Where do I Start in Responsible Computing?
By Bill Hoffman
Responsible computing is at once two ideas. First, it is how we compute responsibly, including how we write code, source energy for our data centers, and use data. Second, it is how we apply computing technology responsibly, which includes using computing to schedule fleets of vehicles, improving the efficiency of machine tools in a factory, and how you protect data. Where you start depends on your role. If you are a computing provider, you will focus on the former. At the same time, if you intend to use computing technology to transform your business sustainably, you will focus on the latter.
That’s not much help. If you’re coding, you may already be thinking of how to write code to use less energy, even if that’s not a requirement. If you’re sourcing energy providers for your data center or data center provider, you are looking at the sustainability of the energy sources. But what else? What have others done? What are you missing?
It is more difficult when looking at how to apply computing technology because you are not starting from it. Most likely, you think about return on investment (RoI) first. Happily, scheduling fleets of vehicles more efficiently implies using less energy, and adequately protecting data reduces reputational and financial risk. But again, what else? What have others done? What are you missing?
Your organization may have wondered about this more broadly. Perhaps in their organization-wide considerations of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) or of the United Nation’s SDGs (Sustainability Development Goals), they have started to examine these and move them forward, both for their benefit and for society at large. But it's still daunting. Where do you find concise definitions of what these goals are? How do you find resources to ease their implementation? And yet again, what else? What have others done? What are you missing?
What you need is an ecosystem. Specifically, it would be best to have both a business and technology ecosystem. James F. Moore, in a May/June 1993 Harvard Business Review article, defined the business ecosystem as: "An economic community supported by a foundation of interacting organizations and individuals—the organisms of the business world.” Technical ecosystems usually refer to a stack of applications that work together. Still, we can generalize that notion to an ecosystem of technologies that serve a particular purpose, in this case, responsible computing.
Within an ecosystem for responsible computing, you can learn what else you can do, what you might have missed, and what others are doing. You can take what you have learned back to your organization to help disseminate those ideas internally.
Moreover, you can contribute your expertise to others so that they can apply what you have learned in their organizations. That will help them become more sustainable. And, like these things, they will learn from what they did and bring it back to you in a virtuous circle.
Where you start, then, is in an ecosystem for responsible computing.
OMG announced the Responsible Computing program in May 2022. It is a business and technology ecosystem with members from industry, government, and academia tackling six key areas:
You can start in a responsible data center by reducing environmental impact with a more efficient strategy and design, which implies monitoring energy consumption and your carbon footprint. Using cleaner energy by migrating to renewable energy sources will also help. On the “output” side, you can optimize the reuse of waste from cooling and production. (Examples include using waste heat to grow algae or to heat offices.).
You can start with responsible infrastructure by designing infrastructure to deliver high-performing sustainable operations efficiently, which you can achieve by consolidating workloads that peak at different times to complement each other. High utilization levels, improved by consolidation, deliver more efficient use of energy and resources.
You can start in responsible code by aligning teams on software architecture, technology, programming language, and platform to anticipate, monitor and control the total costs of running, supporting, and maintaining applications. Balance the trade-offs between accuracy, speed and expense, including energy consumption of systems, to address the hidden energy impact of code.
You can start with responsible data usage by ensuring that data is of high quality and that the processes and people are trusted. Using intelligent workflows helps reduce errors and misinterpretation of data from manual handling. Quality data enables the application of artificial intelligence and machine learning to drive innovation.
You can start with responsible systems by building ethical, privacy-preserving, secure, and resilient systems designed with the environment, individuals, society, and the future in mind, which applies primarily to those who are digitally transforming their business to improve RoI. Ensuring a responsible system improves both finances and reputation. No greenwashing here!
You can start with responsible impact by leveling the playing field through sustainability and circularity, diversity and inclusion, climate, openness, and ethics. Again, this primarily affects those working to transform their business for sustainability and profit.
All six areas share underlying values and focus on ethics and sustainability. Together, they aim to create more responsible-computing providers by providing resources that educate, evaluate, and guide IT organizations towards reducing their adverse impact on the planet and prioritizing computing for social good.
Responsible Computing is a program of the Object Management Group. We founded OMG to create technology standards. Over the years, we have perfected a formula to identify problems and solicit solutions that members debate, revise, and open for comments. We repeat the process until the most technical and commercially sound ideas are ready to be integrated into products and systems, largely thanks to the passion of individual members and the organizations that sponsor them. We have an organizational-development model, with level-playing-field governance and access to the expertise of a pantheon of who's who in the technology realm. OMG now uses what it has learned in creating business and technology ecosystems to build new programs, such as Responsible Computing.
So, where do you start? You join Responsible Computing! And your next step is to assess how responsible you are. More on that next time.