Green IT: Whose project is it?

Leadership at the top can help avoid turning your energy-saving initiative into a political power struggle

Who should be responsible for your company's energy initiatives? Your organization may be grappling with the answer to that question. Controlling IT energy consumption has become a high priority for many companies as a way to lower costs, maintain business operations, and reduce their impact on the environment. It can be a rather daunting challenge, given that so many areas of a company's IT infrastructure -- from the desktop to the datacenter -- contribute to power usage, not to mention that various departments have vested and sometimes conflicting interests in those operations (for instance, users want might want more computing power -- but another department has to pay for it).

There's a case to be made that someone on high -- perhaps with a "C" or a "VP" in his or her title -- should take on a leadership role of overseeing a company's energy initiatives. Insufficient communication and lack of coordination among departments can result in poor planning, costly and wasteful operations, and huge headaches. "Leadership from the top is a critical component of success to improving the company's bottom line through reduced energy bills and its environmental stewardship through reduced emissions," says Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing energy efficiency.

An IT department, for example, may have grandiose dreams of adding a new batch of servers, but they don't know what the facilities team knows: namely, that there's not enough power or cooling to support those new machines. Moreover, neither facilities nor IT might realize what effect those new machines will have on the company's carbon output, an important factor for organizations that have pledged to reduce their carbon footprint.

Thus, having someone oversee it all would ensure that IT and facilities were in communication whenever any plans for the datacenter were on the table. Plans they might devise would take energy management and waste reduction into account. That person could also be part of the conversation when, say, marketing, sales, finance, or whomever declares that they require more computing power -- or when it comes time to justify to the CFO the need to upgrade or add new equipment, thus drawing more power.

Add to that oversight the all-important task of monitoring a company's energy consumption on a regular basis and working with departments across the company on devising ways to cut power usage and reduce waste.

But again, there's the question of whom. In a recent survey of Fortune 1000 executives conducted by 1E, a provider of Windows management software and services, 32 percent of the respondents identified the CEO as the person primarily responsible for managing corporate power consumption. "It appears that few companies task officers with company-wide power management -- especially companies with multiple offices and thousands of employees. By default, the responsibility falls to the CEO," says Sumir Karayi, CEO of 1E.

At larger companies, 1E found that 21 per cent of the respondents deemed the CIO the person responsible for power consumption. "Though facility managers have traditionally owned the power bill, we are not surprised to see executives at large companies identifying the CIO as most responsible for power consumption," Karayi says. "Increasingly, energy is becoming an IT issue."

But are CIOs and CEOs the ideal individuals for tracking and controlling energy consumption? Given the potential magnitude of the task (depending on an organization's size and energy requirements), adding "manage energy initiatives" to either role's job description might not be prudent. I'd say most CEOs and CIOs -- along with CTOs -- have enough high-level decisions on their plate to get bogged down in the critical and fairly specialized minutiae of power management and conservation.

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