Simple steps CIOs can take to succeed in moving from sustainability ambition to action for hybrid IT

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Executives responsible for IT infrastructure know that managing and monitoring it has become a far more complex and difficult job than it was even just a few years ago. The pandemic highlighted society’s dependence on IT and not just the IT infrastructure in data centers or the cloud. For people to be productive, we need access all the time, everywhere.

The term ‘hybrid IT infrastructure’ has emerged to describe the infrastructure CIOs are tasked with trying to control. And this infrastructure is sprawling.

As IT infrastructure continues to spread geographically and increase in complexity, “edge deployments” (yesterday’s ‘server room’ or ‘wiring closet’) must be considered as mission-critical as centralized data centers. This view demands a different assessment on resiliency to prevent outages and ensure uptime and business continuity. It’s no longer just about resiliency of the data center, but resiliency of every node on the network.

Cybersecurity is also cast in a different light. CIOs must recognize that every device on their network is a potential attack surface for hackers. Managing and ensuring those devices have up-to-date firmware and protocols that follow company policy should be considered a mission critical priority – not just a nice to have. And it’s not only cybersecurity. Physical security becomes a new challenge in remote sites. Who has access and how do you monitor and video who is on-site? The first step in cybersecurity is physical security. A recent survey by IDC found the first challenge when transitioning to digital-first connect operations is security – both cyber and physical.

All of this IT comes at a price: energy and carbon

An emerging trend is that more CIOs are being challenged on the energy consumption and carbon footprint of their hybrid IT infrastructure. Sustainability is a complex topic as it is not just your own operations, but also tracking the sustainability efforts of vendors and service partners. How much carbon are you consuming and what’s the embedded carbon in your IT footprint from your vendors? How do you recycle all of your IT?

Deloitte survey of more than 2,000 global C-level business leaders revealed “many leaders and their organizations are struggling to embed climate considerations into their culture and strategy and obtain the broad senior leadership buy-in necessary to effect meaningful transformation.” Findings from the 2022 global CxO Sustainability survey show what was described as “a marked disconnect between CxO’s opinions about the need to act on climate change and the actions their organizations are taking.”

That’s unfortunate because the reality is total IT energy consumption is supposed to grown three times faster than the rest of the grid, according to Schneider Electric internal estimates. You can make an argument that IT helps reduce carbon, such as video meetings replacing airline trips and in-person conferences moving online. Even with those arguments, it seems inevitable that society will start looking for assurances that the energy consumption of IT is handled responsibly.

hybrid IT and sustainable energy

Hybrid IT that addresses resiliency, security, and sustainability

The seeming contradiction between business performance and sustainability is reason for concern. Most organizations are still working to fully understand whether their hybrid IT infrastructure is resilient and secure, let alone having a sustainability strategy.

When it comes to this essential part of their company’s digital transformation, how can CIOs get the right mindset? A mindset that will allow them to succeed even when the report showed nearly a third of CxOs surveyed said the difficulty of measuring their organizations’ environmental impact was a top barrier. To help overcome this barrier, I recommend that CIOs start the conversation and ‘lean in’ to this challenge. Put in place objectives and frameworks to help drive their organizations.

It’s important to get started because two stakeholders are already asking for sustainability details: customers and shareholders. Sustainability as a topic has moved from the conference room to the board room. Many companies are making very public commitments about their efforts and the smart CIOs will be those who lead this topic instead of being led by it.

How to get the right mindset and succeed

The first step is setting a bold, actionable strategy for your data center. This may mean overcoming operational challenges and motivating your C-suite to get onboard with meaningful changes: changes that are designed to ultimately have your data center operate more efficiently and reduce your company’s carbon footprint. Changes that mean you can accurately and routinely report on sustainability metrics. Put in place software management systems beyond the data center to the entire infrastructure – and report on it. Implement the tools so that you can answer the follow questions when your CEO asks: “What is your IT carbon footprint” and the next question, “What are you doing to manage it?”

In this complex environment, CIOs do not have to go it alone. Experts can help navigate the landscape. If ever there was a moment to get some outside help, this is it. Climate advisory services are available along with Data Center Management Infrastructure systems (DCIM) that specifically addresses the challenges of resiliency, security, and sustainability. Vendor-agnostic DCIM will work with your infrastructure – you do not have to change everything – and it goes a long way toward solving this challenge. Many companies will offer a free trial period – take advantage of those opportunities.

For forward-looking CIOs, modern DCIM is simplifying the process of managing these complex, hybrid IT architectures, providing real-time, data-driven insights, and machine learning capabilities to streamline the management of remote sites. Make sure the company you choose has a custom solution team to partner with for the desired business outcome. Digital transformation is more understandable and realistic when you have a team of experts working with you.

I believe when CIOs equip themselves with the right mindset and the resources to effectively manage their sprawling, distributed IT infrastructure, it will lead not only to their success but to the success of their companies.

This article was previously published in Forbes. 

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