IT For Sustainability Will Drive The Next Wave Of Corporate Evolution

Will IT Firms Drive the Sustainable Wave of Corporate Evolution?

Environmental concerns like climate change have not yet become the primary driver for businesses to define, implement, and execute a dedicated sustainability strategy. Rather, sustainability initiatives are driven today by cost and efficiency opportunities.

However, many companies are realizing that sustainability is increasingly important to advance their brand and competitive differentiation, respond to rising customer and regulatory pressures, attract new generations of talent, and enter or even create new markets. While the growth side of sustainability seems to be generally recognized, it is much more complex to measure and, hence, to manage, than the cost side.

Thus, we see widely varying approaches to corporate sustainability, and many companies are still reluctant to pursue sustainability at all.

A recent Accenture study of 766 CEOs, conducted in cooperation with the UN Global Compact, found that brand, trust, and reputation is the most frequently-cited driver for pursuing sustainability, followed by potential revenue growth/cost reduction, and personal motivation. Interestingly, CEOs rank pressures from governments/regulatory and investors/shareholders at the low end of their motivation scale (see Figure 1 below).

 

 

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In Sustainability, Britannia Rules

Three Reasons Why the UK is Leading the Charge of IT for Green

I was in London last week, delivering the opening keynote at the Green IT Expo conference. I had previously spoken at this event back in 2008, and it was nice to see a bigger crowd of perhaps 400-500 delegates, a lively hall full of vendor exhibitors, and a larger and plusher venue (the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in the shadow of Big Ben). In my estimation, the U.K. continues to be the country at the leading edge of innovation and implementation of IT for Sustainability. Why there? At least three factors:

1. Public awareness of climate change. Unlike here at home, there is little debate in the U.K. about the reality of climate change and the need for urgent action to monitor and reduce carbon emissions to slow its effects.

2. Government mandates for carbon reporting and reduction (the Carbon Reduction Commitment or CRC). The public awareness is reflected in governmental policy. Despite the reporting and reduction requirements of the CRC being pushed out in time, the U.K. still has the most teeth of any country or region in its mandate for companies to monitor, report, and reduce (or pay taxes on) their carbon emissions.

3. Leading companies' efforts to improve their sustainability posture. Whether it's Astra-Zeneca in pharma, Tesco and Marks & Spencer in retailing, BA in transportation, or the U.K. Ministry of Defence in the public sector, leading U.K. institutions are making the commitments and investments to transform their business processes in a more sustainable direction.

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Navigating The World Of Sustainability Solution Players

My research team at Forrester helps tech vendor strategists anticipate and navigate in rapidly changing market environments. We can't take a siloed view on specific product and service categories, but rather broaden our perspective in order to trace cross-market dynamics around key issues such as sustainability, globalization, collaboration, mobility, and cloud. This puts tech vendors in better positions to act on emerging demand signals, competitive scenarios, and opportunities to select best-fit partner, channel, or acquisition targets.

The market for dedicated solutions and services that help companies manage their energy, emissions, and overall sustainability strategy is still nascent. The evolution of sustainability at larger software and IT service vendors started with their internal efforts, which is an important factor framing their portfolio and go-to-market strategies.

As a result, there are still a significant number of vendors that are converting their internal capabilities to analyze, define, and implement sustainability into customer-facing software and/or service portfolios. These portfolios of services go well beyond green IT, increasingly focused to serve clients wrestling with hot topics such as enterprise carbon and energy management (ECEM), green supply chain, and sustainability performance management.

My colleague, Daniel Krauss, and I have recently completed a comprehensive round of interviews and analysis with many different players offering sustainability consulting services, including software, IT and business services, hardware, and even industrial companies (see Figure 1).

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A New Online Resource For Vendor Strategists

The Forrester Vendor Strategy Professionals team is excited to introduce a new way for strategists and marketers at tech suppliers to discuss and offer advice on their peers' most pressing challenges and opportunities. We have launched an online community for vendor strategy professionals as the premier destination for leaders to exchange ideas, opinions, and real-world solutions with each other. Our team of analysts will also be part of the community, helping facilitate the discussions and sharing their views.

