Category Archives: Green IT

Francis Maude boasts of £10bn savings but …

By Tony Collins 

This morning Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude held a press conference with his senior officials to announce that civil servants have radically changed the way they work to save £10bn in 2012/13.

The savings are nearly £2bn higher than originally planned and, according to the Cabinet Office, have been “reviewed and verified” by independent auditors.

With a little journalistic licence Maude says: “…we are on the way to managing our finances like the best-run FTSE100 businesses.”

The breakdown of the £10bn savings:

Procurement   £3.8bn
Centralisation of procurement for common goods and services  £1.0bn
Centrally renegotiating large government contracts  £0.8bn
Limiting expenditure on marketing and advertising, consultants and temporary agency staff   £1.9bn
Transformation savings   £1.1bn
IT spend controls and moving government services and transactions onto digital platforms  £0.5bn
Optimising the government’s property portfolio  £0.6bn
Project savings   £1.7bn
Reviewing performance of major government projects  £1.2bn
Taking waste out of the construction process  £0.4bn
Workforce savings   £3.4bn
Reducing the size of the Civil Service   £2.2bn
Increasing contributions to public sector pensions   £1.1bn

Comment

It’s good news and the figures don’t seem plucked out of thin air which sometimes happens when central government announces savings.

The big question is whether the savings are sustainable. Maude has inspired the Cabinet Office’s Efficiency and Reform Group to be motivated and hard-working. But bringing about long-term change in Whitehall – as opposed to restricting consultancy contracts and cutting annual costs of supplier contracts by reducing what’s delivered – is like peddling uphill. How long can you do it without losing motivation and energy? It’s not just parts of the civil service that are resistant to the savings agenda – it is also some IT suppliers, according to Government Computing.

It’s likely that only profound changes in central government operations and working practices will outlast the next general election. At the moment the civil service is like a rubber band that has been stretched a little. It wants to return to its standard shape, which the next government may allow it to do.

The National Audit Office said in its report in April 2012 on the Efficiency and Reform Group in 2011/12:

“Savings to date have differing degrees of sustainability.”

The NAO also said this:

“It is not fully clear how ERG intends to make the reforms necessary to secure enough savings over the rest of the spending review. ERG has yet to translate its ambition for saving £20 billion by 2014-15 into more detailed plans.

“ERG has made progress in developing strategies across its wide range of responsibilities, and is focusing on core activities likely to produce savings. However, until recently ERG’s focus has mainly been on the savings themselves, with less emphasis on delivery of the longer-term changes and improvement in efficiency necessary to make them sustainable.”

And this:

“Departments have still tended to lack a clear strategic vision of what they are to do, what they are not, and the most cost-effective way of delivering it. Much of departments’ 2014-15 savings are likely to come from further reductions in staff. Sustainability of these savings will depend on developing skills and working in new ways while maintaining staff motivation and engagement.”

But the NAO was generally positive about the ERG’s contribution to savings.

“ERG’s actions to date, particularly its spending controls, have helped departments deliver substantial spending reductions.”

We hope the Cabinet Office’s diligent efforts continue  – sustainably.

Efficiency and Reform 2012/13 savings. Summary report.

Some suppliers still resistant to change? – Government Computing.

Business need for reduced costs drives Cleantech demand

By David Bicknell

New research from audit specialist Grant Thornton has highlighted the change drivers behind the growing demand for cleantech products to reduce business costs.

Grant Thornton’s third annual International Business Report (IBR) report on the global cleantech industry shows that in general the adoption of cleantech products and practices is motivated by the commercial need to reduce costs and increase profits. It is no longer about being ‘green’.

For example, despite short-term fluctuations, the trend for key commodity prices continues upwards for example, Brent Crude oil recently rose back above US$120 a barrel. The outlook for nuclear energy is unclear following the Fukushima disaster – Germany, for example, has opted for the renewables route – and partly due to this uncertainty, cleantech is emerging as a suitable alternative source of energy or a means of reducing  consumption of expensive resources.

