The industry’s green IT conversation has so far been dominated by tactical energy-efficiency and waste-reduction efforts. It’s past time for IT vendors and their CIO customers to think big!

Forrester analyst Chris Mines The intersection of IT and sustainability presents vendors with a broad array of business opportunities that go far beyond improving the energy and carbon footprint of IT infrastructure.

And these opportunities are ripening fast in the current economic and political situation as government spending is poised to stimulate green investments across a range of public and private infrastructure.

Forrester works with IT industry strategists to organise their planning at the nexus of sustainability and information technology around two categories of opportunity, each made up of two elements (see Figure: The next frontiers for Green IT):

  1. Green for IT - Otherwise, called the “Green IT 1.0” world. This is about applying sustainability practices to a company’s IT operations and infrastructure. Forrester divide this category of business opportunity further into two elements: datacentre and facilities, and distributed IT (see below).
  2. IT for Green - Forrester sees this as the new horizon of the “green IT 2.0” world. This goes beyond the IT department focus in the 'Green IT 1.0' because it involves using IT to improve the sustainability of company operations and society at large.

    Again, elements define this category of opportunity: business process and applications – supply chain, building automation, telework and other business operations outside of IT; and public infrastructure, capturing information technology’s role in creating efficient transportation systems, smart electric grids, and even new, green communities built from scratch.

As strategists peer out into the broader landscape of green IT 2.0, a wide array of hardware, software, and service market opportunities come into view:

Datacentre and facilities

This is the heart of the green IT opportunity, with many markets ripe for the picking. These range from building new, highly efficient datacentre facilities to optimising existing equipment with better power management or application portfolio management.

Big system original equipment manufacturers like HP, Dell, and Sun have significant pipelines of business here, both in design services and drag-along hardware and software sales.

Because the potential for energy-saving in the datacentre is broadly recognised by enterprise IT organisations and their suppliers, this is ripest - but also most crowded - segment of the green IT opportunity landscape.

Distributed IT

Most companies use as much energy – and waste as much too – on IT equipment outside the datacentre as inside.

The opportunities to manage and control energy usage by distributed IT infrastructure, however, is a more difficult technical and managerial challenge, because that infrastructure is, well, distributed. It’s in every location, in employees’ briefcases or pockets – not in a central location that is already highly managed.

Nevertheless, there are ripe opportunities for vendors in this segment of the green IT landscape today, including managed print services to reduce equipment footprint and resource consumption, and PC power management systems to simply turn off devices when not in use.

Business process and applications

Now we move outside of the IT organisation and infrastructure proper, and into a region of the opportunity map where IT is an enabler for other parts of the company to improve their sustainability.

Forrester’s clients tell us that successfully seeding teleworking, for example, is 20% about the technology and 80% about the HR and other policies to get more flexible working locations accepted in the organisation.

Public policy and infrastructure

This part of the green IT landscape extends beyond enterprise boundaries altogether and into the realm of public and societal investments in a lower-carbon economy, typically funded by governments or by public-private partnerships.

Opportunities here include smart electrical grids and optimised road transport.

Others, like self-sufficient communities and renewable energy solutions, are on the drawing boards of leading universities and government agencies around the world.

Challenges are opportunities for vendors

The biggest challenge for green IT vendors is to help their customers’ CIOs tackle the 2.0 challenges.

Many CIOs that Forrester works with are not ready, and not eager, to become a catalyst for enabling greener processes and practices throughout the organisation. They don’t have the incentive structure, the organisational bandwidth, and in many cases the expertise to tackle the green IT 2.0 challenges and opportunities at their companies.

We expect that tech vendors will pursue two complementary paths to help their customers over the hump and into the world of green IT 2.0:

Think broadly

CIOs have an opportunity to change the posture of their IT organisation relative to the rest of the company. Instead of being a service organisation dominated by SLAs and traditional metrics of uptime and application availability, green gives IT the opportunity to step up to a strategic mission.
Green is climbing higher on the strategic agenda for most companies, and IT has the unique position and capabilities to advance that agenda.

Act incrementally

At the same time, CIOs and IT budgets are under increasing scrutiny to justify spending. So green IT must pay its own way by providing tangible, short-term cost savings in both IT operations and the rest of the business.

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