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A New Horizon Of Environmentally Friendly BI

by William Laurent, William Laurent, Inc.Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Last year, I penned two pieces for Dashboard Insight on green business intelligence.  In these articles, I postulated on how green BI would develop as a formal practice and ripen into a new market segment of business intelligence.  [I would encourage all my readers to check out these two articles if they have not already:

Although a little over a year has passed since these articles were published, many of the ideas featured therein have been echoed by some of the world’s leading BI software companies.  Make no mistake: green BI is hot.  In the coming decade ahead, it will be one of the most influential spheres of BI for countless governments and business organizations the world over.

At the epicenter of environmentally sympathetic BI will be a slew of new key performance indicators (KPIs) and executive dashboards that will be required to measure eco-sustainable performance and compliance.  These dashboards will be able to regulate, track and ration energy, while collecting and integrating power usage statistics with pricing strategies and carbon-footprint data.  Such dexterous and networked user interfaces will form a vital component of the “Smart Grid.”
In the Smart Grid, green homes will have access to low-bandwidth monitoring applications that will report on the electricity supplied to their homes by power companies.  This information will be presented in a number of intuitive ways (i.e., it will make peak-usage  patterns more apparent, break down consumption by room or appliances, etc.). Thus, electricity will be used and consumed more effectively and efficiently - reducing costs for homeowners, decreasing the chances of outages/brownouts for the utility companies,  reducing onerous in-person inspection and manual monitoring tasks.  Last but not least, building this sort of robust real-time distribution network can’t help but improve the long-term  prospects of the environment.

The shift to the Smart Grid has already started in earnest, as federal stimulus projects are now making efforts to improve and upgrade the U.S. power grid infrastructure.  Billions of dollars are earmarked for utility companies to retrofit existing power grid underpinnings with digital technologies or to implement completely new energy delivery stratum: from hacker-proof supply-chain networks to front-end Smart Grid applications. 

Taking business intelligence down a green road is going to depend heavily on developments in environmental legislation, both locally and globally.  While federal, state, local and city governments will keep relentlessly crafting new laws that deal with the environment; international trade agreements, trade organizations and accords (NAFTA, WTO, Kyoto Accord and many more) will also steer the future of sustainable business practices to a great extent, trumping the authority of sovereign nations for better or worse.

A New Horizon Of Environmentally Friendly BIManufacturing and supply-chain logistics of the 21st century have become extremely complex: The creation of a single product may use or draw on resources (physical and intellectual) from dozens of countries; materials may be sourced from one continent and assembled in another; people may be imported from one area of the world to satisfy labor requirements on the  opposite end of the earth.  For large multi-national organizations, if green BI is to produce a discernable return on investment, it must be capacious in its world view.  There is a lot of BI work that will need to be done in order to properly determine the exact “carbon footprint” of a particular manufactured product or service offering.

 In the future, billions of dollars will be at stake when it comes to computing carbon footprints and emissions.  Tax breaks and compliance penalties associated with environmental sustainability will come to dominate the agenda of corporate boards.  There will be simply too much (money and reputation) at stake to even think about neglecting green intelligence budgets.

Depending on the type of BI project, it is often a good idea to target one geographical area for initial dashboard rollout and data collection and then add other areas one-by-one.  However, for Smart Grid applications and large green BI efforts, there may be less opportunity for iterative or geographically step-wise milestones.  Massive amounts of globalization and dispersion of energy resources (and environmental legislation) is to blame for this inflexibility. For example, an organization’s green BI agenda may be dependent on distributed power-generation systems (DPGS), where natural energy (especially wind and solar) is influenced by meteorological factors over wide intercontinental or oceanic areas.  (DPGS energy capture and delivery platforms, especially ones that employ photovoltaic technology, are becoming much more prevalent due to drastically improved manufacturing and installation techniques; procurement and maintenance costs are now a fraction of what they were a few short years ago - and future costs will continue to decline rapidly.)


Although environmentally friendly BI is a nascent area of enterprise knowledge management, it is enjoying an increasingly visible evolution. And while there is little talk about best practices in green BI, there are rumblings, which are becoming increasingly more cogent and vocal as companies, governments and software vendors partner with one another to better enable eco-sustainable business practices.  Energy cost savings, tax rebates and abatements, and the desire to become a better corporate citizen will increasingly serve as key drivers of green IT and green BI initiatives.  In the near future, look for business intelligence thought leaders to perform a more thorough job of forming consortiums, hosting conferences and publishing  white papers that are specifically dedicated to green BI and associated best practices.

About the Author

William Laurent is one of the world's leading experts in information strategy and governance. For 20 years, he has advised numerous businesses and governments on technology strategy, performance management, and best practices´┐Żacross all market sectors. William currently runs an independent consulting company that bears his name. In addition, he frequently teaches classes, publishes books and magazine articles, and lectures on various technology and business topics worldwide. As Senior Contributing Author for Dashboard Insight, he would enjoy your comments at wlaurent@williamlaurent.com

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