Greener government IT – Ideal Government What do we want from Internet-age government? Wouldn't it be better if... Sun, 12 Aug 2012 09:49:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 What’s the ideal way to get smart data about energy use? Mon, 16 Jan 2012 15:05:37 +0000 It’s a big and timely question as government and businesses across Europe get ready to spend up to $100bn on smart metering projects. In the UK that means the intended rollout of 53m gas and electricity smart meters to 26m households at a projected cost of £11.7bn. That’s on the same scale as the NHS Connecting for Health programme or the benighted late and unlamented National ID Scheme.

Which? offers up a good intro to what the smart metering plan means for UK consumers, along with a ‘No selling, just installing’ campaign.

But there are more issues. This is a huge sum of money to commit at any time and especially now with the country broke. Will we get good value? Is the £11.7bn figure the pre-inflation, pre-ballooning costs and pre Cook’s-constant estimate (the MoD rule of thumb is to take the first estimate and multiply by pi to get the eventual real figure).

Given this move is about changing behaviour we have to ask are the incentives right across government, regulated utilities and consumers?

Then there’s the data. Which? broaches the matter. As I understand it, the smart meters generate a highly detailed picture of your energy usage. The plan is to create a new company to which all the data gets uploaded. Users can then access the data through the portal of their own supplier.

Will the system be sufficiently secure, given what is at stake? And whose data is it anyway? To proponents of individual control over individual data this looks hopelessly messy, expensive and risky.

Ross Anderson and others warned early and often that NPfIT, the ID scheme and other vanity megadatabases were headed for disaster. So we’d do well to heed what he and Shailendra Fuloria also of Cambridge Uni now write in their very helpful 2011 paper Smart meter security: a survey.

It covers smart metering issues including security, personal privacy, threats to the infrastructure and fraud. As well as being gifted with a vast brain and clear understanding of technology, Ross has achieved a whole series of deeper insights earlier than others by focussing on security economics and analysing the inevitable results of perverse incentives. In this case, the authors conclude:

…it is a fascinating case study in security economics:
systems are much harder to protect when incentives conflict, and
smart metering exposes perverse incentives galore.

Of course we’ll all have smart meters or smart energy monitoring devices. But is the government’s great smart-meter project destined to be part of the non-ideal databankendammerung?

It feels wrong in many ways. It feels every inch like the last big project trying to sneak through before a new principle takes hold: the principle that individuals should as far as possible control their personal data. That changes everything. This project looks like one for the chop.

Thx to Alex, Vin, Luke and FIPR colleagues

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E-government is greener, study shows Fri, 29 Feb 2008 20:37:00 +0000 http://e_government_is_greener_study_shows Peter Blair from DCLG writes to say

I just wanted to draw everyone’s attention to a study report published by my department in the UK last month, which shows that encouraging more citizens to carry out business with Government online helps to reduce carbon emissions from service delivery operations – far outweighing any negative impact from increased IT server capacity.

The report is a world-first in e-government terms, in that it focuses attention on quantitative carbon reduction, rather than fashionable ‘green-washing’ about environmental performance. Not least, increasing citizen understanding of carbon emissions demands the communication of real ‘green’ facts.

Identifying new areas where CO2 emissions can be reduced is also a democratic concept. To paraphrase a recent statement by the UK Environment Secretary, David Miliband, “A ton of carbon dioxide emitted in the delivery of government services is as threatening as a ton of carbon dioxide emitted in the aviation industry”.

The report is also actively influencing current UK debate around ‘Green IT’ amongst IT managers in local government, away from a passive stance whereby the IT profession is portrayed as “a bad CO2 polluter which can get better”, towards a proactive stance of “you’re not green unless e-business is a corporate priority”.

A copy of the full report can be downloaded free of charge at:…

What do others think of these findings? Will this world-first quantitative study help in reappraising the position of e-government within the green agenda?

Many thanks Peter; I missed that, and it seems very pertinent.

The press release is here.

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IT is about to overtake aviation in carbon emissions Tue, 04 Dec 2007 15:05:07 +0000 http://it_is_about_to_overtake_aviation_in_carbon_emissions …reports The Register

Carbon emissions from computing looks set to overtake aviation, a UK environmental charity claimed today. According to Global Action Plan, IT now accounts for 10 per cent of energy consumption in the UK. Speaking at the House of Commons this afternoon, Trewin Restorick, the author of “An Inefficient Truth” report, said IT departments have been “incredibly slow to get off the mark” when it comes to reducing their carbon footprints.

I know what you’re thinking: yet another reason not to introduce the ID System. And yes, that’s exactly what Trewin goes on to argue

For instance, the proposed introduction of ID cards is a short-sighted plan which overlooks the impact the added amount of data could have on the UK’s carbon emissions, Restorick argued.

It’s not the first reason I’d have thought of not to do it. But any reason will do.

