Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Aug 22 2011   2:28AM GMT

Why corporate social responsibility (CSR) is important for CIOs

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

Over the years, many organizations have committed themselves to corporate social responsibility (CSR) as one of their important tasks. Many adopt this as part of their organizational values while some others do it as part of their corporate branding exercise. This task is usually undertaken and managed by the corporate affairs, HR, or the directors’ cell. The CIO is nowhere in the loop. But since this is an important organizational program, should not the CIO contribute his bit and stay on top of various organizational initiatives?

I am aware that all may not agree with my assertion but let us debate this point a little more. In my opinion, the CIO can take a step forward and provide his support to such an initiative and send a clear message that he is ready to go beyond his boundaries to contribute to important programs of the organization. Let me delve at a few examples wherein the CIO can add value; the possibilities can be a lot more depending on the organizations they work for and the programs they undertake.

Contribute to ongoing programs

Companies adopt villages, work with NGOs, or run their own programs as a part of their CSR drives. The CIO can offer help in various forms. For instance, he can offer to set up communication channels, to develop systems to capture data and monitor progress, to help generate information and statistics, etc. To speak from my experience, my last organization had tied up with an NGO to empower rural women by helping them start some vocation, for example, tailoring, handicraft, etc. We spoke to the corporate affairs department and developed systems which helped them monitor progress of each of the schemes including money spent, number of participants, output generated, money earned by individuals, etc. In another case, we helped develop a mobility solution for data to be captured directly from the field.

Making IT assets available for the needy

In all our companies, whenever the IT assets like the PCs, laptops, and printers get to the end of their life cycles, and as per policy, we replace them. The old equipment is either sold or given as a buy back. It is here that the CIO can suggest and seek approval from the management to give away the old assets to rural schools, villages adopted by the company, or to other needy groups through NGOs, etc. Since the resale value of these equipment is small it makes sense to put those assets to better use this way. In the last three organizations I worked with, I was able to seek management’s nod and we gave away PCs and printers to some rural schools and to others through an NGO.

Saving on energy consumption

Many companies have taken it upon themselves to reduce energy consumption, to seek to lower carbon footprint, or to lower pollution levels. These are important organizational programs and therefore it makes sense to make our own contribution. We, as CIOs, can help by adopting green technologies and by optimizing usage of IT assets to help our organizations to meet this objective. For example, in one of the organizations that I worked with, it was decided to reduce energy consumption levels as a part of its social commitment drive. The major contribution, of course, came from the factory employees who did this by improving shop floor efficiency levels, getting newer energy efficient machines, improving production processes, etc.

The administration department started the move to switch off lights and fans when not in use, and also replaced old incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). Not to lag far behind, we, in IT, undertook a concerted program to reduce energy consumptions in the data center. We introduced virtualization and reduced physical servers by over 55%, we replaced the old split ACs with targeted cooling systems and implemented power saving features on all desktops and laptops. We were able to demonstrate drop in the energy consumption by over 40% and the energy audit report was submitted to the management for information.

These are just a few examples of how the CIO can stay a step ahead of the others and pick up initiatives to add value to organizational programs. This also helps him develop his personality and confidence and puts good use of his talents for a social cause.

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