Making IT sustainability more objective and actionable

I’ve heard a lot of pitches from technology companies on how they can help customers achieve their sustainability goals, and many of these follow a familiar pattern. They start with the global ecological imperative, stressing how organisations are becoming increasingly aware of their responsibility to act. They then move on to discuss reputational and brand matters, pointing out that shareholders, customers and employees nowadays pay a lot of attention to a company’s sustainability posture. From here they segue into the evolving regulatory environment, and the way ESG is now a top priority at board-level. 

At this point, you’re 15 minutes into the presentation, and I’m sure I’m not the only one guilty of drifting off during this kind of extended intro. 

But then you suddenly have to wake up as the presenter plummets from that 30,000 feet level, handing off to a product specialist who describes how that latest server, switch, storage device or whatever is more power efficient than the last one, includes some reclaimed materials and can ultimately be recycled more easily.

Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh, and my intention is certainly not to disparage efforts to make products more eco-friendly – I know a lot of thought and effort goes into that. If we’re honest, however, none of this in itself has much chance of changing behaviour. If you need to buy new equipment, why wouldn’t you opt for a more sustainable option if it meets your performance, resilience and security needs, and ticks other boxes that are important to you? And the same is true as the refresh cycle naturally turns, and existing IT assets come up for renewal.

Then the other day, I attended a briefing on IBM’s Technology Lifecycle Services (TLS) by Oiza Dorgu, Program Director for TLS Infrastructure Services, spanning Sustainability, Resiliency and project services for the integrated data centre, and she tells a quite different sustainability story. And what grabbed me about this, was Dorgu filled in the gap between the high-level imperatives and the product level propositions with the specifics of how to formulate and execute an actionable plan. 

I’ll get into some of those specifics shortly, but first let’s touch on what TLS is – and the clue is very much in the name. 

The focus is on the ‘Technology’ related aspects of sustainability, particular in relation to IT infrastructure. The ‘Lifecycle’ part of the name signals a long term ‘cradle-to-grave’ or ‘acquisition to disposal’ perspective. This element is particularly important, and a key principle here is inclusivity. If you’re serious about IT sustainability, it’s critical to consider systems and assets throughout all lifecycle stages – beginning, middle and end – as only then can you prioritise and act on a proactive basis.

Which brings us to ‘S’ in TLS. IBM is offering a suite of services, enabled by a range of software tools. The idea is to help customers understand their current position, explore ways to drive greater sustainability into their IT infrastructure, systems and related activities, then make objective decisions on where to focus and invest your sustainability efforts based on data and anticipated outcomes. 

During the briefing, Dorgu walked through the various components of TLS, and a few key things stood out to me. First, the IT Sustainability Optimization Assessment Service, which makes use of IBM’s Turbonomic software to provide insights on resource optimization, power consumption, and carbon emissions across the IT estate. This goes beyond basic monitoring to provide specific actionable recommendations.

Next, Dorgu discussed the Project Services for Infrastructure (PSI) offerings, which help clients act on those recommendations. These services cover all the nitty-gritty details that are often overlooked but can make a big difference, e.g. everything from de-installation and packing to logistics when relocating equipment from an older facility to a newer more efficient one, e.g. as part of a data centre consolidation exercise.

But perhaps the most interesting part of the briefing was the discussion around Asset Recovery and Disposition (ARAD). IBM is offering an end-to-end solution for managing decommissioned assets, helping clients implement a circular economy approach. This includes buying back equipment, providing residual value credits.

As Dorgu noted, “As we roll out ARAD, we have to go to the local stakeholders and make sure that we’re meeting relevant tax laws with the buybacks and accounting practices.” This not only highlights the complexities in this area, but also IBM’s attention to the details that can often trip you up or lead to unwelcome surprises.

Zooming out, Dorgu emphasised the critical role of data centre managers in driving sustainability efforts, and how this has influenced the way TLS is defined: “ESG initiatives often start at the CXO level, but they eventually trickle down to data centre managers for execution. This is why our approach needs to go beyond strategy to actionable practicality”.

To be fair, IBM is not the only game in town when it comes to sustainability-related professional services. But often the way you frame the discussion and define the problem makes all the difference, and I thought Dorgu did a really good job on this. It was an insightful reminder that board-level aspirations, strategies and public declarations are all well and good, but it’s those on the ground who ultimately need to make things happen.

Data Center
Data Management