Monday, February 9, 2009

Sustainable IT
by Gerald Trites

Sustainable IT is much more than a buzzword. And more than trendy. For auditors, it means exactly what the term says - ensuring that corporate IT systems are sustainable in the medium and long term. That the systems - and therefore the host enterprise - can survive.

IS Auditors and auditors generally have always been concerned about the sustainability of enterprises; about their ability to remain operational. Going concern is a concept that goes back many decades. But while the going concern concept is usually activated because of economic concerns, it increasingly will be activated, in future, because of environmental concerns. This has already happened because of major disasters, such as floods, earthquakes and fires. But major disasters can creep up on us and this is what is starting to happen with IT systems.

IT systems are environmental concerns because of several factors, including notably:

1. High power usage,
2. High use of paper, and
3. Disposal if used and outdated parts, like computers, disks, wires, routers, etc.

Reports have been coming in of power grids being overtaxed because of the growth and proliferation of data centers. The city of London, for example, is reported to have been curtailing new data centers in anticipation of the 2012 Olympics.

With storage space being relatively cheap, and increased storage and processing taking place on the Internet, the need for more data centers will grow considerably over the next few years. The current grid cannot tolerate much in the way of such growth.

The capacity of computer systems to waste paper is legendary, and ironic in view of the widesprad talk about the paperless office a few years ago. And while there has been some recycling activity of old computer parts of late, the effort is pitifully small in comparison to the need.

So IT Auditors have a need to review the sustainability program of the systems they review. As a minimum, they need to consider whether the power consumption of the systems is being adequately planned, with power friendly devices and power saving programs. They also need to consider if there is a good print control program, that ensures that printing is done only when necessary. And they need to ensure that the equipment that is retired is done so in an environmental responsible manner - recycled where possible.

Moreover, IT systems can be used, though the use of video and audio conferencing, as a means to reduce business travel, and consequently reduce the energy consumption involved with such travel.

Such reviews are often seen as a useful value-added service of IT auditors. But they are much more than that. They should be viewed as a central and essential part of routine audits, directed to whether the company can really survive into the future.

KPMG, among other firms, has released a paper on this topic which is downloadable from their website and explains these ideas. There is also an article on their website that offers some useful commentary. Deloitte also has a paper on the subject on their site.

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