings and local transportation will, to being with, be the most widely affected by the need to apply IT to cope with environmental problems. Central and federal governments will initially be less affected but ultimately the stakes could be higher. As 'being green' becomes a necessary attribute, senior government leaders will increasingly push their ministries and departments to comply with mandates that demonstrate a proactive attitude. Internal and external communications are playing a key role in this, which in turn creates another reason for IT to capture and disseminate environment-related data.
Mr Di Maio said that immediate action is necessary at every level in the IT organisation. "Government CIOs must consider different areas of potential impact on IT spending and assess their readiness, in terms of the ability to communicate internally and externally what is being done and why. By the same token, government chief technology officers (CTOs) and operations managers must start looking at how green IT requirements can affect infrastructure and architectures. Finally, business-unit managers as well as portfolio managers must prepare to articulate and prioritise the 'environmental value of IT, and factor this into decision making."
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