Green often symbolizes money, and gold symbolizes wealth used wisely and good health. As the famous proverb says, Every cloud has a silver lining, perhaps this correct recession offers a green lining to the overall information management era. Innumerable discussions have been going on in every business sector about green IT and green initiatives going green is not a fancy initiative but rather an absolute necessity for survival. What had been ignored for years is gathering momentum, with no alternative in sight.
If there is any positive development in the present severe recession, it is that the industry is getting absolutely serious about corporate social responsibility. There is evidence of this with HSBC giving appreciation for its green data center initiatives. On the other hand, Microsoft releasing its environmental sustainability dashboard, free software for its enterprise resource planning customers, shows that volunteers are now working quite aggressively for the global reporting initiatives.
In the near future green reporting is going to be as mandatory as any other financial reporting. When tight controls are in place, people discover and reinvent more creative and efficient ways to save money. There is no better time than now to take action and allocate a piece of the budget toward serious and productive green IT. Environmental issues will shape the information management landscape for decades to come, affecting areas like data management and data governance. It also will have significant impact on areas such as competitive strategy, business intelligence marketing and even a companys ability to attract and retain people.
The green BI initiative consists of two aspects to make it complete. The first aspect is to save all the expenditures that can be avoided from the already existing data and information. These savings are significant toward reducing the expense which is number one priority in this economic climate for the good health of corporate. The second aspect is to collect relevant environmental data and derive the useful information out of it. This reduces the companys carbon footprint and should be a long-term priority for the good health of our planet.
Reducing power consumptions in servers is one way to contribute. One might think that these savings appear small, but when you see companies like Google and Yahoo! using millions of servers the combined contributions are substantial. Its believed that a single search engine query alone uses 1,000 servers in 0.2 seconds. However, saving power is the only way to contribute to green IT. Quality, time and cost are also areas to be researched to make the most of your green initiative.
BI has been around for decades and I am confident its mature enough to deliver green BI reporting.
Gathering and reporting environmental data is like a time bomb; a problematic situation of today which will eventually become monstrous if not addressed with high priority. Below are some of the important attributes to begin the journey toward green BI reporting.
1. Dedicated green BI team: Every organization should form a dedicated team which addresses the green BI aspects. Anticipating the seriousness of businesses carbon footprints, a green BI initiative will not remain a part-time activity. It will require a dedicated team working closely with business in deriving an action plan toward green reporting. This team should be strong and capable enough to handle not only the technical issues of how to implement but also take into account the corporate politics behind these initiatives. Green initiatives will be critical, and will require good funding without actually having much clarity about the end results. But then, if one looks the past, thats how BI also came into existence. Even in the last decade, decision-makers, though reluctantly, started funding BI initiatives despite some uncertainty about the final outcome. Today it is difficult to find an organization that does not implement BI.
2. Common consensus on the green metrics: The green BI team has to work closely with business in agreeing upon the metrics they want to use. The existing GRI framework is one of the best models to begin with. Even in green BI initiatives, one has to carefully scrutinize information which will eventually enable decision-makers to take appropriate actions. Today there are numerous examples of data warehouses flooded with data, but only a little information is useful for making decisions. All such lessons learned from past projects should be taken into account. The purpose of bringing in green data is not to complicate the existing warehouses, but to streamline and derive the information which could result in actions.
3. Making an impact in supply chain: The green BI team should be able to not only identify the green metrics to be generated but also emphasize injecting the green element into every data point in the whole supply chain. Most of the activities tagged as performance tuning in data warehouses and the BI world are in fact about improving the quality and decreasing the cost and time.The bottom line should be not only to reduce the carbon footprint but also to avoid unnecessary investments so as to improve the overall cost-effectiveness. Data quality will become one of the most promising areas of expertise in the near future in information management. The waste of time, energy and resources a large enterprise spends fixing data quality issues like source system problems, if properly captured and measured, can help the budget approvers allocate resources in the most productive manner. In the retail industry, incorporating green into the supply chain could mean anything from reducing packaging to redesigning a distribution route.
4. Green branding becomes competitive advantage: By having a green brand, companies, will not only save money on operating cost but will also have a competitive advantage over others. This is true with both vendors and customers. Customers love to buy products and services that are environmentally-friendly. There are already applications and appliances developed by BI leaders that help companies to go green with ease. For example, look at the BI appliance Netezza Performance Server. Their design and strategy of redefining energy efficiency in processing complex queries with cost-effective query performance for analytic applications in a business intelligence environment has demonstrated good results. Servers with power, cooling and carbon footprint advantages are going to capture the future market of information management.
5. Green infrastructure management: The cheapest commodity available today in IT is the hardware. People just add one piece of hardware upon another in the rush to process more and more data. But the question is, do they use all the data that they process? Are they able to convert all that data into actionable information? The obvious answer is not yet. The carbon footprint generated from this hardware has enormous impact on the overall green effect. Instead of just piling on the hardware companies should look at economic ways of processing data and make use of the DW appliances concept, which has proved very promising in a very short time. Also, every corporation should start understanding and implementing a charge back model for infrastructure management. Different silos having their own (sometimes underutilized) standalone infrastructures should be avoided, and an enterprise infrastructure management concept should be considered to share the infrastructure. There are numerous examples of organizations not processing data all 24 hours of the day. Shared use of infrastructure should be considered in utilization requirements of different projects. A look at infrastructure requirements also calls for a revised thought process, as companies now have to get serious about how much data they want to archive, what the benefits of archiving would be and how useful the archived data is going to be for them.
6. Getting green data into source systems: To implement green BI, you must gather more environmental relevant data into the warehouses for processing and analysis. It is definitely not an easy task to assemble the energy data. This might require going back to some of the good old methods of data collection like surveys or filling questionnaires. But obviously, there is no alternative for not getting the energy data. I am sure as this subject area matures, more innovative ideas, tools and applications will evolve for capturing better energy statistics. The GRI framework might be the best starting point to gather that specific information. One has to be very careful in obtaining and analyzing this data. Getting this data into a DW might require a manual entry. It need not be automated and sophisticated.
7. Green metrics in a balanced scorecard as monthly reports: The green BI team needs to create a baseline for the environmental metrics. It is very important to compare these metrics regularly through a balanced scorecard at least monthly. These metrics allow companies to track these carbon emissions and consumptions of water and electricity. A management team using the green element in their balance scorecards will be able to support decision-making and the interventions needed by the decision-makers to ensure that their green strategic goals are successfully achieved.
8. Achieve quick wins for green: As in any new BI initiative, it is essential that the green BI initiative has some quick wins in the first six months of the project, producing reports so that the decision-makers and/or stakeholders can take actions. There is no better time than this to start a green initiative as strategies are getting shuffled and priorities are getting revisited. Also, by nature, the green BI projects will have a long payback. Because of these criteria its important that the green BI team establishes credibility with the business leaders as quickly as possible.
There are many shades of green on the scale of corporate social responsibility. No one shade or level would suit everyone. Each companys green BI initiative has to be judged for the right level of commitment required. Both short-term and long-term goals have to be defined, and every attempt must be made to consider the earths health when making our choices. Only green thinking will drive green ideas, which will help organizations to find new opportunities and make profits, culminating in a greener and healthier earth.
Lalitha Chikkatur is an information management professional associated with Capgemini Financial Services UK. She has rich experience in architecture, methodology/process, technology and tools in the business intelligence/data warehousing domain. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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