Over half of the business practitioners surveyed for the IBR who choose cleantech options do so to reduce their costs (52%); with 45% making the choice as a way to increase profitability. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) requirements and environmental concerns also remain important, but are not the main reason for adoption.

This increasing maturity of the sector is filtering through to expectations of cleantech business for the year ahead creating a bullish outlook for 2012.

Compared with companies in other sectors, the Grant Thornton report suggests that privately held businesses in the cleantech sector are now among the most confident enterprises in the world when it comes to future prosperity, far outpacing the optimism found in most global industries – and with good reason.

64% of cleantech businesses interviewed expect revenue to increase this year, up from 54% the previous year. 64% of respondents also expect higher profitability this year compared to 42% in 2011.  Cleantech providers currently see the greatest demand from the developed economies of Europe (51%), and US and Canada (39%).

Nathan Goode, head of energy, environment and sustainability at Grant Thornton UK said: “Interest in cleantech is no longer just about environmental concerns, it’s about whether it offers solutions that can boost the financial performance of companies. What we’re seeing is the potential for these technologies to compete with traditional forms of energy and the expectation that over time, they should.

“Governmental support remains key in many sectors and jurisdictions for cleantech to be successful, and fluctuations in this support are causing short term volatility for the cleantech arena. The mood of optimism in the sector appears to be driven by fundamental trends and reflected in broader indicators such as oil prices.

“Cleantech is a sector on the road to commercialisation but it is not necessarily all the way there yet. We’re at a stage now where the value proposition for cleantech is to save money and consequently demand for cleantech is set to increase meaning we could be on the cusp of something very big indeed.”

Cleantech and IT

The Grant Thornton report demonstrates how the cleantech sector is in transition. There are more companies involved in R&D (42%) and IT (29%) than in previous years (31% and 22% respectively).

Goode said: “Judging by this analysis, cleantech appears to have parallels with the biotech industry in that R&D is being used to explore new concepts and applications for existing technologies. As a result, R&D and IT is receiving greater focus as companies exploit advances in areas such as storage and smart grid technologies. In addition, the sector is adopting a broader base on which to apply its learning, putting greater focus on areas such as waste and water.”

In contrast, manufacturing activity has become relatively more subdued. The number of businesses citing involvement in manufacturing of energy efficient products has decreased over the past year from 26% in the 2012 survey to 19% in 2011, although manufacturing of products for cleantech energy generation has increased marginally to 17%, up from 14% the previous year.

There could be a number of reasons for this, but the Grant Thornton report stresses that the issue of capital constraint represents a big challenge for the sector and as a result, governments.

Goode added: “Manufacturing items such as wind turbines and waste processing plants is an incredibly capital intensive business.  However, what we’re seeing is a slowing in the pace of growth as a result of constraints on raising capital.  This continues to be an issue, especially in European economies where credit is constrained.

“Governments must be mindful of acting as a brake on investment, as it will quickly become a barrier to achieving carbon reduction targets and the desire to supply businesses and households with alternative supplies of energy – and at a time when it’s really starting to compete.”

Winds of energy change blow through Germany and China

By David Bicknell

Change in government priorities and policies can drive structural change that generates significant investment and growth. That is now particularly the case in energy production projects in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster.

From this article on Business Green, it appears that Germany  is set for a significant investment in wind power with the setting up of a number of offshore wind farms with new hydroelectric power plants in the offing too.

German energy companies and investors are ready to plough up to €60bn into overhauling the country’s power infrastructure, following the government’s pledge to phase out nuclear reactors.

The energy and water industry association BDEW issued a report on the first day of the Hanover industrial fair revealing that plans are underway to build or modernise 84 power stations with a combined capacity of 42GW.

As Business Green says, the report also provides one of the most detailed insights to date on how the German energy sector plans to cope with the government’s commitment to phase out nuclear capacity in the country post-Fukushima.

Another recent article shows that China is making similar investments in wind energy, spending the equivalent of £4bn in the North-Western Gansu region.

