Computing how to be the greenest government

22nd September 2011

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Sarah-Jayne Russell discusses the work in Whitehall to take advantage of the energy efficiencies offered by new IT technology.

Civil servants and large IT projects are not, it would seem, naturally efficient bedfellows.

All too often the government has been lambasted for IT projects that aim to improve public services, but have instead soaked up millions of pounds and failed to deliver what was needed.

For proof you need to look no further than the nine-year £11 billion project to integrate electronic care records across the NHS which today has been broadly labelled as a failure, as the health secretary announced the board running the project will be scrapped.

Furthermore, Sir Philip Green’s review of Whitehall spending last year found inconsistencies during procurement processes had resulted in different departments and agencies paying £1,600 more for the same laptop from the same supplier.

It is no wonder then, that the coalition government has been working hard to overhaul its IT strategy and, as a part of that process, make sure it is making the most of technological advancements to cut emissions and improve energy efficiency.

In March, the Cabinet Office published its overall plans for reducing waste IT in procurement and tackling project failure rates and next month it will release its strategy for ensuring the IT use is as sustainable as possible, supporting the goal to cut the government’s carbon emissions by 25% by 2020.

This green ICT strategy includes the adoption of virtualisation and cloud computing – the Cabinet Office has already embraced the cloud – as well as cutting waste through better management of equipment, saving resources through improved printing behaviours and a more coherent approach to procurement.

Now instead of departments commissioning and designing individual IT systems, Whitehall is working to create a common IT infrastructure providing solutions that can be adapted to work across its different functions. This will ensuring a better use of resources, particularly when suppliers such as HP are pledging to push their public sector clients to make sure their requirements are in line with the government’s overall strategy.

An early success story of such a public-private sector IT project has been the Environment Agency’s (EA) decision to outsource management of its IT resources to CapGemini.

According to Simon Redding, sustainable IT lead at the EA, since signing the contract two years ago it has seen a 50% reduction in carbon emissions from its IT and an 80% cut in the amount of energy used in its offices. Better still is the news that this hasn’t been achieved by throwing cash at the problem, but has actually resulted in the agency spending 20% less on their IT.

How does that work I hear you ask. Well, Redding says that embedding the agency’s carbon emission and waste prevention targets within service level agreements ensures those targets are taken as seriously as financial considerations.

Secondly the agency and CapGemini have a joint governance board with senior management representatives from both organisations that is dedicated solely to driving forward the sustainability elements of the contract.

Furthermore, the agency has retained in-house IT staff who assess all of the CapGemini’s suggestions for improvements and rejects those which they don’t feel go far enough.

So far the project has seen the upgrade of outdated equipment to the most sustainable alternatives, with the replacement of one data centre, for example, cutting overheads from 75% to just 8%. 7,000 PCs have also been removed from the agency’s offices, replacing them with more the most efficient alternatives, after carefully assessing whether the equipment could be reused, refitted or recycled.

Cutting emissions has not been limited to energy use and equipment, with CapGemini committing itself to reducing carbon from travel related to the project, from day-to-day maintenance, shipping of equipment to project management. This has mean CapGemini working hard to engage and incentivise its staff and as a result 75% of travel for servicing is made by rail.

This positive partnership approach is now being pushed down the supply chain with the IT company working with the contract’s 100 suppliers to ensure they are mitigating their environmental and ethical impacts in line with the Environment Agency’s principles.

The Environment Agency and CapGemini contract is inspiring stuff and proof, for me at least, that some civil servants are working not to just catch up with the private sector, but are pushing boundaries on how to make the most sustainable IT practice.

Do you agree? Why not start a discussion in the IEMA LinkedIn Group and have your say?


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