The community is open to all strategists at ICT industry suppliers (Forrester client or not). 

Here’s what you’ll find:

  • A simple platform on which you can pose your questions and get advice from peers who face the same business or technology challenges.
  • Insight from our analysts, who weigh in frequently on the issues and point to relevant research. 
  • Fresh perspective from peers, who share their real-world success stories, best practices, and templates.
  • Content on the latest technologies and trends affecting your business — from Forrester and other thought leaders.

I encourage you to become part of the community:

  • Ask a question about a business or technology problem.
  • Start a discussion on an emerging trend that’s having an impact on your work.
  • Contribute to an existing discussion thread from a community member.
  • Share templates with your peers for common artifacts like market opportunity assessment or partnership portfolios.
  • Suggest topics for upcoming Forrester research reports.
  • Create a community profile.
  • Share your perspective with others.
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How Students Can Move Environmental Issues Higher On The CEO Priority List

My research team’s charter here at Forrester is to “Predict and quantify growth and disruption in the tech industry.” That means we’re always on the lookout for the next big thing(s), whether that’s technology, economic, or business trends that will change the direction of the industry’s fortunes. So we spend a lot of time on primary research, understanding the requirements and priorities of key business technology constituencies like IT organizations, business leaders, and employees within businesses large and small.

And many of our clients in the tech industry do the same. I recently spent some time with Saul Berman and Ragna Bell from IBM’s Global Business Services team, which just completed its bi-annual Global CEO Study. It’s an impressive piece of research, with interviews of more than 1,500 CEOs from around the world about their challenges, goals, and values. One prominent takeaway for readers of this blog: sustainability and environmental concerns are NOT gaining ground on the priority list of global CEOs. Take a look at Figure 1: “environmental issues” are stuck in 7th place on the list of the most important external factors impacting the CEOs’ organizations over the next 3 years. So while we in the sustainability community think we’re making headway in corporate boardrooms, this data doesn't show much progress over the last six years.

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How The IT Industry's Posture On Sustainability Moves From Defense ("Green IT") To Offense ("IT for Green")

 

My work at Forrester is focused on helping strategists at IT suppliers (vendors) align their development, positioning, and messaging with the big trends and disruptions in the industry. Mobility, cloud computing, globalization … trends at that high altitude. Over the last 3 years or so, that has included sustainability as it has appeared on and risen higher on the strategy agenda of companies around the world.

 When I meet with strategists at tech suppliers large and small, we talk sustainability both in terms of how the companies are cleaning up their own practices and processes, and what they are doing to help their customers do the same. SAP’s “exemplar and enabler” language captures these parallel efforts nicely. But it’s still a limited perspective, one that I characterize as the IT industry playing defense. “We are improving our energy efficiency!” says the collective industry voice, as if trying to deflect public criticism of energy-hog data centers, or mountains of e-waste, or PCs left running 7 x 24. And yes, absolutely, the IT industry and its customers have more work to do to make IT infrastructure and processes less wasteful and more responsible.

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IT Spending Rebound Will Mean More Spending On Sustainability Software And Services

Forrester's latest forecast for the technology economy is bullish, which by extension means good news for providers of software and services focused on improving corporate sustainability.

In our new outlook for IT spending by businesses and governments, we estimate that the market will hit $1.58 trillion in 2010, up almost 8 percent from the depressed 2009 level, and grow by a further 8.4 percent to $1.71 trillion in 2011 (global purchases expressed in U.S. dollars). U.S. government data about the overall economy, and tech vendors' Q1-Q2 financial reports, buttress our expectation that IT spending will growth at more than double the rate of the overall economy in 2010-11 and even beyond. See the details in Andrew Bartels's latest report here.

We expect that some of the prime beneficiaries of this positive outlook for IT spending will be those services and software suppliers that are focused on helping clients improve their sustainability posture. In particular, we are very positive on the outlook for sustainability consulting, and for enterprise carbon and energy management (ECEM) software.