Government: the jolly green giant? Thu, 08 Nov 2007 21:01:00 +0000 http://government_the_jolly_green_giant Sustainability and the green agenda is an idea whose time has come globally, and it affects every part of the “transformational” agenda and the work of the government technology community – or so the attendees at a recent Ideal Government dinner agreed. The government is committed to it from the PM down, all our organisations are corporately committed to it and we’re all personally committed to it, whether it’s because we’re thinking of our children or because in many cases we’ve been told to be (and we do what we’re told).

The role of public-sector technology in this agenda is core to Cabinet Office’s evolving transformational government programme, to Defra as lead department, to large departments such as MoD (which already has stations going underwater). Local authorities see it as essential for efficiency and central to their duty of care to citizens. OGC leads on procurement and the auditors must assess effective stewardship of public assets.

It’s everybody’s problem and the downside is that therefore it can feel like nobody’s problem.The internal campaigners, formerly viewed with some suspicion, are now mainstream; campaigning organisations enter corporate agreements with global suppliers (cf WWF and HP). The Stern report, we’re told, had the global effect of making this a business issue, not merely a lobbyists’ issue.

There’s an argument that says the main weapon government has is its purchasing. If it sets standards and green criteria, the market will respond (cf ePeat initiative in US). The lead on this clearly lies with OGC, but OGC is not staffed or resourced to make green purchasing happen across the board.

The effect of legislation is not straightforward. The WEE directive put into law the idea that the best way to focus manufacturers on recycling and disposal is to make them take back waste electrical goods. But we hear that one huge IT supplier gets back barely 1000 tonnes of electronic equipment a year across Europe. Even five-year-old PCs have some re-sale value, and may turn up leaking toxic waste in India (as a shipload of ex-DWP machines recently did).

There’s a danger we get stuck on simple small points. Can we have ‘off’ buttons that actually turn our machines off? We have large networks configured so we can’t just turn them off. Sun says the answer is thin clients (to which Microsoft responds: what is the question?). But the cost of recasting a vast network like HMRC on thin clients would be vast; would that really contribute to sustainability?

There is a crucial question that’s perhaps being missed about public-sector lifestyle and working patterns in an e-enabled, carbon-constrained age. Overstaffed and inefficient working practices in inefficient buildings and too much travel are a far larger opportunity than ‘off’ buttons. To give a tiny example, the Cabinet Office, with 2000 staff, printed 35m pages last year – that’s 17,500 sheets per person.

One large telecoms-supplier-which-used-to-be-a-public-body which-shall-remain-nameless saves huge sums and tonnes of carbon with flexible and remote working and virtual meetings. When you have the right evidence, and know you can save £3500 per desk per year, improve productivity 21% and increase retention, it focuses the mind and provides a measurable business incentive for change. The change requires trust in staff and management. It’s a huge cultural shift; one person’s perk is another’s misery. It needs active and skilled management, and has to be introduced via HR, not the IT director.

For the public sector, ownership of the issue and governance are key. But today it takes weeks just to work out which bits of government cover elements of the sustainability agenda. Even then it’s not clear. Meanwhile suppliers are not offering the same services or promises to all departments.

The Cabinet Office project on this under the CIO reports shortly. The CTO Council, led by the big users, has signed up to a sustainable development agenda and meets soon to get serious about the IT carbon footprint. The trade association and a range of NGOs and NDPBs claim to be honing their plans for this agenda.

We need
– cleaner, better policies
– lean government with less travel and fixed office space
– effective standards and whole-lifecycle green criteria for purchasing (including IT)
– evidence about the carbon footprint and polluting effect of public-sector IT
– evidence about best practice in carbon footprint reduction and IT
– recommendations for what the IT community should do, which take into account the respective roles of buyer, seller and user.

Sustainability cannot be addressed in silos. The trio of social/political/economic levers need to be aligned and attacked relentlessly if progress is to be made, and made swiftly. We all see the need to win the race, but the question is who is going to go first?

Let’s dispel greenwash and measure embodied carbon properly Mon, 02 Jul 2007 16:01:04 +0000 http://lets_dispel_greenwash_and_measure_embodied_carbon_properly John Thakara who does the Doors of Perception conference points out that

Carbon Trust and the UK’s Environment Ministry, Defra, have joined with the British Standards Institution (BSI) to develop a standard method for measuring the embodied green house gas (GHG) emissions in products and services. Once completed, a “Publicly Available Specification” (PAS) will ensure a consistent and comparable approach to supply chain measurement of embodied GHGs across markets. There’s a way to go, of course, before the problem of “greenwash” disappears. But PAS creates an important part of the architecture for a global system that will enable people to make a meaningful comparison between whole-system enviromental performance of competing products and services.

More at Defra

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Some thoughts about “greener government IT” Sun, 01 Jul 2007 19:39:04 +0000 http://some_thoughts_about_greener_government_it We had an Ideal Government discussion about public-sector IT and environmental sustainability focussed on four areas:

• Contribution to the science of climate change;
• Monitoring and supporting response to climate change;
• Reducing the direct environmental impact of IT; and
• Using IT to change lifestyles and working patterns.

