Microsoft's 'green dashboard' manages energy costs and consequences

Once, businesses were interested in green computing mainly as a matter of corporate responsibility. But now, increasing regulatory pressures and skyrocketing fuel prices are spurring companies to want to take a very hard look at both their carbon footprints and energy costs, according to Jennifer Pollard, a senior product manager at Microsoft.

Earlier this month, Microsoft released the first edition of a tool aimed at taking the heavy lifting out of measuring the environmental impact of business activities and tracking your company's expenditures on oil, gas, and other forms of energy.

Available free of charge to Dynamics AX 2009 customers, the new Environment Sustainability Dashboard sits directly on top of Microsoft's ERP system, displaying information captured elsewhere in the system in easy-to-read reports, Pollard said, in a briefing for Betanews.

Information about a company's expenditures on energy might be funneled from purchase orders (POs) or invoices within the AX 2009 system, she illustrated. With this information readily at hand in graphical views, it grows simpler for businesses to reduce their energy costs and carbon footprints.

Pollard said Microsoft decided to devise such a tool a few years ago, after reviewing 2006 market research data from AMR showing that demand for environmentally oriented management tools was already on the rise in Europe.

Other analyst groups have pointed to the need as well. In a recent survey by Forrester Research, conducted among 130 IT procurement and operational professionals, 50% of respondents voiced an interest in doing the right thing for the environment, and 55% said they want to reduce energy-related expenses.

Microsoft has also been working with customers to help plan the dashboard, according to George Bock, vice president of IT for California-based Sole Technology, a leading maker of action sports footwear and clothing.

"Being an active participant in the planning process allows us to offer input that will enhance the program to meet our environmental needs. We're confident this will benefit other companies as well," Bock told Betanews.

Pollard contended that Microsoft's move to offer a database compatible with an ERP system is acting as a big competitive differentiator.

Respondents in the AMR study identified ERP as one of five technology areas most useful for the "management of environmental efforts." Those answering the survey also pinpointed the dashboard as a particularly helpful tool, with 56% of them describing a dashboard as either "critical" or "very useful."

In its first release, Microsoft's green dashboard displays data based on four key performance indicators (KPIs) related to energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The information is auditable, sparing companies the expense of hiring outside auditing consultants to assure regulatory compliance. Outside auditors can be a significant cost consideration for mid-sized firms, Pollard observed.

Company employees can access the data from directly inside new personalized Role Centers, introduced in Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009, which give employees the information needed to do their jobs. Microsoft's new dashboard is also compatible with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 and SharePoint Services 3.0, for portal views of the green reports.

Initially, the dashboard will typically be implemented for customers by Microsoft partners specializing in Dynamics AX. "But we plan over time to deliver KPIs out of the box," Pollard revealed. Microsoft is also looking at expanding the numbers of performance indicators that can be measured and viewed.

Yet the dashboard's future directions will be impacted, too, by business customers such as Bock who are implementing the tool. Bock told Betanews that Sole Technology expects to test the dashboard next year, following his company's deployment of the 2009 edition of Dynamics AX.

"If there is room for improvement, then we are a company that can provide significant feedback, as we have been working in the environmental arena for some time," said Sole's VP of IT.

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