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Friday, May 30, 2008

Cost cuts still top of the heap as IT goes green

The avatar of IBM researcher Donna Dillenberger stands in a virtual environment designed to facilitate power management.

The avatar of IBM researcher Donna Dillenberger stands in a virtual environment designed to facilitate power management.

They haven't quite got round to installing composting toilets in the data centre yet but chief information officers are caring more about the environment these days.

Research firm IDC says instituting green IT policies and procedures ranks at number 21 in the list of challenges chief information officers will deal with in 2008.

It may seem low, but it's the first time the question was included in IDC's annual survey.

"There's a lot of noise and hype around being green that is driven by politics, but it does offer advantages for organisations, so a year from now I wouldn't be surprised if it was in the top 10," says Doug Casement, IDC New Zealand's IT management programme manager.

Being green means thinking about things like power consumption, encouraging staff to use the printer less, maybe outsourcing to data centres which can more efficiently provide computing resource.

The top challenge for chief information officers, as it seems to be every year, is cost reduction.

Developing effective business cases for IT investment has jumped from 10 to two, which Casement says reflects IT professionals becoming more business-focused than in the past.

"They're thinking about how to use IT to be a more effective organisation," he says.

It also may be why meeting user expectations dropped from four to nine in the list of challenges.

"It's not that CIOs don't care. It's because as they focus more on the business and the internal customers, they are doing a better job delivering what users want."

Migrating to new hardware and software platforms is a constant challenge for IT departments, as is keeping abreast of new technology.

Recruiting and retaining skilled staff has been a high priority for the past four years and comes in at number four.

An increasing part of keeping staff in a fast-changing technology environment is keeping their skills up to date. Reskilling and staff development moved up from 12 to seven.

The focus seems to be working. Turnover of IT staff dropped below 8 per cent for the first time since 2002.

Organising and using data, which dropped off the radar last year, is back to 10.

"For years, people have talked about business intelligence. We're now starting to see it happen in the real work," Casement says.

Tools to mine data are getting more affordable, and data warehousing and business intelligence was one of the main spending areas in 2007.

Other areas where dollars changed hands included video-conferencing and putting in voice-over-internet protocol.

That reflects the increased availability of bandwidth and the emergence of simpler management tools.

Money was also spent on service-oriented architecture, rethinking the way applications are developed by breaking business processes down into smaller modules or services which can be strung together more flexibly.

John Holley, the chief information officer for the Auckland Regional Council, says service-oriented architecture is a big push for his organisation.

"To do stuff quicker and smarter, we need to be agile," Holley says.

"The environment we are working in is changing. People are expecting almost unlimited choice. They expect personalisation and customisation."

That is going to mean making more information available through the parts of the council which face the public, such as its website and call centre, and making sure internal systems and data stores work well together.

It also means people having access to their data and applications from wherever they are, as long as they can get internet access.

Holley says it's still early days.

"We talk about connected government, so what sort of tools can I use to link things together?

"Service-oriented architecture says how I can link stuff."

He says the upgrade of the council's core SAP business system has exposed many of the services which previously could only be accessed by writing expensive interfaces.

"A lot of people have talked about service-oriented architecture, but now the big vendors like SAP, Oracle and IBM are delivering it," Holley says.

"We can now pull data out of SAP and link it to other systems."

Holley says the council is also taking the green message seriously and looking at steps like power use, recycling and reducing the organisation's carbon footprint.

There are limits, though.

"Unlike a lot of businesses, we really are 24-7 because we do civil defence," Holley says.

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