John Booth, Vice Chair of the BCS Green IT Specialist Group, looks at sustainable IT and explores the systems and team configurations that can help us survive climate events.
There is a saying: ‘Hope for the best, plan for the worst’. It is a well-known business continuity best practice phrase, and the result is (hopefully) a wide analysis of any event that could impact your business.
This usually covers things like fires, flooding, terror incidents and some extreme weather events. Strangely enough, the recent pandemic wasn’t on anyone’s risk map and many IT departments had to implement some very expensive solutions to overcome the lockdown and travel restrictions that the pandemic caused.
But, what of the future? I’m hoping that all risk plans now contain strategies for adapting and dealing with future pandemics — but what of climate events? Arguably, good risk planning covers all the potential events that climate change will bring. I’ve mentioned some of them above — so prudent IT managers should be thinking about how they are going to adapt to any future climate events.
Any ICT estate should be well documented: every business application and its dependencies, every physical asset and associated service history, with clear visibility of what and where any ‘gold’ stock is. You should know who your service suppliers are and what their service level agreement is, if using cloud or hosting services. You should also know where your data is and what your disaster recovery plans are.
In all honesty, can any IT department say that they have all of this information? I would suggest not. While you may be able to get away with it in normal times, I think we can all agree that we are now facing a somewhat uncertain future. So, get your estate baselined and then keep it up to date.
Take out the rubbish
The baseline should reveal some interesting information — like a cupboard full of redundant laptops, rooms full of old CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors and old desktops, applications and supporting physical hardware that hasn’t been used by the business for years. And, because you’ve been a bit lax on your ‘lessons learned and decommissioning processes’, you’ve been paying for it through a lack of data centre and network capacity. Because of that lack of capacity, someone has used colocation services to cover, all of which has cost the organisation some serious money.
You may even find that some departments have made their own IT decisions due to your lack of ability to service their needs, so-called ‘shadow IT’. This can be very problematic when it comes to climate events because people will be complaining and you won’t have any knowledge of these systems.
Extend equipment lifespan
An important Green IT principle is to extend the life of assets, replacing them every four years instead of the usual three year refresh cycle (mostly warranty based). Businesses should consider extending even further, to five or even six years, after which considerations should turn to using refurbished or remanufactured equipment. The mantra here is ‘sweat your assets’.
One consideration, if you’re doing this, is the operating system (OS) and any support you need from the vendor. If you’ve been operating an OS for five years in a corporate environment, I guarantee that you’ve probably seen everything that can go wrong with it. Keeping your ICT problem and resolution system up to date will ensure an ongoing ability support software over the longer term.
Business continuity and disaster recovery
ICT is now ubiquitous. It is literally everywhere and unless you do some due diligence work on your baseline and inventory you could get caught out, so check all your dependencies in the supply chain, find out what their business continuity (BC) and disaster recovery (DR) plans are and, if necessary, write it in to your contracts.
If you have a specialist BC/DR team they should already be checking the building estate, but they may not be doing this with an eye on climate events. A discussion should be had to find out what, if any, audits and updates to BC/DR they are carrying out, with respect to any potential climate events.
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Every organisation should have comprehensive BC/DR continuity plans and they should be reviewed and tested at least annually with a variety of scenarios. It’s essential to ensure that plans are in place for any extreme weather event and its aftermath. Post exercise, a debrief should be conducted as well as a meeting to establish any lessons learned and update plans as necessary. Ensure that your personnel know where the plans are, and the location of any ‘battleboxes’ containing data, information and other essentials for those responding to an incident.
You might want to consider the purchase of some satellite phones for your senior and critical personnel, but be aware of developments in this field. For example, it is understood that Starlink is planning to offer direct satellite-to-cell coverage in the near future, although this might be confined to the US initially.
We may see increasing focus on ICT systems by regulators. Indeed the EU has already passed legislation that indirectly affects data centres with the Taxonomy Climate Delegated Act, the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive and the impending Energy Efficiency Directive (EED), all of which I’ve covered in previous articles. I’m also working on an update, which will be published soon, that will cover the latest information on the EU legislation mentioned above, but also some new regulatory schemes arising in the US, of which some will be based upon the EU EED.
People and teams
Many IT teams work in silos. There will be a team for desktop, server, storage, applications, development and perhaps compliance. It might just be one or two people in a smaller company, but everyone should have at least two skills, perhaps more.
Consider your ICT service ticketing system. Is every call updated with the information that service personnel need to quickly solve the issue? If not, you run the risk of them having to ‘reinvent the wheel’ every time they come across the same issue. This links back to the documentation issue - all personnel should be able to find the solution to every problem in your service database. In addition, a comprehensive training programme should be used to ensure that your people can turn their hand to any IT-related problem or find the solution in the service database.
Climate change is happening, of that there is no doubt. It will affect the mining of minerals used for ICT, while at the same time other commodities such as copper will be in demand by sectors such as the energy industry. We could be faced with equipment shortages in the very near future, hence why you should sweat your assets and software. Check and include climate events in your BC/DR plans and give your people training. BCS is preparing a comprehensive suite of taster sessions on Green IT, there is a Green IT ebook in preparation and we’re looking at a potential update to the BCS Foundation Certificate in Green IT.
One final word (or words): every cloud has a silver lining. If you adopt a climate-aware posture and implement climate-aware ICT systems and people, you’ll be well prepared for whatever comes — save an alien invasion.