As Jonathan Watts reports, “Wind turbines, which were almost unknown five years ago, stretch into the distance, competing only with far mountains and new pylons for space on the horizon. Jiuquan alone now has the capacity to generate 6GW of wind energy – roughly equivalent to that of the whole UK. The plan is to more than triple that by 2015, when this area could become the biggest wind farm in the world.

“Although it is the world’s biggest CO2 emitter and notorious for building the equivalent of a 400MW coal-fired power station every three days, it is also erecting 36 wind turbines a day and building a robust new electricity grid to send this power thousands of miles across the country from the deserts of the west to the cities of the east.

“It is part of a long-term plan to supply 15 per cent of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2020. Most of that will come from nuclear and hydropower, but the government is also tapping the wind and solar potential of the deserts, mountain plateaus and coastlines.”

Meanwhile, Britain could pump £13bn into the economy and create up to 10,000 jobs by upgrading its power distribution network with smart grid technology, according to a Reuters report.

The technology has the potential to transform the way electricity is generated, distributed and consumed just as the Internet transformed the way the world communicates.

The idea is to create a communication network to maximise efficiency in supply and demand and to cut costs for homes and businesses.

Related Reading

UK smart grid could create jobs, help economy

Government to invest £1bn in carbon capture and storage technology

By David Bicknell

The government is to commit more than £1bn of public funds to develop carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology with the prospect of generating an industry with 100,000 jobs.

It follows  the publication of plans yesterday to create a government-sponsored competition to design the first workable demonstration project.

CCS uses technology to capture carbon dioxide from power plants and store it permanently underground. Such a move, it is said, will help meet climate change targets.

The government has also published the first UK CCS Roadmap which it says sets out the steps that the Government is taking to develop a new world-leading CCS industry in the 2020s. The Roadmap includes:

  • The competition, the ‘CCS Commercialisation Programme’, to drive down costs by supporting practical experience in the design, construction and operation of commercial scale CCS with £1bn capital funding, and additional support, subject to affordability, through low carbon Contracts for Difference;
  • £125m funding for Research and Development, including a new £13m UK CCS Research Centre;
  • Planned long term Contracts for Difference through Electricity Market Reforms to drive investment in commercial scale CCS in the 2020s and beyond;
  • Commitments to working with industry to address other important areas including developing skills and the supply chain, storage and assisting the development of CCS infrastructure

Here is the Guardian’s view on the story

UK CCS Commercialisation Programmme

Department of Energy & Climate Change announces new consultation on CRC

By David Bicknell

In a press release today, the Department of Energy & Climate Change has announced a consultation on simplifying the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) Energy Efficiency scheme.

DECC says that participants will see their administrative costs cut by almost two-thirds, equating to around £330 million of savings up to 2030.

CRC is a mandatory UK-wide trading  scheme covering large business and public sector organisation, who produce 12% of UK carbon emissions. It requires businesses to report on and pay a tax on energy used, and ranks businesses in a performance league table which provides a further reputational incentive to improve their energy efficiency.

Following Chancellor George Osborne’s criticism of the scheme’s complexity in last week’s Budget, DECC now says businesses will now have the opportunity to comment on Government’s proposals. 

The simplified package proposed is aimed at retaining the energy-saving and reputational benefits of the CRC, whilst reducing the bureaucracy of taking part.

Secretary of State Ed Davey said:

“We have listened to businesses’ concerns about the CRC and have set out proposals to radically cut down on ‘red tape’ to save businesses money. The benefits of the scheme are clear though. It will deliver substantial carbon savings helping us to meet carbon budgets, and it encourages businesses to take action to improve their energy efficiency”.

DECC says the simplified package will include:

  • A shortening of the CRC qualification process.
  • Reducing the number of fuels covered by CRC from 29 to 4.
  • Reducing the amount of reporting required by businesses.
  • Reducing the length of time participants will have to keep records.
  • Removing the requirement on facilities covered by Climate Change Agreement or EU Emissions Trading System installations to purchase CRC allowances. 
  • Adopting new emissions factors for the CRC which will align it with Greenhouse Gas reporting processes.
  • Removing the detailed metrics of the Performance League Table from legislation and placing them in government guidance.