Our research team is working now on reports that will update our outlook and spending forecasts for these two exciting markets. As we work with clients in enterprise IT organizations, it's clear that the "green IT" of yesterday is becoming the "IT for green" of tomorrow; that is, IT organizations and infrastructure are increasingly being deployed to meet the corporatewide sustainability challenge, not just improving IT's own energy efficiency and CO2 footprint.

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Green IT Adoption Is Driven by Business, Not Environmental, Considerations

I've been leading Forrester's efforts in sustainable computing and green IT for the past three years, with a particular focus on the role of IT professionals and assets in furthering corporate sustainability initiatives. We work with many clients — both supplier and buyer organizations — to improve the adoption, governance, and communications of their green IT and overall sustainability programs and policies.

One of the centerpieces of Forrester's ongoing research in this area is our survey of IT practitioners at enterprises and SMBs worldwide. We have done the survey twice each year since 2007, and it provides a fascinating window into the motivations, depth, and breadth of corporate commitments to greener IT processes and into IT's role in broader corporate sustainability efforts. I want to share two results from our latest survey (conducted in April 2010) and briefly discuss the implications of those findings. 

 

At first look, the data in Figure 1 (click image for a larger version) is not-so-good news for those of us evangelizing and implementing green IT. Simply put, sustainability and energy efficiency rank low (No. 10 out of 11) on IT's priority list. But let's look a little closer at some of the other priorities our survey respondents identified.

"Improve the efficiency of IT" ranks No. 1. That should be directly related to green characteristics of assets and processes, particularly in terms of energy usage. And look at No. 5 on the list, "Define strategy for risk and compliance." This also directly relates to green IT initiatives for e-waste disposal, carbon reporting, and the like.

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Three American Leaders In Green IT And Building Technology

Watching the World Cup over the past few weeks gave me a new appreciation for soccer/football/futbol. Imagine passing, catching, shooting a ball with NO HANDS.

The goal that Ghana scored in overtime (sorry, "extra" time) to knock out the USA was, sadly, prettier than anything that Tom Brady or Jerry Rice could do with an American football.

So my national pride took a hit as the US was eliminated — fortunately it got a boost in an unexpected way on a trip to a client's event later that week. I spent the day at Panduit Corp.'s new company headquarters outside of Chicago, speaking to their executives and customers on my favorite topic: the role that IT leaders and IT organizations can play as enablers and catalysts of corporate sustainability initiatives.

In the course of Panduit's headquarters-opening event, I got a chance to visit with three companies with a lot in common: privately-held, headquartered a long way from Silicon Valley or Route 128, and family- or founder-led. Not the usual characteristics of innovative, high-tech firms. And yet all three are at the front edge of technologies being used to make buildings and data centers more efficient and less environmentally impactful:

Lutron of Coopersburg, Pa., founded in 1961 by the inventor of the rotary dimmer switch. A supplier of leading-edge lighting systems for green buildings. The lighting in the building's conference rooms and public areas was calm, cool, and extremely energy-efficient.
 

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The Overall IT Budget Environment Has Turned Positive

Forrester’s newest survey of the IT spending environment has encouraging news that underpins our forecasts of a rebound in industry fortunes after the nasty recession of 2008-09. The good news for tech vendors is that IT budgets and purchasing plans are starting to reflect an improving economy. Last week, Forrester released results from our “Global IT Budgets, Priorities, And Emerging Technology Tracking Survey.” Among the top-level results: just over 40% of the 2,800 IT decision makers surveyed expect to increase their organization’s overall IT spending in 2010, up from just 12% in 2009; another 33% expect to hold their spending steady. So the overall IT budget environment has turned positive.

Respondents identified the top business priorities supported by IT investments as: 1) grow company revenue, and 2) reduce operating costs. No surprises there. But we were intrigued to see that “Drive new market offerings or business practices” ranked number 4, indicating that respondents are looking to IT to support and enable new product innovation.

We also see an uptick in spending on offshore IT services in 2010 vs. 2009, across ALL geographies.  Survey results also show that more than half of respondents have either implemented or are planning to implement SaaS, illustrating the tech industry’s continuing shift toward new purchasing models based on operating rather than capital expenditures.  

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