Posted by: Monideepa Tarafdar | April 26, 2010

The Sustainable IT Services Value Chain

IT Service Providers, or IT Outsourcing companies can go a long way in promoting green IT practices in their client firms. Clients are dependent on IT Service Providers because of the large scope of services and embedded-ness of business processes in those services, and extensive and complex contracts. Also, they have access to state of the art sustainability knowledge and practice. In a study based on sustainability activities of the five largest IT Service providers from India (Tarafdar and Modi 2010), we thus found that these firms are driving IT sustainability adoption in their client companies in primarily two ways.

One by designing and delivering the “Sustainable IT Services Value Chain” – which essentially means that sustainability practices be weaved into every stage of IT services delivery- Planning, Design, development, Sourcing, Production, Delivery, Disposal. For example, in the Development stage, they focus on developing code that uses less processing power. Forms and reports were designed to eliminate extra lines and headers, for minimizing print paper. Similarly, procurement policies for client-related equipment include conformance to use of a) energy conserving components in monitors and processors such as Energy Star and b) recyclable and bio-degradable materials for external casings and packing materials. Sustainability strategies in production activities include provisioning to automate the deployment of operating system images, middleware, applications, networks and storage among different clients, as and when required, thus decreasing duplication, and cloud computing, to provide platforms, infrastructure and applications as services to client organizations.The most prominent activity related to the Data Center (DC), the central location where client firms stored their servers, networking equipment and data. DC management, i.e., management of technology and physical facilities constituting the DC is a primary deliverable for ITSPs. Sustainability practices for delivery are focused on data enters. All of the large Indian ITSP’s now design and maintain green Data Centers. They do so through server consolidation and capacity utilization, achieved through use of tools that allowed virtual (instead of physical) replication of application stacks.

Two, by exemplifying their own sustainability efforts to their clients ad thus educating them. The ITSP’s showcase and demonstrate their own IT sustainability efforts to client organizations customers. Some of them have a separate sustainability function that looks at IT related sustainability issues. Others have various versions of “Go Green” programs that deploy desktop power saving, server virtualization and consolidation and DC management policies for their own operations. These programs implement various green policies such as centralized printing through print servers, minimization of individual printers,  centralized power management, server and network consolidation, and waste management companies and suppliers for recycling or disposing off old computers. Exploring lease/buyback/NGO donation options and working with authorized agencies/vendors to ensure recycling/reuse after lifetime, even for the equipment donated to charities/NGOs” are some of the disposal initiatives that ITSP’s undertake. They use applications for carbon management, power consumption monitoring, data storage optimization and asset management to track and reduce their own energy consumption. Some of them also have their own research and development activities with respect to virtualization and consolidation, which feed into solutions provided to customers. As a result, client firms’ sustainability related awareness increases and they in turn, ask for more information on how to implement green IT.

Given the consolidation, global scale of operations and consequent institutional influence of the IT Service Providers, they thus have an important role to play in promoting green IT. However, it must be noted that the extent to which they can do so would depend on the legislative pressures for and willingness of clients to deploy and pay for sustainable IT


Tarafdar, M., and Modi, S. Adoption of Sustainability in IT services: The Role of IT Service Providers, Proceedings of the Americas Conference on Information Systems, Peru, August 2010


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