Green IT will hit Australian govt 'like a ton of bricks'

Australia's federal government is lagging behind when it comes to green IT initiatives and needs to be more critical of vendor "recycling" claims, says analysts.

Australia's federal government is lagging behind when it comes to green IT initiatives and needs to be more critical of vendor "recycling" claims, says analysts.

Gartner's public sector analyst Richard Harris told ZDNet Australia: "I don't think [environmental considerations] have hit the scene within the government -- at least, within any of the agencies other than those with a direct responsibility for environmental matters."

"It's not translating into action yet."

According to Harris, federal government departments have lost their role as standards-leaders for IT management and procurement aimed at reducing carbon emissions and e-waste.

Pressure to keep costs down, coupled with a lack of political support, is forcing most government CIOs to negate environmental factors within total cost calculations, said Harris.

But not everyone agrees that government is lagging.

Malcolm Mackay, business development executive, site and facilities, IBM Global Technology told ZDNet Australia: "For [our] public sector clients, it's definitely on the radar. I think they're not only aware they need to do something, they need to take a leadership position. I think that within individual government departments, and across organisations linked to the public sector, I'm seeing more information around and more requests for information."

General manager for Sun Microsystem's ACT business, Andrew Goodlace, agreed that government is taking the issue seriously, "right from CEO down to operational people within governments."

Datacentre consolidation and desktop virtualisation is occurring and more tenders are including environmental clauses, he said.

However, Gartner's Harris said Australians are being paid "lip service" by the government over claims its IT management and procurement practices are going green.

"Lowering cost is still the dominant factor when you're looking at government purchasing. It's easy to make a political statement that we need to be environmental responsible but when that costs more initially, it's difficult for agencies to justify purchases and they're not finding the political support for this."

"A lot of government CIOs feel battened down by pressure to reduce costs. In some regards, 'green IT' is another complicating factor which makes their life more difficult. It takes a lot of bravery and leadership to factor this in over and above the low-cost argument -- to ensure the total cost of ownership includes the total environmental value of ownership."

Hydrasight analyst Michael Warrilow agreed that government at all levels will remain focused in the medium-term on immediate cost pressures rather than the environment. For now, he said, responsibility for duties such as e-waste will be pushed onto suppliers, as has happened in the NSW and Queensland governments.

Warrilow added buyers need to exercise more caution here. "I had the misfortune of hearing an IT executive saying how green Dell was regarding its recycling but [Dell] is not really talking about 'recycling' so much as 'down-cycling'. Down-cycling is salvaging parts and turning it into something less valuable, such as copper in a computer becoming an anchor. It's not output equals input, but output becomes lower-value-item-that-ends-up-in-tip," he said.

An added concern, according to Warrilow, is that few IT executives and CIOs are prepared for being green.

"It's not going to happen unless business demands it of IT, and as that business demand ramps up, it will hit IT like a ton of bricks," he said.

Environmental concerns are driven from the bottom up, he explained -- by citizens for the pubic sector; and employees and customers for the private sector -- and therefore becomes expressed as a marketing and business issue. When the hammer falls, IT will be expected to deliver on those demands but won't be able to respond.

News Limited's senior IT executives are experiencing this now, following Rupert Murdoch's recent decision to make News Limited carbon neutral, said Warrilow.

With an election looming, some believe the political climate may help transform today's rhetoric into action.

Gartner's Harris said: "This is a classic case where this will put more pressure on the political arena which will flow through to decision making within government departments."

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