The five minute CIO: James Deacon

7 Mar 2014

James Deacon, Ricoh UK & Ireland's head of corporate responsibility

Ricoh UK & Ireland’s head of corporate responsibility James Deacon tells us how IT can lead on sustainable business, help workplaces prepare for change, and why going lean means going green.

What role can the IT department play in implementing more sustainable processes into their organisations?

IT departments can play a big role by being the enablers of change within the workplace. Big data, cloud and mobility are technology trends that are changing the way we work, and these can be both a challenge and an opportunity for organisations. IT can enable businesses to be ready for the changing workplace by improving ways of working, collaborating and sharing information effectively.

For example, though enabled and central IT where documents are accessed and stored in the cloud, you can reduce the need for working with paper. Furthermore, with collaborative technology – such as interactive whiteboards where documents can be shared and worked on in real-time – you can reduce an organisation’s environmental impact from travel.

What kind of advice do you give to CIOs and IT leaders about this subject?

I would advocate being bold and not to be afraid of recommending change to the rest of the organisation. IT can take a lead in this area of the changing workplace and be proactive rather than reactive to the rest of the business. Sustainability makes business sense and in areas that might not be obvious.

Business processes can often impact the environment, particularly where they are paper-driven. Solutions such as e-invoicing can not only speed up transactions and reduce costs but they can also reduce the need to print and post, which improves the green credentials of a company. Whatever the change, it’s important to involve people in the change.

Do eco projects have a hard time getting support in the current economic climate?

Projects that are just focused purely on delivering eco benefits can be susceptible to scrutiny but it depends on how you look at it. I’m pleased to say that Ricoh’s philosophy in this area hasn’t changed at all in the last few years. It’s about looking for efficiency and impact reduction across the whole business.

Back in 2000, Ricoh introduced ambitious extra long-term impact reduction targets, where we could reduce our carbon footprint by 85pc in 2050 compared to year 2000 levels. Everything we do as a business is measured towards this target, but I’m of the opinion that if you’re going lean you’re going green so it doesn’t matter what your primary motivation is if the outcome of sustainable business is achieved.

At a time when IT leaders are being encouraged to engage more with the business instead of just focusing on technical areas, is there a risk that sustainability falls down the priority list?

I would argue that the reverse is true for leaders within IT. Sustainability is often a board-level commitment, with many CEOs placing their reputation on the line with sustainability. This could be for the benefit of shareholders or to help differentiate their company and brand in the eyes of their customers, or both.

For true leaders within IT, this represents a real opportunity to make a difference as their responsibility is a key enabler of infrastructure transformation. For example, Ricoh has developed a private cloud that helped consolidate nine data centres into two, cutting infrastructure costs and reducing carbon dioxide emissions significantly. It created an agile and scalable infrastructure across 35 Ricoh companies in Europe, and went on to win a Green IT Award for ‘Best Cloud/Virtualisation Project of the Year’.

It was put to me in a recent interview with a data-centre operator that efficiency comes first and the ‘green’ aspect follows. Do you agree?

It depends what you mean by efficiency? Is it processing efficiency or is it cost efficiency, because by taking sustainability into account when designing the data centre you can reduce the ongoing costs. Ricoh’s data centre took inspiration for cooling from a termite mound, with purely ambient air providing all the necessary cooling. The ROI (return on investment) on this innovative design means that the project has paid for itself within five years based on energy savings alone.

How important is it to set out targets in advance, along with readily identifiable business benefits – in other words, this can’t just be sustainability or ‘green’ practice for its own sake?

This is essential to translate a sustainable vision into a reality and ensure targets are achieved. It also helps to keep stakeholders updated with regular communication. As mentioned before, Ricoh has a 2050 plan that involves short, medium and long-term targets. All our infrastructure and business projects take this into account.

One of the biggest impacts on the environment for an organisation is travel and its use of cars. As a services-led business, it’s difficult for Ricoh to reduce the amount of miles it covers as it needs to visit customers on a regular basis. Therefore, if we can’t reduce the mileage, then we can look to use less fuel getting there.

Last year, Ricoh introduced a new policy to reduce the impact of its grey fleet of cars, ie, where employees take cash and purchase their own vehicle. There is now a financial penalty for employees who choose to run a vehicle over a certain size to try and encourage them to change their vehicle for something less harmful on the environment. At the same time, we’ve surveyed all our company car drivers to identify low, medium and high-risk people for further training. This is both to reduce risk for our staff but also to encourage more sustainable driving practices, as this is built into the course that they can go on.

With IT budgets coming under increasing pressure, how is it possible to justify what might be seen as non-essential spending?

It’s more important than ever to consider value rather than just cost in any project at the moment. It’s also important to see if any other areas of a business can be included in any spend so the opportunity for delivering value is increased across departments. Effective solutions these days are those that deliver in the medium to long-term.

Power consumption of technology is one example where savings can be made in the long term but might not be considered in the immediate purchase of equipment. If you broaden the scope of the buying criteria, you increase the opportunities to leverage as much as possible from the same spend.

Ricoh has put a number of sustainability initiatives in place over the past number of years: how did these projects work in practice?

An initiative that’s delivered tangible sustainability is around a streamlined managed print service within Ricoh. By reducing the number of print devices and using print management software, we have been able to reduce overall print costs by 40pc across Ricoh UK and Ireland, and 50pc at the largest office in Northampton, England.

What’s more, our @Remote print-monitoring software provides highly accurate, real-time management information enterprise-wide and down to individual users and devices. This has fostered a culture where employees are aware of cost, productivity and environmental impact of poor print practice. Overall, we have achieved a 15pc cut in energy use every month and a 40pc fall in pages printed.

Looking externally, we always try to help our customers make a positive impact on the environment, too. One example is a managed print and document management service we put in place for the law firm, Eversheds Ireland last year, which allowed them to reduce the number of pages printed annually by one-third, from 7.5m to 5m. That’s a huge improvement in sustainability.

In your experience, are small steps, measurable benefits and incremental progress the key to making these projects successful?

The key to making these projects successful is twofold: the first is to have buy-in from the very top of the organisation and secondly, you need to bring people along with you in the organisation. Ricoh uses change management to help make the transition and help ensure a successful project roll out. Of course, along the way there will be incremental progress and benefits that not only need to be measured but also to be communicated back to everyone to maintain momentum.

Are you aware of any sustainability initiatives – not just in Ricoh but in other organisations – where a ‘big bang’ approach worked?

Ricoh is undergoing a business transformation in terms of how and where its people work. It involves everything from building and IT infrastructure design to changing the culture of the workplace for greater collaboration, creativity and efficiency. This agility is also reducing our impact on the environment, as people have more flexibility about where they work, reducing the need for travel. By utilising Ricoh’s videoconferencing and interactive whiteboard technology, people can work seamlessly from any office.

This is also enabled through a central IT infrastructure. There’s now a universal network for people whether at home or office, and reliable VPN for remote access means there’s less need for office space and associated heating and lighting. There is a cultural aspect also to this that involves getting employees to save on shared networks rather than individual hard drives, so they are less reliant on paper and can access documents securely from anywhere.

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic