Green IT initiatives can save money and cut carbon. But using existing business software better can root out even bigger savings in non-IT processes
Businesses that want to use green IT to save big bucks need to look beyond the server room and start getting creative with their business software.
Companies should stop thinking that green IT ends with ramping up server utilisation or replacing desktop PCs with thin clients, Warren Wilson, senior analyst with Ovum, told the Green IT Expo in London this week.
According to Wilson, the corporate world needs to put a greater focus on how technology can help cut the vast majority of carbon emissions that aren't produced by IT.
"Tools such as virtualisation and power management, those are relatively well understood. What has not been appreciated is the potential of enterprise software to bring about energy conservation outside of the IT arena," he said.
By harnessing traditional business applications, such as ERP and business intelligence systems, companies can pinpoint where energy is being wasted and improve the efficiency of their wider operations, Wilson told the conference.
Such software could help businesses expose the waste "embedded in business processes" that "had not changed over the last 10 to 15 years", he said.
"ERP is 30-year-old software that companies are used to using to calculate financials, inventory levels or distribution… but adding the environmental data stream can make that software even more potent for the business."
Such an approach has helped the oil refiner Valero to dramatically reduce its CO2 emissions and cut each of its plants' annual energy bills by between $2m and $5m—putting it on course to knock $100m from the cost of running its refineries each year.
Valero (VLO) has achieved the savings by customising its SAP (SAP) ERP and business intelligence software to provide displays on staff PCs showing measurements of key data, such as the flow rate of the crude oil or operating temperature of each plant.
The figures showed Valero where it was wasting money and energy and allowed it to tweak each variable to achieve the savings.
The Monte Vibiano winery in Umbria, Italy is also using traditional enterprise software in new ways to help improve the efficiency of its operations.
The winery uses a combination of Microsoft's business intelligence and SQL Server software to track when it is generating the most power from the array of solar power cells it has installed.
By comparing this data with information on when the winery is consuming the most electricity, staff have been able to better match its peak power consumption with peak solar power generation, allowing it to reduce its reliance on non-renewable energy.
The winery has also fitted RFID tags to its olive trees to record a variety of data, from when the trees are watered or pruned through to when the olives are harvested. The data helps the winery choose the most effective way to nurture the trees and the best times to harvest the olives.
With these measures, together with Vibiano's server virtualisation, use of electric vehicles, and unified comms to reduce travel it has cut its energy use by 38 per cent.
Once businesses have such efficiency measures in place, they can continue to refine and improve their energy usage and "enter a new realm of positive reinforcement", according to Wilson.
"There is already plenty of economic incentive to go after energy conservation that benefits the bottom line," he added.
"As regulation becomes more stringent, with measures such as a CO2 tax and cap, there will be a greater incentive still and it will promote further investment in energy conservation."