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Expanding Green IT

Expanding Green IT

You can't be a green warrior if you're not part of a team.

Squeezed between a woodworking unit and a grimy garage is a tiny billboard workshop in Bangalore that says: 'We Use Eco-Freindly [sic] Plastics'. Set in its surroundings, it's a somewhat incongruous place to find a green advertisement -- given that until recently 'eco-friendly' was a concept aimed at a more elitist market. If green has found a home in a hole-in-the-wall, it's a testament to the way it's being marketed.

The obvious irony hides another sign of our times: that passersby are so jaded with promises of green products that they ignore the contradiction in 'eco-friendly plastic'. In the hype around being green, people have learnt, almost anything, will fly.

But a little hyperbole isn't slowing down the green movement -- if anything it's whipping it on. When vendors started tom-tomming green IT about 18 months ago, Indian CIOs just nodded along. But, today, green conferences are standing room only. Enterprises --and not necessarily just those in the green vanguard -- are fast realizing that it makes business sense to endorse green IT solutions.

Still, precious few Indian enterprises have actually gotten their feet wet. Fifty-six per cent of respondents to a CIO magazine survey on green IT, for example, say they don't monitor IT-related energy spending. Only 16 percent say they plan -- at some time -- to measure their carbon footprints.

In this sea of talk, Bangalore-based Wipro Technologies has adopted an approach to green like few others. It is making the environment a priority by positioning it as an enterprise-wide issue -- same tack that Wipro used some years ago to make quality its USP.

As one of the few successful examples of green IT in India, Wipro has important lessons to share. There are two prominent aspects to Wipro's green deployment. The first is that it is driven from the top. And second, IT is among the most important drivers of the enterprise-wide push -- a fact that could herald a shift in the way CIOs look at themselves.

The Green Brigade

If there's one thing that characterizes the Wipro approach to green, it's that Azim Premji, chairman and CEO, is making it his personal mission to drive the change. He's making the time and the effort to create the energy and structure needed to propel a green philosophy to every corner of the company. In his bid to create a greener Wipro, one of the richest Indians in the world has involved himself deeply in the mission. He was, for example, personally involved in forming a formal charter for ecological sustainability called Ecoeye, which was created eight months ago. Premji has been closely involved with Ecoeye from its inception and still scrutinizes its progress on a regular basis. He's also ensured that three of the six-member governance council report to him directly.

"Wipro's governance council comprises the senior-most echelons of the organization's leadership," says Jethin Chandran, GM-IT Planning at Wipro. "This is a concerted, corporationwide initiative to transform the way we do business and engage all our stakeholders. It aims at making Wipro ecologically sustainable in every dimension, responsible, and go beyond compliance."

Leading Ecoeye is Anurag Behar, chief executive, Wipro Infrastructure Engineering and corporate VP, community initiatives. Laxman Badiga, CIO for Wipro, is an active member of the governing council, which consists of the CFO, CTO, head of HR, chief strategy officer and Behar. (Badiga is responsible for IT, facilities, and civil infrastructure). Lower down the pyramid, business units are responsible for driving green initiatives to the 95,000-plus Wipro staffers. A central program office acts as a catalyst and orchestrates the entire program. Each business unit has a champion who represents its interests and is responsible for set goals. All projects, says Chandran, are looked at from an ecological as well as financial perspective and are signed off by the governing council. Though, he adds, funding for some projects are done separate from the standard operating budget.

Until being green is a matter of hygiene, it looks like the green agenda has to be driven from the top to ensure widespread success, especially because green's upfront costs can be a big bite for an organization.

The movement's drivers at Wipro, for example, have never had to slug it out with business to get financial backing because going green is a part of the organization's corporatewide initiative. But this does not mean that they can hand out blank checks.

Organizations should "not just focus on the investment under question but the total cost of ownership considering direct and indirect costs. The savings in operating costs will pay for the investments,' says Laxman Badiga, CIO for Wipro.

The ROI justification is necessary because while the impact of green technologies and projects is immediate, the financial rewards may accrue over a longer period -- one of the challenges hindering the early adoption of green initiatives.

"We've started applying these technologies -- in IT or other areas in the new infrastructure -- while we work, in parallel, on existing infrastructure. It's better to have measurable benefits quickly to sustain the focus," says Chandran.

And just because green works successfully when it's driven from the top, it doesn't mean that CIOs don't have a critical role to play.

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