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14th January 2015


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Mark Norman

Lucie Ponting discovers that service solutions are driving sustainability in the office

Sustainability is high on the agenda for providers of IT and communications solutions. As well as greening their own operations and producing “eco-friendly” products, companies such as Dell, HP, Kyocera and Ricoh are increasingly combining their hardware, software and consulting services in a more holistic way to help offices operate more sustainably.

Most people are familiar with traditional tips for minimising the environmental impact of office IT systems. These include procuring “green-rated” equipment – such as ENERGY STAR, EPEAT and Blue Angel; raising employee awareness; enabling energy-saving features; setting double-side and and black and white printing as default; and recycling peripherals, such as ink and toner cartridges, as well as hardware.

This tried-and-tested advice continues to hold true but advances in server virtualisation and cloud computing have widened the scope for reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions, offering economies of scale in shared infrastructure, improved use of capacity and greater flexibility to acquire equipment on a pay-as-you-go basis. These and other technologies are also supporting wider moves to increase the sustainability of modern offices, encouraging more flexible ways of working, reducing travel and freeing
up expensive workspace.

“The intersection between people and technology is getting closer,” says Tracey Rawling Church, head of corporate social responsibility at Kyocera. “And some of the most interesting things going on in the past five years are around ‘servitisation’.” That is the shift to services that support or complement products. To help customers recognise and take full advantage of the potential benefits available from this change, vendors are now offering wide-ranging professional services and advice on how to harness the latest hardware and software technologies to reduce environmental impacts, cut costs and increase productivity.

“Cloud computing, software as a service and unified communications, which were still quite cutting-edge concepts five years ago, are now well embedded,” explains Rawling Church. “To drive your technology, you don’t need to have onsite servers that you power and maintain and air condition yourself. You can now outsource that to an organisation that does it in a collective way to get the best energy efficiency and economy of hardware.”

Managing documents

In the printing and copying sector, the servitisation trend has resulted in a marked shift to managed document services (MDS). “These services help the business manage its entire document flow,” explains James Deacon, head of corporate responsibility at Ricoh UK. “It’s no longer just about how you get paper out of the machine but how you convert knowledge into information and then distribute, store and retrieve it. It’s about information knowledge and management, with the device simply a means to an end.”

Rawling Church believes MDS have “completely changed the emphasis in terms of defining and meeting customer needs”. Historically, a customer with 500 old printers would decide they were too expensive to maintain and would buy 500 new ones. “They’d replace one-for-one, but with newer, shinier and faster printers,” she says.

A more modern way of approaching this is to ask: why do you need 500 printers? What are the business processes you’re trying to support? What documents come into the organisation, are processed and leave?

“We’re looking at how we can support workflows in a way that reduces the need to rely on hard copy and gives better access to documents,” Rawling Church explains. “And ultimately that might mean you need only 50 devices, supported by a suite of document management software that allows you to share information efficiently using paper only where absolutely necessary, and some of that data will be hosted on the cloud as well.”

This approach – as opposed to specifying 500 slightly more energy-efficient printers – has obvious potential to make a dramatic difference to an organisation’s costs and environmental impact. In terms of paper consumption, Rawling Church says it is not unusual to be able to reduce it by 20-25%, while cutting the number of devices will reduce energy consumption and costs, as well as the embodied carbon.

HP estimates that its managed print services alone – which include imaging and printing devices, software, supplies, and support and professional services – can produce energy savings of up to 80% and reductions in paper waste in the millions of pages (see panel, p.22).

“MDS is still a relatively new way of procuring printing and copying facilities for the office,” acknowledges Rawling Church. And to some extent, it is being held back by the way in which organisations procure, particularly those in the public sector.

“If your system is geared around buying hardware, then making the shift to procuring services requires quite a lot of rethinking,” she explains. In the private sector, procurement is more collaborative, but in the public the invitation to tender has often been issued for a specified number of devices of a certain speed. “That’s what you have to bid [on] and no dialogue is permitted.”

Even within the private sector, such a shift requires time and effort from the customer. “You need to devote time and energy to helping a third party understand your workflows,” says Rawling Church, “and that takes commitment and more joined-up thinking than is required for old hardware procurement. It’s not just about what the IT team wants to support or what’s compatible with the network operating system; it’s about all the information flows within the business.”

User engagement

Alongside direct cost and environmental benefits, however, the processes involved in specifying an MDS can also produce indirect, and sometimes unexpected, benefits. One Kyocera client, for example, reduced the lead time on a particular type of customer interaction from about three weeks to a couple of days because they found a document was visiting several departments unnecessarily.

