Environment aware: How business can be green

Each week we ask chief technology officers and other high-profile tech decision-makers three questions.

Dan Matthews Dan Matthews: Technology can help companies assess their environmental impact

This week Dan Matthews, Chief Technology Officer at IFS, is answering our questions.

IFS was founded in 1983, and its core product is IFS Applicationsā„¢, an extended enterprise resource planning (ERP) software suite. The software helps streamline four core strategic processes: service and asset management, project management, manufacturing and supply chain.

The Sweden-based company has 2,000 customers and is present in more than 50 countries with 2,700 employees in total. Net revenue in the full year from October 2009 to September 2010 was Ā£230.5m ($366.1m).

Technology of Business

What's your biggest technology problem right now?

The whole IT technology industry is in the middle of a spurt of innovation, and there are a lot of things happening on a lot of different fronts at the same time.

So the biggest problem for us is to decide which of these things to really look into and to do something with.

To give you a couple of examples, just a couple of months ago we crossed over to 5bn internet connected devices. Today if you're connected to the internet you're also connected to all those services available on the internet - your Facebook, your Hotmail, those sort of things.

What does that mean from a business context? What business services could you be connected to? That's one very exciting avenue of exploration.

Another would be touch devices. The fact is that with smartphones, touch is really breaking through after being in the works for a decade. What does that mean for how we design applications, how we interact with systems?

I can see a huge change with my one and half year old son, who hasn't quite mastered the mouse yet, but he's playing like crazy on my phone because he can touch and move things in a different way.

There's so many things going on, it's really about which ones are we going to work on. Because some of these things are going to flop.

What's the next big tech thing in your industry?

The big challenge for us, and our colleagues in the industry, is to look at how we can help businesses account for the environmental impact of their business, just as they account for the financial impact.

This is really quite serious, because it's driven not just by consumer pressure, but we're seeing a lot of pressure now coming from investors.

You have schemes like the PRI, the Principles for Responsible Investment, which is used by a lot of investment organisations, and the big pension funds and those sorts of things. And as if this wasn't enough, then you have the regulatory stuff coming in, the cap and trade regulations.

And this really is a challenge, because all of a sudden it's no longer just the cost that matters when you do something.

When you design a product it's not just what it's going to cost to build it, it's how much CO2, how much by way of emissions, how many toxins. When you source something, it's not just which supplier is cheapest, it's which has the least imprint.

Where we're used to measuring cost all of a sudden you need to track environmental impact as well. It's a huge challenge for businesses and something that's critical is that we make software to help them address this.

What's the biggest technology mistake you've ever made - either at work or in your own life?

I'll give you one of each. Work-wise, and this goes back to the late 90s or around the turn of the millennium, we actually started to dabble in providing our own middle ware. IFS is, has been, and will be a business applications company, focusing on applications that support customers' business processes.

For a year or so, we went down the line of developing our own middleware and related technology to underpin our applications. That was a mistake since we were not ideally equipped in skills terms for it, and it meant competing with the big IT technology vendors in this space.

We soon realised our mistake though, and for the last decade our focus has been where it should be: on the applications. We'll leave the underlying technology to the likes of Microsoft and Oracle.

And privately, the first ever computer I bought was an Atari PC. Atari made great computers back in those days, but they were Atari computers. They made really lousy PCs.

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