The formal consultation will run for twelve weeks, with the Government planning to amend the legislation for CRC by April 2013.

Consultation on a simplified CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme

Osborne’s Budget signals possible end of Carbon Reduction Commitment energy scheme

By David Bicknell

George Osborne’s Budget earlier today has raised significant question marks over the future of the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) energy efficiency scheme.

Osborne said this, “Environmentally sustainable has to be fiscally sustainable too. The Carbon Reduction Commitment was established by the previous Government. It is cumbersome, bureaucratic and imposes unnecessary cost on business. So we will seek major savings in the administrative cost of the Commitment for business. If those cannot be found, I will bring forward proposals this autumn to replace the revenues with an alternative environmental tax.”

It will be interesting to know how those ‘major savings’ in the administrative cost might be achieved. That sounds like a softening up for the end of CRC to me.

Related Links

The Guardian: Green ‘stealth tax’ attacked by business groups

Data centre temperatures go up to cut costs and reduce carbon footprints

It’s only a few weeks since the United Nations summit on climate change in Durban at the back end of last year and  I came across this story.

The piece argues that IT managers can save money and reduce their carbon footprint by increasing the temperature in their data centres.

Intel, for example, is reportedly advising its customers to increase the temperature in data centres, arguing that companies can actually save four percent in energy costs for every one degree in centigrade they turn up the heat.

That is because most data centres in Europe run at a temperature of between 19 and 21 degrees centigrade to avoid creating hot spots that might cause equipment to malfunction. The cooling equipment required to maintain that temperature costs around $27 billion a year to run and consumes 1.5 percent of total world power, according to Intel.

Many companies worldwide are now looking at increasing the temperature of their data centres up to 27ºC (80.6ºF), in a move that could help them save costs and reduce their carbon footprint. Facebook has saved over $200,000 a year in energy bills by reprogramming its cooling to run at 81ºF. Microsoft too has saved $250,000 a year by increasing the temperature by just 2-4ºC.

Interesting story – I think there is more to come on this as the year develops though I’d venture to suggest that rightly or wrongly, in today’s austere times, the driver is more likely to be saving costs than reducing the carbon footprint i.e. talk green, mean lean.

School report on Govt ICT Strategy – a good start

By Tony Collins

In a review of progress on the Government’s ICT Strategy after six months, the National Audit Office says that the Cabinet Office has made a “positive and productive start to implementing the Strategy”.

The NAO says that at least 70 people from the public sector have worked on the Strategy in the first six months though the public sector will need “at least another 84 people to deliver projects in the Plan”.

The UK Government’s ICT Strategy is more ambitious than the strategies in the US, Australia, Netherlands and Denmark, because it sets out three main aims:

- reducing waste and project failure

- building a common ICT infrastructure

- using ICT to enable and deliver change

The US Government’s ICT Strategy, in contrast, encompasses plans for a common infrastructure only – and these plans have not produced the expected savings, says the NAO.

In a paragraph that may be little noticed in the report, the NAO says that senior managers in central government have plans to award new ICT contracts (perhaps along the pre-coalition lines) in case the common solutions developed for the ICT Strategy are “not available in time”.

The NAO report also says that “suppliers were cautious about investing in new products and services because of government’s poor progress in implementing previous strategies”.

Of 17 actions in the Strategy that were due by September 2011, seven were delivered on time. Work on most of the other actions is underway and a “small number” are still behind schedule says the NAO.

The NAO calls on government to “broaden the focus to driving business change”.

