VA gains granular view of impact of green IT

Tuesday - 10/11/2011, 5:21pm EDT

Horace Blackman, VA's director of IT services

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The Lebanon Medical Center in Pennsylvania is the first Veterans Affairs Department facility to have a constant and thorough understanding of the impact of its sustainability initiatives.

The center is using a new dashboard to measure how much energy stricter computer configurations are saving. The portal also gives center and VA executives data about its employees' carbon footprint and a host of other data points about how the facility is saving energy and reducing costs.

"We sat down with the medical center director, the local facility chief information officer, the IT folks as well as the folks who run the actual engineering of the campus and began working with them to make decisions and model decisions around telework, around things like printer consolidations, around things like device configurations such as when the devices turn themselves on versus when they turn themselves off and looking at server virtualization and really design a green IT program that is specifically suited to the needs of the facility," said Horace Blackman, VA's director of IT services.

Blackman said the dashboard presents the data in real time to let managers understand whether the changes they either are considering or have made will or are making a difference.

"The green model performance architecture is an approach for managing the various disparate green IT initiatives across enterprise," he said. "It's centered on energy savings that come from reduction in electricity usage, whether it's looking at server virtualization, printer virtualization leveraging things like telework, it pulls all of those things together and gives you one view across the entire enterprise's green IT program."

VA's Green IT Dashboard and Blackman received the 2011 Leadership for Green IT award from AFFIRM earlier this year.

The dashboard is one of several ways agencies are trying to measure how they are becoming more sustainable. The General Services Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are working together to bring more Energy Star and EPeat products to the schedules contracts.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality has been hosting green government challenges and recognizing agency progress.

VA spent about $150,000 on the software to develop the framework and dashboard. Blackman said Lebanon Medical Center alone expects to see about $178,000 is savings or cost avoidance by using the tool in the first year.

"In some instances, they have made some decisions after beginning the process to do things such as increase the degree to which their device configurations settings were implemented," Blackman said. "They are shutting down computers for more hours than they projected. That way, they are seeing more of savings. In many instances you may find that as you go through the process you may get more efficiencies than you projected."

He added the savings are not the one-and-done type. Agencies will see benefits in out years as costs remain lower than previous or continue to drop based on the information collected through the dashboard.

"Right now it's an architecture so it's very flexible," he said. "If there are additional categories of savings you may find it's very easy to really include those in the overall architecture. It's not a case where there is a feature set we are going out with. We certainly have the ability to adapt and change these things as we go to different facilities different offices."

VA hired a service disabled veteran-owned business to help develop the software. Blackman said the tool isn't proprietary and can easily be adapted for other facilities or agencies.

VA plans to expand the use of the tool in the coming months. Blackman said potentially to non-mission critical areas initially.

"It allows you to determine what works best for you and from that, based on decisions you have made and decisions you are looking to implement, what your annualized cost savings would come from your entire green IT program," he said. "Most folks who are running the business or running part of the government are very much interested in the financial impact of green IT. At the end of the day it's a business you are running and green IT makes a lot of sense because it has a tremendously positive impact on your ability to run that business. In this day and age in the federal government, we are not likely to see massive increases to the levels we had in previous years to our IT budgets. It's important that we look at cost savings and at a lot of efficiencies in how we operate to be able to self fund increases in costs as we go into the future."

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