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How La Poste Saves $7 Million a Year In IT Energy Costs

<p>France's second-largest package delivery service recently undertook a comprehensive PC power management project. Here's what went right -- and wrong -- and five tips that can help your company achieve the same level of savings.</p>

Imagine keeping your car at full throttle in your driveway to shave a few minutes off your commute. Imagine leaving your auto at full throttle in your employer's parking lot so you could make a quick dash out to run errands at lunch. Or installing a V-8 engine in your small commuter car, even though you rarely travel at speeds greater than 55 mph.

Although we would balk at anything as wasteful as running our car when parked or supping up our small commuter car, many of us without realizing it do something similar at work with our PCs.

Under-utilization of PCs is common in most organizations. Research by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found three primary causes:

1. Most people do not turn-off their computers before leaving on evenings or weekends.
2. Even when in the office, most roles include a significant amount of time attending meetings or other non-computer work.
3. High performance PCs are overkill for most office applications. Checking email and preparing simple office documents barely uses the PC computing capabilities. In general, the more computing power, the more energy the PC will consume.

Different than cars that are equipped with a quick start ignition and a throttle to provide power as needed, PCs are relatively undeveloped. There are, however, PC energy management tools that provide a 40 to 60 percent reduction of energy costs coupled with a 12 month pay-back on the initial investment.

That's what Philippe Charpentier, former Director of Strategy and Innovation for La Poste, found when he started researching potential green projects in late 2009. La Poste is France's deregulated postal service. In addition, La Poste has diversified to become Europe's second largest package delivery service and provider of banking and insurance services to nearly 30 million consumers.

After reviewing IT best practices at over 50 global firms, Charpentier reported, "One of the most attractive projects for La Poste's green portfolio was PC energy management." La Poste manages 180,000 PCs that sat mostly idle, yet still used as much electricity as if they were fully engaged in a difficult computing problem.

After settling on PC energy management as a priority, Charpentier and his team uncovered more than 30 suppliers. His team selected a new player, AVOB (Alternative Vision of Business), with a unique approach to the problem.

"The AVOB solution does what other solutions do by automatically putting the PC into low energy mode when inactive after a specified amount of time," Charpentier explained. "That saved La Poste 50 percent on average. What AVOB does differently is to also automatically adapt power consumption of the PC depending on the task to save an additional 10 to 20 percent on the energy consumed."

With adaptive power consumption, when a PC is completing a simple task such as responding to email and requires little computational resources, AVOB automatically dials down the power. When the PC switches to a complex task such as regression analysis on a large spreadsheet, AVOB automatically dials up the power.

La Poste started its rollout in late 2010 and installed several hundred PCs with the new energy management solution with plans to roll-out 20,000 PCs in 2011 and complete the fleet in 2013.

5 Tips for Successful PC Power Management

Charpentier shared more details about the roll-out and lessons learned by the project team.

1. Ensure sufficient number of PCs will be managed to warrant integration and change management efforts. Several thousand PCs were required to justify the project effort at La Poste, but the parameters of each project will vary and should be calculated for your specific deployment. For smaller projects with less variety in PC models and user roles, other project costs should also be less, making these types of projects attractive.

Also expect some reduction in project scope. The banking applications that were installed on some customer service PCs were deemed too critical by business sponsors once the project was underway. This reduction in scope resulted in only a twenty percent cut so La Poste was still able to achieve the project's original goals.

2. Benchmark the finalists. Schedule sufficient time to field test at least 50 PCs for each finalist with a variety of profiles to verify vendor claims for your specific environment. Tests should span several weeks to ensure that the full set of use cases is exercised.

For example, a call center profile is likely to be more active than typical office profile and may realize fewer benefits. La Poste realized 60 percent savings on average, but other organizations may achieve even more depending on usage profiles.

3. Plan for some technical integration challenges. The standard hardware and software configurations should be tested. Centralized software management and VPN (virtual private network) are sometimes problematic. This was not an issue for the La Poste vendor.

Even with due diligence, it is nearly impossible to account for all the varieties of hardware and software in the field, so some issues will surface during roll-out. Vendor support should be negotiated upfront and customer references checked that the supplier is responsive and capable to handle new requirements quickly. One specific PC chipset had issues (this particular chipset is perennially problematic at La Poste). The vendor resolved the problem expeditiously in 2 to 3 weeks.

4. Make the energy management tool Prius-like. The Toyota Prius, the first successful automobile hybrid, purposefully avoided requiring the driver to make any changes. The Prius drove like a standard vehicle. Likewise, PC management should be unobtrusive and the PC should seamlessly manage power and resume activities as needed. Long "boot time" -- the time required to restart the PC when shut down -- is a perennial complaint that was resolved with smart sleep feature provided by the tool.

In addition, the Prius provided an easy-to-use dashboard to provide feedback. La Poste users appreciated the feedback mechanism that the tool provided about their personal use and savings and team roll-ups.

5. Never under-estimate the importance of communications. The project team assumed that the technology was simple enough that minimal communication was required which caused some end-user confusion and stress. Good communication will also identify groups that are leery about such technology and help sell the tool to limit a significant reduction in PCs included for power management. Setting expectations with pilot groups up-front that some technical integration issues may surface, will avoid alarm.

The Benefits of PC Power Management

La Poste is on track to save $7 to $8 million annually once the project is completely rolled out. Back-of-the-envelope calculations found that the energy saved by approximately 100 PCs in one year is sufficient to power one of La Poste's new electric postal delivery vehicles for one year. All together, La Poste will save enough energy to power a fleet of 1,400 electric vehicles.

In addition to cost savings, other organizations that use high carbon electricity sources will benefit from reducing green house gas emissions. (In France, 80 percent of electricity is generated with nuclear power.) A similar project in the U.S., U.K., Germany, or China where a high percentage of electricity is generated with coal would reduce GHG emissions considerably. Using the EPA calculator, a similar project to La Poste's, if deployed in the U.S., would save 3,700 metric tons of GHG annually.

Despite the shaky start, employees at La Poste embraced the new tool. Unlike many corporate green initiatives that employees only hear about, PC energy management touches employees directly. Charpentier stated, "Providing a common goal where individuals could make a visible difference created enthusiasm, excitement, and teamwork" -- or, as the French would say, "esprit de corps."

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