“Over time, processes get convoluted and no one really notices because it happens incrementally,” says Rawling Church. “Then, when you stand back, you realise you’re doing something quite nonsensical and the customer experience is being compromised.”

Another benefit of an MDS is that the key performance indicators are embedded. An integral element of any MDS is software to manage and monitor all the printing and copying activities from the network.

“You can set objectives for how many fewer pages are going to be printed, how much paper is going to be saved, how much less energy is going to be used and so on,” says Rawling Church. All the relevant data is captured and reported back to the customer, who can immediately see whether it is meeting its targets and where there are “hotspots” that might be preventing targets being reached.

“You can get data on what’s being printed or copied by department, by individual or on certain devices at certain times of the month,” explains Rawling Church. “This helps provide an ongoing insight into your document processing to drive future improvements and change behaviours. User engagement is a really strong component of an MDS. People have to understand why they’re being asked to change the way they work and have to be kept informed about achievements.”

Mike Baddeley, head of business excellence at Ricoh UK, picks up this point and applies it more widely. “Technology is not the solution,” he emphasises. “Technology is just an enabler – the solution is mindset change; once you’ve got awareness and a desire to do something differently then, when you give people technology, they’ll find a way of using it as a tool.”

Connected workplaces

Alongside its MDS, Ricoh is now offering a portfolio of other services, ranging from IT infrastructure and communication to workplace organisation and sustainability. Deacon and Baddeley believe the work Ricoh has done in-house (the environmentalist, September 2014) on changing the workspace and making it more sustainable has been critical to developing these new services and solutions.

“Rather than just our historical green offering to customers, which focused on print impact reduction, we’re advising them on managing wider aspects of business impact, including energy consumption, travel and waste management,” explains Deacon. “It’s quite a diversification from where we were five or 10 years ago as a photocopier manufacturer; we’re now talking about culture change and workspace management.”

“We’re offering externally some of the same types of data-led tools and assessments we used internally to transform our office,” adds Baddeley. “When you go through it yourselves, the level of detail you find out and the lessons you learn are invaluable. From a credibility point of view, it’s very important.”

Often overlooked is the way offices can become greener by using technology to displace environmentally damaging behaviours such as travel, and MDS can play a key role in this. “If documents are digitised and people have access to these from wherever they’re working, clients can be a little freer from the office base,” explains Baddeley. “From a sustainability point of view that means we can reduce the impact on areas such as travel but also perhaps question whether we even need to be in an office space all the time.”

Linked to this, other technological advances mean businesses now have access to better and more mobile equipment and facilities for remote meetings and interaction. “Unified communications mean that from my desk I can videoconference, teleconference and WebEx, so the temptation to travel to meetings is significantly reduced,” says Rawling Church. All this can also be done from a laptop or mobile phone, as well as from the desktop.

For Ricoh, visual communications infrastructure and solutions are a growing business segment. “People need simple and easy ways to collaborate and communicate from wherever they are,” explains Baddeley.

One of the firm’s most popular innovations in this context is an interactive whiteboard. This is a 55-inch monitor that looks and behaves like a whiteboard, and allows colleagues to work together on a document such as a design or floor plan. When this is combined with videoconferencing, people can see each other, talk and pull up documents on which they can write and amend collaboratively and interactively from wherever they are.

Baddeley finds many organisations are not aware of the true impact and cost of staff travel, so Ricoh offers a tool for clients to calculate how many people attend their business and from where to build an accurate picture of all the costs, from working hours lost in travelling to business mileage and lunches.

He recognises that people, by their nature, will always need to meet up physically at certain times, and a degree of travel is productive and necessary. “But perhaps after the first kick-off meeting on a project, subsequent ones could be held without everyone travelling around,” he suggests.

Deacon believes more flexible and remote working will also ultimately help firms keep and hire the best talent. “If companies encourage a degree of working at home or at alternate locations, it widens the pool of potential employees,” he suggests. “People who might have been excluded because of commuting distance are now more accessible and hireable.”

Dell recently reported that in financial year (FY) 2014 its “Connected workplace” initiative, which encourages flexible working – including working from home, part-time working, variable working times and job sharing – helped it avoid an estimated 12 million kWh of energy and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 6,700 tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

The company also reinforces Deacon’s point about talent hire, noting in its annual report that about 11% of people hired in FY14 were for positions in a remote location. “This allows us to hire the best person for each job, despite their physical location or ability to come into the office,” it states.

