CIO’s Get Plugged in to Energy

It is likely that Chief Information Officers (CIO) will be increasingly tasked with finding ways to reduce energy consumption in their corporations, if they haven’t become engaged already. According to a report released earlier this year by the Society for Information Management (SIM), CIOs are being urged to become familiar with energy informatics, a new subfield wherein information systems are applied in order to optimize energy supply and demand. Energy informatics uses sensor networks to gather information about the use of energy consumption and distribution systems and can then optimize operations. The push to get CIOs more involved in a company’s energy portfolio, whether through informatics or otherwise, is a necessary one.

According to an article on Forbes.com, the majority of CIOs have never even seen a power bill. In most organizations, the power bill is handled by the facilities department, although the technology used inside commercial and governmental buildings across the country can consume as much as 40 percent of total power used.

Connecting IT with the facilities team can spur discussions on where and how to reduce consumption. The old adage that you can’t manage what you don’t measure certainly holds true here. Once the CIO knows how much power their servers, computers and associated cooling systems are consuming, they are likely to find ways of becoming more efficient.

Robin Johnson, CIO at Dell, shares examples of how they identified some low-hanging fruit and immediately began to see savings. The mere arrangement of a data center can significantly impact energy efficiency. Two server racks, for instance, that are facing front-to-back are mixing hot and cold air together and therefore lowering the efficiency of the cooling process. As Johnson states, by rearranging your data center you can reduce power bills and improve system efficiencies by 20 percent or more. In addition, the introduction of virtualization software is also helpful, as it allows one machine to do the work of many, which in turn helps to save money and power.

CIOs in government agencies should also get plugged in to their energy consumption data. Every time a government agency purchases hardware or software without assessing the energy related costs or determining whether or not the service needed can be provided by existing technology, taxpayers pay the bill. As the single largest energy consumer in the U.S. economy, the federal government is also being required to make changes.

In June of this year, President Obama announced his plans to dispose of unneeded federal real estate, which included a directive that all agencies immediately adopt a policy against expanding data centers and develop plans to consolidate and significantly reduce existing data centers within 5 years, specifically citing growing energy expenses as a concern. The renewed focus on energy efficiency, both in the private and public sector, is refreshing and displays a strong commitment, even though there is still much to be done.

It isn’t only about CIOs getting plugged into the energy puzzle, they also have to be empowered with the authority and responsibility to take corrective action. If the CIO isn’t invested and supported by other key stakeholders, then an organization’s power bill, according to Johnson, “is just another slip of paper.”

Cory Vanderpool joined EnOcean Alliance as the Business Development Director for North America. Prior to this role, she was Executive Director of GreenLink Alliance, a non profit organization dedicated to promoting energy conservation in buildings and tax incentives for building owners. Before establishing GreenLink, Cory worked in business development supporting a government contracting firm focused on civilian and defense markets. In addition to her work at EnOcean, Cory is also pursuing her PhD in Environmental Policy at George Mason University and is a part-time contributing writer at Triple Pundit.