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KM supports green initiatives worldwide

Knowledge management is intrinsically green in many respects. Imaging and document management applications reduce the amount of paper required for business processes, and collaboration technology lets people work together without traveling. The cost-saving efficiencies that KM fosters often have a beneficial environmental effect as one of their by-products.

Knowledge management solutions and techniques can also be used directly in support of sustainability initiatives. Poste Italiane, the Italian national postal service, took on the challenge of reducing its energy costs a number of years ago. With more than 150,000 employees and 14,000 buildings, Poste Italiane believed that a standard energy audit and remediation program would not meet its complex needs.

Energy cost invoices did not provide enough detail for Poste Italiane to know exactly how the electricity was being consumed. "We wanted to analyze the performance of buildings, including lighting expenses and energy consumption by servers," says Luciano Blasi, energy manager at Poste Italiane. That required many measures of energy consumption to be taken in the field.

Italian postal service's energy-saving steps

Already a user of some business intelligence (BI) solutions from SAS, Poste Italiane opted to use SAS to support its energy-saving initiatives. "One reason we selected SAS is that we were bringing data from many data marts into one large system," Blasi explains. The extraction, transformation and load (ETL) capability of SAS was straightforward and user-friendly. "We did not want to spend a lot of time learning complicated systems," he adds. "SAS was usable by people who do not have specific experience in statistical analyses."

As a result of monitoring and modifying its use of energy, Poste Italiane has reduced its energy consumption by an average of 7 percent. In some buildings, the reduction was as high as 12 percent to 15 percent. The organization also used offsetting activities such as purchasing electricity produced by renewable energy. A software program was developed to turn off computer systems remotely from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. in order to save energy during the night. "In some areas, the outside temperature is low enough so that we have been able to pull this air into data centers rather than using air conditioners to cool the facility," Blasi adds.

Poste Italiane did not overlook the potential contributions of behavior change. "It was important to influence the behavior of our employees," Blasi says. "The workplace is full of electronic devices, such as printers, computers, scanners, and with the correct use of these devices, it's possible to save a lot of energy." Poste Italiane has also introduced a new professional position of building manager to monitor energy use at each building. "We are moving energy management into a more distributed setting, while still analyzing the data centrally," he adds.

SAS' sustainability suite

Although Blasi believes that some of the most significant savings have already been achieved and that future ones may be more incremental, the focus on sustainability will continue. "It will take a combination of technology and ongoing dissemination of knowledge to reach our goals," he says.

SAS subsequently developed a suite of sustainability products, SAS for Sustainability Management, in response to customer demand. "We were approached by a large telecommunications company that was using SAS to analyze customer data for churn," says Alyssa Farrell, worldwide product marketing manager for sustainability at SAS. "They were faced with reporting requirements for energy and carbon footprint data. We found there were some protocols for calculating how energy use translates into emissions quantities, and some generally accepted guidelines for performance management, so we incorporated those into SAS for Sustainability Management."

The Global Reporting Initiative has developed a sustainability reporting framework to help organizations in disclosing their environmental, social and governance performance. The framework provides guidelines and indicators for sustainability reporting; many companies use it as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) report. SAS for Sustainability Management enables organizations to measure, manage and report on environmental, social and economic indicators for CSR programs.

In addition, SAS for Sustainability Management allows organizations to model their carbon footprint. "The factors affecting emissions can be projected into the future," says Farrell, "or a company can do a ‘what-if' scenario, and see the impact of changes. For example, they could evaluate the cost and emissions implications of converting a vehicle fleet to hybrids, or see what would happen if they reduced the waste that was sent to landfills."

In the long run, companies should incorporate sustainability into their strategic planning. "Many sustainability practices are cost-saving," Farrell says. "For example, some companies are adopting new packaging strategies that are both more economical and have a smaller environmental impact." In addition, sustainability has another touch point-that of compliance. With a software tool geared toward tracking and reporting measures associated with sustainability, companies have a better chance of having the information they need to demonstrate their performance.

Measuring sustainability

Sustainability monitoring and reporting require an integrated view of enterprise information, enabling actionable knowledge management. "Sustainability touches every aspect of the business model," says Mark A. Serwinowski, president of MetaVu. "Organizations need to aggregate their data at a product and business level to gauge performance in the context of competitive markets, customers and financial markets."

MetaVu helps companies innovate their business models, products and services, leveraging sustainability as a strategy for value creation. The firm provides sustainability advisory services such as benchmarking and scorecard creation, with analytical methods that account for industry differences. "Most companies do not have the data in place to help them get a measure of sustainability," Serwinowski says. "Of the approximately 63,000 publicly traded companies globally, fewer than 10 percent currently publish a sustainability report."

Many sustainability performance management software products are available, some of which specialize in specific measures such as carbon emissions, while others present a broader view. SAP, IHS and Enablon are examples of platforms designed to manage enterprise sustainability information. Use of those products is on the increase as more companies incorporate sustainability into their strategic planning and look to software products as part of the solution.

Trends in the sustainability software market and financial reporting are converging, according to Serwinowski, with a shift toward the structured digital format XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language). "The next-generation corporate reports will allow integrated reporting of financial and non-financial information," he says. "In addition, more applications are in the cloud, and more ERP [enterprise resource planning] and BI products are providing aggregation sets, which also facilitates data integration." Traditional BI solutions can go one step further, integrating a broad range of data to provide comprehensive corporate performance management (CPM).

Green building

Buildings account for approximately 40 percent of energy consumption in the United States, so it's not surprising that a great deal of focus has been placed on energy efficient building design. HOK is a global architectural company that specializes in complex and innovative structures. The firm has developed a variety of knowledge management systems to provide easy access to content and opportunities for collaboration.

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