End of life

While new systems and ways of working can enhance sustainability, Rawling Church urges organisations not to forget end-of-life equipment. “As long as you’re using equipment and it’s helping to improve your workflows and supporting your processes, that’s great,” she says, “but also think about how you dispose of it afterwards.”

Many of the resources consumed in manufacturing high-value IT equipment are scarce or have good reuse value, either in terms of materials, full subassemblies or the whole device. For devices that are still functioning, an IT asset recovery company might be able to help find a second life, or local charities might need equipment that is not necessarily up-to-date.

“The worst possible outcome for a piece of IT equipment is that it’s shredded in a massive reprocessing plant where they use a magnet to pick out metals,” says Rawling Church. Because waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) legislation is written around collection targets by weight – rather than the value of resources recovered – it does not support whole product reuse, parts reuse or high-value materials recovery very well, she explains. “Even though we design our products for disassembly, to make it easy to either repair them or recover materials at end of life. It’s quite a challenge to make that happen.”

The advantage of a managed services approach,
says Rawling Church, is that hardware is typically leased as part of a contract, so at end of life it returns to the service provider, which refurbishes it, releases it to customers with different needs or harvests parts and recovers materials. This allows greater control over reuse and recycling.

Anywhere, anytime

“We too often tend to overlook the positive aspects of ICT,” emphasises Rawling Church. “We talk a lot about the impacts of the technologies and the amount of energy they consume, but actually some of that is displacing other consumption and driving wider changes.”

Looking further, perhaps five years, into the future, she believes the completely virtual office is probably as unlikely a reality as the now almost mythical paperless office. What she does expect to see, however, is the “less paper” office and the “office anywhere”, meaning that people will be properly supported to work anywhere they happen to be. “That way, you’ll get better morale and better productivity,” she says.

But people will still probably have a set base, she believes. “As long as you take care to ensure the office is as environmentally efficient as it can be, the idea of having to downsize to reduce the environmental impact of the building is not particularly helpful to staff. It’s great to be able to work remotely but there are times it is appropriate and times when it isn’t.”

For his part, Baddeley believes that, within five to 10 years, traditional office space will have transformed into “a shop front for the organisation or brand” and somewhere to meet rather than somewhere people go to work all day, every day. “There will be more remote working, and the available collaborative tools will get far more sophisticated with the further development of augmented and virtual reality,” he predicts.

Both Deacon and Baddeley see cultural inertia as the biggest single barrier to companies adopting more sustainable practices and innovative approaches to work. “Cost is less a barrier than it was a few years ago,” says Deacon, “because it is now proven that significant cost savings go in tandem with green initiatives.” Baddeley particularly stresses the need to change mindsets and get away from “we’ve always done it this way” attitudes.

“It’s about getting people to embrace working more agilely or remotely, and ultimately more sustainably,” he says, “because we are rapidly running out of resources and there are lots of areas where we need to make a step change in how we do things.”

Despite some of the ongoing cultural barriers to change, however, there is strong evidence that customers are placing greater emphasis on sustainability, corporate responsibility and community investment when they specify ICT services and equipment. To try to quantify this, Ricoh has looked at the weightings given to these issues in tenders. On average the total weighting is now around 8%. “That’s a significant uplift,” says Deacon, “compared with it being almost an optional extra, and barely scoring, eight to 10 years ago.”

Print reduction in action

  • When Kyocera worked with global insurer RSA, the firm’s fleet of printers was reduced from about 3,000 units to just 282 Kyocera devices – a reduced ratio for devices to employees from 1:8 to 1:21. The changes produced a 25% reduction in monochrome printing per month, a 56% reduction in colour printing, as well as a 17% reduction in the number of pages printed as a result of double-sided printing.
  • Ricoh’s managed document services (MDS) work for law firm Eversheds Ireland has made legal staff more productive by saving 1,000 working days previously spent on document administration, freeing up time to focus on more financially valuable, fee-earning work. The MDS is also pedicted to reduce paper consumption by one third, from 7.5 million to five million pages in the first year.
  • HP reports that its managed print services have helped:
  • The Walt Disney Company to reduce its number of printing devices by 59% and energy consumption for printing by 18%, avoiding 185 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions over three years.
  • 3M optimise its printing systems, saving more than $3 million.
  • Viacom slash energy use for printing by 62.5%.
  • Swiss Post to reduce 17,000 printers to 6,000, and move from 140 models to just six.

Lucie Ponting is a health, safety and environment journalist.


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