New research* shows that computers generate an estimated 35 million tons of the co2 gas each year – the equivalent of one million typical flights to and from the UK. According to Gartner, the global IT industry accounts for around two per cent of carbon dioxide emissions – much the same as aviation.

Most businesses now live in a world where the importance of protecting the environment and limiting their carbon footprint wherever possible is something that cannot easily be ignored. As a nation we are hopefully getting better at switching off lights, using less paper, reducing travel where possible and ensuring our offices aren’t being heated overnight while buildings stand empty; but during a difficult climate where the tightening of budgets has no correlation on the need to be as eco-friendly as possible, businesses need to start thinking beyond the obvious.

It is common knowledge that IT is one of the biggest energy-gulpers on the planet but as a business we all need to ensure that our IT systems are running smoothly and efficiently if we are to address the ecological impact it has. The IT helpdesk is at the hub of ensuring that these systems operate as required in the most efficient and productive manner possible. Despite this companies still aren’t doing enough to really ‘green’ their IT helpdesk.

Many companies still do not have wireless LANs or web based help desks meaning workers are unable to access the IT helpdesk remotely or via PDAs or mobile phones with email/web capabilities. This can be hugely frustrating and a direct conflict to the ‘greener’ recommendation that where possible, people should work remotely to save time and avoid travelling.

Another ‘green’ concept that was popular at one point for reducing travel time but it never really took off, was the whole working from home idea. Its downfall a few years back was a technological one; working from home wasn’t actually as efficient as being in the office i.e. slow connections, system failures. But we are now living in an age of widespread broadband coverage where working from home efficiently is a reality and not just a nice idea. For the IT helpdesk, being available 24/7 is often a must and so putting systems in place that allow the support function to operate around the clock (even remotely) is vital.

That said, many businesses are still working with legacy client server helpdesks and are not utilising the true benefits of web technologies. Probably because, they invested heavily in the system they already had and, were unaware that there are applications available that cost less to purchase as a replacement than they might currently be paying in annual maintenance fees. Unfortunately this is an educational issue and a misconception which does need addressing.

Setting up or improving the functionality of a helpdesk involves some important environmental considerations which can have an impact on reducing costs. But as a service function, and effectively an overhead or cost-burden to the organisation the reality is often reluctance from senior management, to continually invest in IT departments if they think they can get away with not doing so, as a result many departments are overstretched.

Senior management are also usually the last to know (or are harder to convince) about the real benefits of self-help features available from web-based support systems, in terms of how much can be saved in resource and this can be a real barrier for IT managers. From a ‘green’ perspective, less resource means less human intervention and although for some this can be a bitter pill to swallow, less people means a lower consumption of environmental resources.

For those IT managers that do get the go ahead to invest in the helpdesk, many make the same old mistakes. Some businesses refuse to believe that their workers will adapt to the new system, or they think they are unlikely to use the web features available. The main problem here is getting team buy-in prior to installation of a new system. It is vital that IT managers engage with workers and get the whole team ‘culturally’ on board before they make changes.

Here are some top tips to help ‘green’ your IT helpdesk:

  • Keep form filling simple (saves time allowing a quicker response to queries)
  • Ensure the IT team are disciplined enough not to pamper to constant interruptions from workers wanting their query to move to the top of the ‘priorities agenda’
  • Use the Web or nearest PC if out of the office
  • Where possible, avoid repeated returning to base (waste of travelling time, associated cost and carbon footprint)
  • Utilise the benefits of Web technologies (use remote management tools such as PDAs, iPhone, email ensuring you have adequate security)
  • Unused servers are a waste of energy so select a helpdesk that can run on existing servers and databases
  • Configure the helpdesk to use darker screen shades, a small saving in monitor power consumption but a constant reminder to turn off lights and save energy
  • Make sure that power saving settings are established on PC’s or use terminal services
  • Schedule resource to times and locations where support is actually required (this will only be evident after providing 24/7 web support to see where and when calls actually arise)
  • Give workers the trust and the responsibility to work from home at least occasionally (using a system that tracks the IP addresses of logins so that you know where staff are at all times, can help give peace of mind)
  • Get your team’s buy-in before making changes to ‘green’ your helpdesk

If businesses take these steps and get it right first time they can expect a happy, productive helpdesk and happy workers that benefit from 24/7 IT support.