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Responsible Computing: A Practical Blueprint for Green, Ethical, Trustworthy, and Sustainable IT

Technology is advancing at an extremely fast pace. Businesses are facing many challenges and responsibilities, keeping up with the pace and changes that come with it. Apart from the several benefits and opportunities, it also brings possible unexpected consequences, data risks and user mistakes. Besides that, there are now also IT related concerns related to the environment (think for instance about energy emissions and consumption) that cannot be ignored today. To deal with these concerns RCF’s (Responsible Computing Frameworks) are being developed. They give businesses a practical handle and blueprint to make their IT related operations more green, sustainable, trustworthy, and ethical. Although there is a lot more to be said and researched on the topic, in this article we want to briefly summarise the six pillars of responsible computing and what they entail.

The Six Pillars of Responsible Computing

There are six key pillars that deserve special attention: Impact, Infrastructure, Data Centers, Systems, Code and Data. All of these have their own different KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to be focused on, which we will set out below:

Impact

To be serious about responsible computing, one of the essential pillars is to measure and minimise the social and environmental impact of IT operations. The main KPIs of this pillar are the Carbon Footprint (measuring and reducing emissions), Digital Inclusion (equal access to technology and digital skills) and Stakeholder Engagement (understanding and addressing of needs and concerns).

Infrastructure

To run responsible IT operations, a focus is required on secure and sustainable infrastructure. Think for instance of connectivity and networks, but also hardware. The main KPIs of this pillar are Network Security (protecting data and systems), Energy-Efficient Hardware (reducing power consumption by investing in energy efficient equipment and providing a sustainable supply chain).

Data Centers

Without Data Centers, modern IT infrastructure would not be the same as it is today. In fact, it would be lost. But as the backbone of IT infrastructure, data centers also contribute massively to energy consumption and carbon emissions. Tracking and optimizing the Data Center KPIs is essential when looking at responsible computing: Waste Management (disposal of waste, recycling), PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness, to measure the energy efficiency) and Renewable Energy Usage (percentage of renewable energy sources).

Systems

Responsible computing requires a holistic approach to system design and management. It involves considering the social and ethical implications of technology systems and how they are used and implemented. Main KPIs include User Support & Education (to use technology effectively and responsibly), System Reliability (minimizing downtime and glitches, handling peak times) and Social Impact Assessment (finding potential implications for implementation).

Code

The foundation of software systems and applications is formed by the code. The emphasis in this case should be on ethical coding practices. Important KPIs when looking at this pillar include the Code Quality (to improve Software Reliability and reduce vulnerabilities), Inclusive Design (promoting equality and accessibility) and Ethical Considerations (to avoid unintended consequences).

Data

In this day and age, we are nowhere without data. Data is one of the most valuable assets for any business. Besides many other factors, the main KPIs that cannot be overlooked for responsible data management are Accuracy (to make sure accurate decisions can be made based on the right data), Privacy (protecting sensitive information) and Governance (policies and procedures to be in place for usage, access, and storage, complying with for instance GDPR).

So, what can we take away from this?

Of course, knowing about these pillars and their KPIs will not in itself bring any change to the way a business operates and deals with the mentioned challenges. But it is definitely a start.

The above pillars of responsible computing can give business leaders and managers a handle to deal with the many challenges and responsibilities in an effective and responsible way. Decisions with regards to IT operations can be made in a sustainable way, taking green, trustworthy, and ethical factors into consideration. While most organisations already have a policy in place, IT operations can easily be overlooked, and this practical framework can act as a blueprint to ensure the full business is working towards its goals regarding social and environmental impact. By tracking the KPIs, progress can be monitored, and improvement driven by the results of the Computing Framework, and therefore contributing to a better future.