How much oil is IT saving?

What would we see if we looked at the bigger picture of IT?
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Sun Microsystems is running an ad (seen on this site) that the average data center burns 80 barrels of oil per day. But I would like to surmise that perhaps IT is saving more oil than it burns. And also is having other beneficial impacts. But I don't have the data.  

There are a number of industry surveys that track the progress of SOA, Web services, and all aspects of IT. But there are questions I've been ruminating about that may be too much for any one research group to capture (or fund).  I'd love to see a government or university study look at some of the broader implications of doing business online.oil well

For example, consider this: despite the dot-bomb fizzle, e-commerce continues to grow. Market research firm ComScore Networks reported that consumers spent $485 million online on "Cyber Monday" (November 28), up 26 percent from last year. 

E-commerce and online retail have been on the scene as a major force for at least eight years now. It can be assumed that much of this has replaced sales that would have come through bricks and mortar, to some degree. What is the potential impact of the switch to online on the environment, and the growth of our communities? How many new shopping centers have not been built as a result of online commerce? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? (It can be argued either way.)

Or, consider all the warehouses or other facilities that have not been built, thanks to greater efficiencies and visibility attained through XML Web services-based EDI and inventory management. How many fewer trucking miles are required, thanks to all this new efficiency?  Sounds good from an oil conservation perspective. Is that a good thing or bad thing for communities?

Of course, IT and online commerce aren't local job killers. Think about the communities that may have been bypassed by the mainstream of commerce and information access that now may have greater opportunities available to them. A rustbelt city in the Northeast, for example, or a reservation in the Southwest that can now support online businesses. 

Who said "IT doesn't matter"? From a public policy standpoint, it would be interesting to measure impacts of information technology on society at large. Is anyone aware of studies that look at some of these questions? Has anyone heard the topic of online commerce and supply chains brought into discussions about energy conservation? How much oil is IT saving in the long run?

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