Some successes of the UK’s ICT Strategy as identified by the NAO:

* The Cabinet Office has set up a small CIO Delivery Board led by the Government CIO Joe Harley to implement the ICT Strategy. The Board’s members include the Corporate IT Director at the DWP, CIOs at the Home Office, MoD, HMRC, Ministry of Justice and Department for Health, together with key officials at the Cabinet Office. The departmental CIOs on the Board are responsible directly to Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, for implementing the ICT Strategy in their departments and are accountable to their own minister. No conflicts have arisen

* Senior managers in central government and the ICT industry are willing to align their strategies for ICT with new cross-government solutions and standards but need more detail.

*  Some suppliers have offered help to government to develop its thinking and help accelerate the pace of change in ICT in government.

* The Cabinet Office intended that delivering the Strategy would be resourced from existing budgets. Staff have been redirected from other tasks to work on implementing the Strategy. “We have found collaborative working across departmental boundaries. For example HMRC and the MoD have combined resources to develop a strategy for greener ICT. Teams producing the strategies for cloud computing and common desktops and mobile devices have worked together to reduce the risk of overlap and gaps.

* The BBC has shown the way in managing dozens of suppliers rather than relying on one big company. For BBC’s digital media initiative, the Corporation manages 47 separate suppliers, says the NAO.

* The Cabinet Office intends that departments will buy components of ICT infrastructure from a range of suppliers rather than signing a small number of long-term contracts; and to make sure different systems share data the Cabinet Office is agreeing a set of open technical standards.

* Some of the larger departments have already started to consolidate data centres, though the NAO said that the programme as a whole is moving slowly and no robust business case is yet in place.

* The Cabinet Office is starting to involve SMEs. It has established a baseline of current procurement spending with SMEs – 6.5% of total government spend – and hopes that the amount of work awarded to SMEs will increase to 25%. Government has started talking “directly to SMEs”, says the NAO.

Some problems identified in the NAO report:

* Cloud computing and agile skills are lacking. “Government also lacks key business skills. Although it has ouitsourced ICT systems development and services for many years, our reports have often stated that government is not good at managing commercial relationships and contracts or procurement.”

* Suppliers doubt real change will happen. The NAO says that suppliers doubted whether “government had the appropriate skills to move from using one major supplier to deliver ICT solutions and services, to managing many suppliers of different sizes providing different services”.

* The Government CIO Joe Harley, who promoted collaboration, is leaving in early 2012, as is his deputy Bill McCluggage. The NAO suggests their departures may “adversely affect” new ways of working.

* The NAO interviewed people from departments, agencies and ICT suppliers whose concern was that “short-term financial pressure conflicted with the need for the longer-term reform of public services”.

* The culture change required to implement the Strategy “may be a significant barrier”.

* The Cabinet Office acknowledges that the government does not have a definitive record of ICT spend in central government (which would make it difficult to have a baseline against which cuts could be shown).

* The Cabinet Office has not yet defined how reform and improved efficiency in public services will be measured across central government, as business outcomes against an agreed baseline.

**

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said today: ” ICT is going to play an increasingly important role in changing how government works and how services are provided.

“The Government’s ICT Strategy is in its early days and initial signs are good. However, new ways of working are as dependent on developing the skills of people in the public sector as they are on changes to technology and processes; the big challenge is to ensure that the Strategy delivers value in each of these areas.”

NAO report:  Implementing the Government ICT Strategy: six-month review of progress.

8 ways to make your software more energy-efficient

By David Bicknell

I recently came across the Software Improvement Group, a Dutch company specialising in corporate software quality, which has produced some advice on how to make your software applications more energy-efficient. 

Its ‘quick wins’ include the following:

  • Reduce resolution of images and/or send them less frequently
  • Run multiple applications on shared servers
  • Reduce data translation between components
  • Log less
  • Delete historic data
  • Compile interpreted languages
  • Refrain from frivolous features
  • Avoid chatty protocols

The group points out that quick wins do not always apply and are only a first step towards energy efficiency. To create truly energy-efficient software applications requires attention during all phases of the development lifecycle, starting from requirements and design, through coding and testing, and finally on to deployment and operation.

Users do want efficient software