So… Why CAN’T we Save The World with IT?

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Corporations must change, to survive the recession and do their part to reverse environmental damage. IT has the tools they need. But organisational factors could get in the way

At eWEEK Europe, we are starting to feel that, whatever the world’s problems, IT is the solution. As a tech-centric news outlet, this is often our knee-jerk assumption – but does it stand up? Can IT really save the world?
It’s certainly true that embedded intelligence can make any other system more efficient, including the interesting prospect of smart grids for power distribution, and better integration of green energy.
And communications can often take the place of transport. I’m not talking just about the slightly hackneyed example of video-conferencing instead of international flights. We all use our phones and the Internet to avoid travel – down to the mundane example (perhaps not fully worked out) of having shopping delivered.
So, as we really get started with eWEEK Europe UK, we know that – whatever the economic outlook – firms will have to look to their IT specialists when they come to make the changes the times will demand of them. IT will help companies adapt and survive.
But is it really that simple?
There are problems -and they aremostly to do with disjointed thinking, and the legacy “greenwash”, remaining from the days before the economic crisis, when it looked like environmental concerns could be an overlay on normal business.
“IT guys are not incentivised to change things,” Peter Hopton, chief executive of the UK’s low-energy server maker, VeryPC , said to us. What he meant was, the IT department doesn’t pay for the electricity it uses, and IT staff don’t get any credit for using less energy.
At the same time, the people who have a visible role in sustainability, the corporate social responsibility (CSR) officers, are out on a limb. “The CSR guys don’t have enough power to push through new ways of working,” said Hopton.
CSR people are just there to add an environmental overlay, while IT people are still meeting old requirements, and answering old questions. The two don’t join up.
The response to the economic crisis seems to be to sack IT staff just as fast as, or even faster than staff in other disciplines are sacked; a response that is understandable given the poor performance and frustrations of old-school IT. But we think there could be a better response.
Serious change is needed to halt environmental exhaustion – and also to fit companies to survive the tough times. IT has tools to enable this, but at this stage, it is no-one’s job to actually change corporate behaviour.
IT can save the world. We believe that. But it won’t happen unless IT people are given the power to change things , and the rest of the organisation co-operates and even takes the initiative in IT-enabled change.

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