Keeping your business sustainable means monitoring your energy use

Expert says many companies are surprised to learn what they’re spending energy and money on.

TechRepublic’s Karen Roby spoke with Priya Vijayakumar, CEO and founder of WATTIQ, a software energy-use monitoring company, about sustainable IT. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

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Karen Roby: I think this is a really important conversation here. We’re talking about the enterprise. It needs to be more cognizant when it comes to energy usage. This isn’t a new conversation here that we’re having. It’s something that people have been talking about for a long time. We know it’s a problem. How much emphasis do you think companies are putting on this and on their energy usage and making sure that they’re keeping things in mind? Are they thinking about it, talking about it enough?

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Priya Vijayakumar: I think energy management has been very reactive in the past. We have massive buildings. We have lots of things and then we try to figure out how do we save energy? The reality of building a more sustainable economy means that we have to reduce our consumption. But it’s always been mutually exclusive, sustainability initiatives and operational efficiency in the business. I think if we rethink our approach to energy efficiency and energy management by just using our resources more efficiently, I think it’ll shift the dynamics because there’s going to be an immediate business benefit as well. I think it’s just rethinking our approach to energy management, so being proactive versus reactive.

Karen Roby: Priya, what does that entail? When we talk about working toward a more sustainable economy, what does the day-to-day look like to get us there?

Priya Vijayakumar: I think a very simple thing that we forget is we have lots of electrical assets. I think the number’s $400 billion of unmanaged electrical energy. We just don’t know where this energy goes, how to manage it. A lot of that is because we have this proliferation of electrical equipment, not just in our homes, but in the enterprise. We always tend to think of sustainability from the perspective of, “Was this manufactured in a sustainable way? Is it recyclable?” There’s a whole carbon impact from acquiring one of these assets, right? Somebody has to maintain it. You need power to run it all the time. You need consumables to run the equipment for certain high-end equipment.

What we’re saying is, what if you could use some of this electrical data from equipment, and then you think about using that same data to give you insights you didn’t have before. How often am I using this equipment? How much energy is it actually consuming? Because now you’re going to have operational benefits from using that data, not just benefits from the utility because you powered it off. That means you can think twice about growing your lab space, growing your office space, buying more assets. You’re leasing a photocopier that you maybe never use or use it twice a year. The carbon impact of building that and maintaining that is far greater than any energy you’re going to save by turning it off at the end of the day. It’s rethinking why we should buy assets, why we should use these resources in the first place if we can just use what we have more efficiently.

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Karen Roby: Priya, when people look at that data, when they see it for the first time, is it eye-opening?

Priya Vijayakumar: It is. They have these big aha-moments because they realized 30% of their fleet is barely used. You’re not talking about something not being used every day or twice a week. They’re literally not turned on in six months. They might be paying massive service contracts on this high-end equipment. Some of them are just left running continuously. It’s very much an aha-moment. That’s why we think data can be so critical in changing behavior. It’s just, we don’t know what we don’t know, but once you empower people with that data, then they’re able to make business outcomes and change behavior

Karen Roby: Priya, how did your company specifically get to this point when it comes to data and consolidating the data in this way?

Priya Vijayakumar: I like to joke that people want to save the planet, but don’t want to spend the money. That was one of the challenges with energy management. People are like, “What’s the ROI on this? What am I going to save if I turn off my Xerox copier at the end of the day?” There was always this disconnect between ROI to the business and being more sustainable. We thought we could shift that conversation if we use the same data to give you other insights that could drive OpEx and CapEx efficiencies. It’s really not so much that anything has changed in how we do this, but how we apply the data so that there’s bigger business outcomes. Now you can be more sustainable and drive operational efficiency.

I think that’s just the fundamental change we’ve made even as a business because it was like plowing sand and people would want to save money by turning off a pencil sharpener and then you’re like, “This is not where the ROI is. Maybe you shouldn’t buy the Xerox copier in the first place if you knew what assets you had and how to use it more efficiently.” I think that’s just the reality of it. You see this proliferation of ultra-low-temperature freezers with the vaccine problem. They consume as much power as a single home. You can imagine the burden that we bring in, in terms of resources, by using these high-energy devices. Most of them, maybe are never used. People are going to forget about them once we get through this pandemic, but that’s still energy that’s consumed because out of sight, out of mind. I think it’s just rethinking how we use our resources and having access to that data because we’ve just been operating in the dark without it.

Karen Roby: You said just a few minutes ago out of sight, out of mind. Of course, that’s the way we deal with a lot of things in this world, as we know, but is that what’s been happening here in general when it comes to companies and their energy usage? Just one of those things that they’re not talking about and they’re not focusing on just because it’s easier to do that.

Priya Vijayakumar: We just live in an era of over-consumption because we can. I mean, we talk about consumer-driven economies. We buy, buy, buy, because we just feel there’s this unlimited resources. We felt the pain of it during the pandemic with supply-chain interruptions and all of a sudden you think, “Well, I can actually manage by sharing this device with somebody else.” It’s hardships that make us reevaluate where we are. Businesses are rethinking what sustainability means to them and that’s what it is. It’s just we live in a very consumption-driven culture and we’ve always thought that reducing consumption means lowering the standard of life, and that’s not the case. We just don’t use what we have efficiently, and I think data can change that.

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Karen Roby: Priya, we know data, it’s like gold, right? Many referring to it, of course, as the new oil and in this specific situation, in this realm, the data really can make a big difference when people take a look at it and put steps in place to rectify their situation. It really can make a big difference.

Priya Vijayakumar: I think the amazing thing is this has just been around all this time. The technology pieces just have to come together to make it viable to be able to do this. Like anything else, with access to data also comes a responsibility to use it properly, to have the right context, to have the right security to do that. There are technology barriers that definitely have to be overcome in order to make this viable at scale. The concept of tinkering with this in a lab is different from scaling it to an enterprise, but I think the technology pieces are there, and I think this problem can be solved. We are seeing very large enterprise customers make a big push to be more sustainable in their procurement practices, in how they run their operations, and this data is making that big difference.

Karen Roby: Hat’s good to hear. Priya, any final thoughts before we wrap up here?

Priya Vijayakumar: I do think we have this opportunity to significantly impact how we evolve the way we use our resources and there’s much conversation around making things more recyclable, reusing. It’s all very important, but I think fundamentally, we have to reduce our consumption in order for this to be sustainable in the long term. Having the right data, all the way from the consumer to the enterprise, I think we can make a huge impact immediately, not 10 years out.

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