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CIO's role in delivering green buildings

By Tracey Caldwell, CIO
December 16, 2008 05:20 PM ET

CIO - Not so long ago green IT was hot property. CIOs who had introduced energy-guzzling hardware were keen to get the kudos for reducing electricity bills by switching the hardware off again and replacing it with something more efficient.

Now sentiment is changing: analyst firm Forrester Research has gone as far as to issue a report asking, 'Is Green IT Your Emperor With No Clothes?' and Gartner has voiced concerns about "greenwash". The CIO's contribution to greening the IT estate has become a given and CIOs ahead of the curve are looking beyond green IT and towards leveraging the IT infrastructure to control the building environment, from heating to air-conditioning and ventilation through CCTV and access control.

Rakesh Kumar, Gartner research vice president, says, "A small but select group of CIOs, probably about less than five per cent of the clients that we deal with, realise that their responsibility lies in being able to green the entire business.

"We are at the start of that curve as the CIO becomes the technology arbiter and gatekeeper of appropriate and relevant tools to be used in the rest of the business because there is no one else able to evaluate them in the same way."

Kumar believes it is critical that CIOs start looking at this now. "If part of the organisation starts bringing in tools that may not be compatible with tools in other parts of the company, we start down that horrible minefield of integration," he says.

"It is a little bit like the Wild West with people coming out with point technologies. Then we have the added complexity that the marketing is slightly [away] from the reality of the products."

At BT, CIO Al-Noor Ramji says, "In tough economic times intelligent building management can play a key role in delivering whilst reducing costs. Green IT should to my mind have become business-as-usual for any CIO."

Efficiency through IP

There has been a step change in the past few years where building management systems have moved beyond managing peripherals to elements central to the building such as heating and lighting. There are now a number of very good reasons why CIOs should be looking towards converging the IT infrastructure with a building management system (BMS), particularly when using IP networks which allow a BMS to hang off the network. There are huge operating efficiencies, the building works more efficiently and people can gain better control of their environment.

But there is a set of resisting forces extending the timescale for adoption. Many building suppliers are opposed to IP-based BMS as they perceive it as new and risky. Also, the organisational structure in the enterprise arena is very often siloed into facilities management and IT.

"There are some very cosy relationships between those facilities managers and their major suppliers so there is a cultural gap that has to be overcome; there is also a power battle that we are beginning to see," says Kumar.

As BMS become IT infrastructure-based, the CIO role is evolving to encompass them. This is happening already in the property sector. Andrew Thomson, operations director at property firm Hammersons, says, "I was the CIO here and my role broadened to become operations director with the two areas being brought together because we see a lot of synergy."

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