FAQ: The CIO's role in creating green technology solutions

FAQ: The CIO's role in green technology solutions

This FAQ explores how CIOs support, implement and take the lead on green technology solutions.

Green IT was red hot five years ago. Gartner Inc. put green IT at the head of its top 10 strategic technologies for 2008. IT leaders were beset by vendors with green technology solutions, and groups like the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) called on members to lead green efforts. Now that the clamor has died down, it's time to take stock of the CIO's role in green technology solutions.

Table of contents:

What constitutes a green technology solution?

Green technology solutions are hardware-based, software-based or workflow strategies that save energy and/or promote sustainability. The energy savings or degree of sustainability can be quantified in a number of ways, including measuring the organization's physical footprint, its carbon emissions and the amount of its e-waste. Outsourcing the data center, cloud computing and using colocation facilities are additional ways in which companies realize energy savings and/or sustainability.

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What is the CIO's role in green technology solutions?

CIOs typically play one or more of these three roles: They drive efficiency in the IT organization by identifying green strategies; they support and implement green initiatives across the enterprise by finding green technology products and solutions that enable the business plan; and they act as thought leaders on green technology solutions for the business by conceiving green IT strategies that benefit the business.

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How do CIOs effect efficiencies in IT?

Virtualization/data center consolidation, cloud computing and automating processes are the main approaches to gaining IT efficiencies.

Server virtualization conserves power and cuts down on the amount of physical space required in the data center. Decreasing the amount of data center space also reduces heating and cooling costs. Virtualizing desktop infrastructure saves power because energy-guzzling PCs are replaced by more efficient thin clients.

Cloud computing moves applications (such as email) out of the data center, which cuts down on computing power. Process automation reduces paper use and ultimately energy consumption.

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How do CIOs effect greater efficiencies across the enterprise?

Digitization, automating business processes, purchasing energy-smart software and developing custom software solutions enable energy efficiencies in the business. Examples of energy-smart software are telecommunication and collaboration tools that allow companies to reduce airplane travel and time in the office. For some companies, this software significantly cuts down on the physical footprint of the office space because it makes working from home a viable, productive option.

CIOs can also take advantage of infrastructure management software. Sometimes referred to as "smart infrastructure" software, it addresses running the physical plant in a more energy-efficient way, said analyst Christopher Mines of Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

"For most companies, the biggest source of energy consumption and carbon emissions is the building," Mines said. "The price to implement [infrastructure management software] may be high, but the ROI is compelling."

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How do CIOs become green thought leaders?

CIOs who focus on efficient computing have unique opportunities to identify green solutions for the enterprise. In addition, CIOs are highly skilled in data analysis, so they can use their expertise to formulate green IT solutions.

What's critical for CIOs becoming green thought leaders for their enterprises is high-level support, Mines said. "A commitment to acting and performing in a more sustainable way really has to come from the very top of the organization," he said. "That's something we've found over and over talking with CIOs who are pursuing green policies."

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