Quocirca dropped by last week's Green IT event to wander the various vendor stalls and listen in on the clever, the confident, the clumsy, and the borderline confused that make up the mixed bag that are conference speakers.
Quick observation: it is fascinating how having the colour green as the theme to corporate Powerpoint slide decks now mostly overrides the use of the relevant specific colour of the company's logo and brand palette.
That aside, the conference mostly reflected where IT sees itself playing a role with regards to sustainability efforts. Most of the thinking today is centred on reducing the footprint of the data centre and the office equipment. Data centres have been calculated to contribute to around 2% of the overall global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, through the profligate use of electrical power, not to mention the diesel generators and the high embodied emissions inherent in IT hardware.
The strategic future of IT however lies in enabling the reduction of emissions that are the result of all the other things we do as a society. In effect, once IT has cleaned up its own house, it can help clean up the neighbourhood. In playing such a role, we will see accelerations of the trends of ubiquity and embedding that have already seen technology move into almost every aspect of our daily life.
It is likely that IT will play a large role in monitoring all the ways that our activities result in emissions, and in doing so will help us reduce them by educating us and modifying our behaviour. At the Green IT event, and almost lost amongst the big booth constructions of the major event sponsors, was a small range of fleet monitoring and management solutions.
Such solutions have traditionally found some favour amongst businesses with large fleets of delivery vehicles, or those with on-the-road repair crews. In the past, car rental firms have also deployed such solutions to monitor how their rental fleet is being treated during the rental period (much the upset of drivers who have been found to be speeding during the rental period). Such solutions are now being pitched as a method of both monitoring how much fuel is being used, by whom and where, as well as educating fleet drivers on "greener" behaviour.
Such solutions are becoming more ubiquitous and mainstream too. Fiat, for instance, is spending big to advertise its iconic Fiat 500, especially the eco:Drive feature. Fiat's eco:Drive monitors the way the vehicle is being driven, and saves the performance data on a USB stick plugged into the dash. Once the data is transferred to a PC or Mac it may be analysed using a downloadable application. Thus the consumer version of what has thus far been only a corporate fleet management solution has arrived.
Sometimes the most interesting uses of technology are those where it is mostly or even entirely all happening quietly behind the scenes. Computers and people get on best when the technology helps the task at hand in a manner that is fairly unobtrusive. We can expect that embedded IT will play a significant role in the future as far as watching what we do, and prodding us toward behaviour that reduces our overall greenhouse gas footprint. Meanwhile, it is tempting to wonder whether products such as Fiat's eco:Drive will ever go so far as to recommend that the best way to cut emissions would be to walk somewhere or catch a train instead of driving. No...probably not.