Sustainable IT needs CIO to make friends with line-of-business


Green IT is still at the forefront of many IT departments' minds, but many of them are still understandably focusing on cost savings, rather than sustainability goals. With that in mind, are they fully able to grasp and justify the capital expenditure necessary to turn their data centers green?
IT was traditionally seen as an ivory tower business function, populated by mysterious priests, who dealt in black arts and made magical things happen - but who rarely dealt with the rest of the organization. Many computing departments have embarked on a kind of geeky glasnost, throwing open their doors to the rest of the business, becoming more accountable, and doing their best to explain their arcane practices to the rest of the organization. Some of the more forward-thinking IT departments are even listening to their users, and giving them systems that actually do what line-of-business departments want. 
But this isn't enough. To truly transform the broader organization using IT - and to transform IT based on organizational goals - it is necessary to establish more formal relationships and lines of communication between the IT department and key organizational areas.
Take facilities, for example. In many organizations, the facilities department pays the electricity bill. As many companies attempt to reduce their carbon footprints and save on energy, how close is the communication between their IT departments and their facilities departments? Do you see (or pay) your electricity bill?
If the answer to either is no, then this is bound to hinder the motivation for you to reduce your power consumption in the data center. Things will only become critical when your data center approaches maximum computing capacity and you risk becoming functionally constrained. Ideally, you'll want to be motivated to scale back on power consumption long before that point.
If the answer is yes, then ask yourself this question: do you see the rest of the company's electricity bills, and are you held partly accountable for then? If not, it reduces the impetus to scale back power consumption on the desktop using power management, or thin client devices.
Disconnects such as these threaten broader corporate objectives. Many companies, for example, are superficially committed to corporate social responsibility goals, as a means of placating customers and investors. But without examining such internal relationships, organizations will face significant challenges as they try to drive sustainability into the heart of their culture.
The DNA of your company is carefully woven from such lines of communication. Reaching out at a board level to formalize these relationships will help to support your corporate goals - and the IT department is perfectly placed to initiate such conversations.
Stewart Baines

I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.