The planet is under strain with an extraordinary acceleration of environmental change. How much is driven by human behaviour and how much by natural evolution will continue to be debated, but after three IPCC reports and the Stern report the nay-sayers are on the run. We’ve “crossed the bridge”, with a considerable turn-round in public opinion, including corporate sentiment in the US. There’s also a strong self-interest argument for India and China, whose history can be seen as a series of perturbations caused by climate change.

Carbon levels are the highest for 650,000 years. Left unchecked we’ll end up with a very different configuration of land and sea from today. Climate destabilisation will have drastic effects on infrastructure (are reservoirs in the right place? can sewers cope?), biodiversity including micro-organisms, and will cause mass migration from stricken areas. Sea levels will rise dramatically, wet areas will become dry, cold areas hot and vice versa.

We have to understand and accept this, monitor a plethora of variables, reduce emissions and change our behaviour if we are to try to maintain any sort of equilibrium. The UK can’t afford to be smug; we use three times what the planet could sustain compared to the US’s five times. And while we may claim to be responsible for just 2% of carbon outputs that’s because we produce so little. Our consumption is far higher, causing higher emissions in manufacturing countries.

What is the role of IT?

The role of the £17bn public-sector IT community seems to fall into four areas:

1. Understanding the science

The science of understanding climate destabilisation is critically dependent on IT to run climate change models and help experts forecast the evolution of eco-systems.

But IT must be servant and not the master, an enabler and not the solution. When we’re utterly dependent on IT a small disruption has huge effects, such as electricity supply disruptions or fuel shortages. An IT-driven society may be responsive but it is still amazingly vulnerable.

2. Monitoring the effects

It’s hard, even with IT, to downscale central global forecasts to a local level. But it’s increasingly possible with the net to build the models bottom up with local monitoring on a social networking model. It doesn’t need government to be good at this (which is just as well) because it will happen anyway.

3. The carbon footprint of government IT

The issues here include power consumption, standby mode, screen brightness, server farms which can use the power of a small town, thin client versus fat desktop (Sun v Microsoft by another name), disposal of hardware (on which the NAO is shortly to report). We’re not consistent about the role of environmental criteria in procurement models, and don’t for example reflect the true carbon cost of outsourcing or offshoring.

4. Changing lifestyles and working practices

“Ideal” Government is likely to be a smaller number of people working in a rationalised number of sustainable office buildings. It’s a huge organisational land management challenge and effective IT and comms are central to it. Corporate examples include GE and M&S.

So what’s happening? EGU is adding a “green issues” work strand to its Transformational Government policy and will report on this aspect in the next annual review. Defra is the natural “lead” department in this area, and Defra’s Chris Chant the lead CIO. The trade association Intellect promises a new strand of “green IT” work. NAO is on the case, and OGC may be doing something, we’re not quite sure.

Procurement is crucial. The choice is to mandate “green” requirements, or leave room for competitive differentiation. What makes no sense is to say we want “green” ideas and bids then award contracts to the lowest cost provider regardless of green considerations.

The “Ideal Government” community has to get our heads around this, and get on with it. Suppliers need to find their voice. Government needs to lead where it can. We have to break the huge challenge up into manageable parts.

Initial specific suggestions are:

– Include a “price of carbon” in procurement models
– Model the carbon footprint of government IT as a whole
– (including, just for fun, the ID card scheme: database, cards, network traffic, card readers, journeys to interrogation interviews and all the hot air emitted attacking and defending it)
– Map everything, especially infrastructure assets, for when we model climate change effects or adapt to their aftermath
– Create an education programme, perhaps starting just with a “Manual” for greener IT use in government (eg from EGU. OGC or Socitm)
– A greener government IT blog such as this one here to share news, developments and ideas, disseminate good practice and “quick wins”
– a Government Computing “green innovator” award

We said we’d revisit the theme in December. Ends.


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Greener government IT: what’s the story? Sun, 01 Jul 2007 11:50:00 +0000 http://greener_government_it_whats_the_story A BBC story about the e-waste directive (WEEE) prompts the question about what we really want from government’s use of IT is from the green/sustainability perspective, and how far present practice is from ideal.

The NAO is about to report on disposal and recycling of IT. The trade association is making rumblings about this (and there is, let’s face it, a great deal of scope for them to do better than they have over identity management, surveillance and data sharing).

My mate Chris points out that government IT and the green agenda intersect in four ways:

i) the science of climate change is very IT-dependent (modelling etc)
ii) IT will be essential for monitoring and responding destabilising weather, environmental degradation and mitigation of damage
iii) government IT uses a lot of electricity and fills a lot of landfill sites. A big server farm uses as much juice as a small town (so cancel the ID Scheme on environmental reasons alone)
iv) Ideal Government (by which we mean intelligently e-enabled services, designed for customers, drawing on quick wins where possible and built on a foundation of trust) will involve less staff, fewer offices, less travel, more efficiency and self-service.

In anticipation of a storm of hot Ideal Government Wibbies I’ve set up a new category: “greener government IT” in which this is to date the only entry.

This Beeb picture looks like the IT waste for 50 people. There are 5m public servants in the UK so I imagine we need to copy and paste this 100,000 times.