The recent interest in green IT may have focused on hardware vendors' attempts to reduce the power consumption of PCs and servers, but according to some commentators it is enterprise software providers who may ultimately make the greater contribution to firms' green business initiatives.
One such figure is Paul Massey, UK managing director at business application software specialist IFS, who insists that while the IT industry's focus on improving energy efficiency is welcome it is next generation enterprise resource planning (ERP), supply chain management (SCM), and project and asset lifecycle management applications that will be required to fully underpin firms' green business models.
"So far IT's green message has been quite defensive – it has been a case of meeting regulatory requirements and limiting energy use," he observed. "But as being green becomes more of a positive choice for firms keen to use their environmental credentials as a marketing device they are going to need to be able to track, measure and report on their environmentally sustainable activities and that is what ERP software can deliver."
In short, it is business applications that will provide firms with the environmental data required for them to make informed strategy decisions, optimise their processes and back up their environmental responsibility claims.
Several major software vendors have made this realisation, with many of the leading reporting and design software vendors currently investigating ways to add environmental information to their existing products and ERP specialist Lawson recently announcing plans for a dedicated suite for managing CSR initiatives.
However, Massey is unconvinced dedicated environmental management apps will be necessary, arguing that relatively simple updates to incorporate environmental information and metrics into existing business apps would provide a relatively simple means of ensuring executives have access to environmental data.
"Most of the information you need to develop greener business models or processes is already there in firms business apps," he said. "It is often just a case of adding a few extra information fields and changing some of the reporting requirements."
For example, Massey argued information on the weight of electrical equipment which firms require to comply with the imminent WEEE directive is often already held in the supply chain management, inventory, sales, delivery and asset management elements of ERP systems. Simple changes to reporting tools should then make it relatively easy for firms to access this information for complaince purposes.
Adapting ERP systems to provide green business metrics will also prove far more effective than installing environmental reporting point solutions for firms committed to driving green business models right across their operations, Massey argued.
"Changing legislation, shareholder demands and public pressure, will mean that companies will need the environmental information to be able to act quickly and decisively," he said. "That agility can't be provided and, more importantly, compliance cannot be proved by a hotch-potch of legacy systems which are not integrated."
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