Thursday, March 25, 2010

ECM does not equal Green IT

There are two things that instantly get my back up these days. ROI/ Pseudo scientific IT calculations and the claims of the Green IT movement. To be clear upfront, I am the resident Tree Hugger at The Real Story Group and take the environment and our stewardship of it seriously, I also believe that information management initiatives can and do deliver clear and measurable results. But maths that only tackle one side of the equation, and Green claims based on hot air really do not resonate with me.

So imagine my apoplexy when I read an article today that claimed that you could radically reduce your carbon footprint by utilizing ECM software. Again, to be clear - my blood pressure is not rising because I don't believe its possible, rather it is because of the wacky math that is used to support such a claim. In this article (including graphs) the measure of success was the fact that this University 'saved' 347,000 paper pages in the admissions process this year. Instead of the paper documents, they used electronic documents. The carbon footprint reduction came through saving lots of trees (43 trees to be precise based on their calculation of 16 reams of paper from a single tree). This all seems like laudable stuff until one stops think about what is missing in this lopsided calculation.

First, and fairly obvious is that the University has not apparently heard of recycled paper, secondly and probably more importantly there seems to be an assumption here that electronic documents do not have a carbon footprint. No apparently, the toxic time bomb that constitutes a computer these days counts for nothing, nor does the power to run the computers, servers, data centers etc. No discussion either at the ease of proliferating multiple and redundant copies electronic documents. I have no idea what the actual carbon footprint tally for running a document management system is, but I know its not zero.

Nonsensical calculations, and spurious eco-claims are totally unnecessary in the world of information management - just a look around at the information chaos we call normality is enough to tell us there is business value in doing the job properly. You can build real business cases, and use real numbers - you can measure information management success properly and accurately, there is no need to wander into fantasy.