Yes, you can deploy responsible IT

Or: Are you burning up money while you are sleeping?

IT creates huge value for business and society, but is also a large consumer of power and materials. CIO’s and IT Managers have always been pressed on the ROI of their projects and investments, but increasingly, IT is being held more accountable for their environmental footprint and energy consumption.

IT encompasses a very broad set of solutions, but I’m pleased to say that in the world I am most familiar with – digital signage – offers opportunities for businesses to reduce energy consumption, minimise the use of toxic materials and save money.

Remote switching to save power and money

At Engagis, we always use commercial grade screens in conjunction with our Eze Impress content management system, (CMS) which allows for remote switching and control. This means that screens can be put into sleep mode when they are not needed using a combination of commercial grade hardware and an intuitive CMS platform. For example, in retail, this would be outside normal shopping hours and for internal communication solutions, it would be outside normal working hours. In sleep mode or idle mode, screens can still receive content, be monitored for support purposes, and still be woken up according to a schedule you set, but the screen remains inactive.

A black screen is not an ‘off’ screen

Unless power is removed from a screen, a black screen is still consuming power to produce the black image. In fact, it is operating at least 95% of normal energy needs taking into account the screen and the media player. That’s a lot of power for zero communication!

We recommend commercial grade screens for many reasons (refer to my blog here) but their ability to be switched remotely, using a CMS that can deliver wake/sleep commands, is a significant benefit that consumer-grade screens can’t offer.
An inactive commercial grade screen and a suitable CMS, consumes only a fraction, only 10-15% of the typical energy needed in normal use.

LED’s require a different approach

LED displays are becoming increasingly popular as their cost comes down and quality and resolution improve. The brightness of an LED is proportional to the electrical current that is driving the display. However, LED’s are best left operating with an ‘idle’ amount of current to minimise the power-up cycles that reduce the lifespan of the display. So in this case, scheduling black, static content during off-peak periods is the best approach for energy and cost savings.

“Do the math”

One of the problems that can happen with managing power and running costs, is the separation of the person or department purchasing the solution from the person, department or cost centre paying for the operation of the solution.

For example, with Digital Signage, Marketing may procure the solution, and fund this from the marketing budget, but the operational expenses such as electricity may be paid from the IT budget or a general expenses budget.

This means there is no incentive for Marketing to be concerned about power usage, operational costs and the environmental footprint. And there is no incentive for Marketing to include power and environmental considerations into their purchasing criteria.

If the solution and the operational costs are funded by IT, then IT is in an ideal position to show leadership in terms of cost and power management by sourcing the best solution and managing it efficiently. This is ‘responsible IT’.

If however, the department purchasing the solution does not pay for the ongoing power and costs, the opportunity here is to ‘charge’ the power costs back to the purchaser so they select an environmentally responsible solution and manage it so costs and power are minimised.

This is easy to understand when you think about buying a car. When you buy a car, you have to take into account the initial cost of the car plus the running expenses such as servicing and fuel. However, normally in this case, both the upfront and ongoing costs are paid by the buyer. Most car buyers are astute and incorporate the operational costs into their overall spend calculation. In other words, there is an incentive for the buyer to choose a car with lower running costs and fuel requirements.

Moving away from mercury

Incandescent bulbs, used in projection applications, contain mercury, a toxic metal. In addition to their limited working life, this creates an issue in terms of the disposal of used lamps every 6-12 months or so. Increasingly, I’m seeing customers opting to use laser projection technologies, as they are becoming more cost-effective for many situations. Laser projection is also far more environmentally friendly and the working life is at least 5 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs.

A big issue here is that many people are not aware that traditional bulbs contain mercury and require extra caution in their disposal. A discarded projector lamp that sits in landfill will eventually rust, crack and breakdown, allowing the mercury to escape and contaminate the surrounding area. We recommend that you check your local state/territory for specialised drop off points, to ensure it’s disposed of responsibly.

Responsible IT is part of our DNA

Engagis is ISO certified in a number of areas, including AS/NZS ISO 14001:2015, for our environmental management system. It’s really important that we act responsibly and are mindful of the environment and how we use and recycle materials. So our recommendation is to dig a bit deeper when procuring IT solutions. It’s not just about technology. Think about the underlying energy consumption and the impact of any materials used. There are lots of practical things you can do to make an impact and you are likely to save money at the same time. Always quiz your potential provider to find out where they stand.