The current controversy over rising energy prices is interesting for a number of reasons. First because of the way Ed Miliband caught the government (Conservatives and Liberal Democrats alike) flat-footed with his pledge to freeze energy prices for 20 months if Labour wins the next election. There’s no doubt that the pledge resonated with many voters.
The response of the governing parties and most newspapers appeared to owe more to the interests of the energy companies than their customers (and voters). And energy companies like SSE, British Gas and Npower haven’t done their cause any favours by jacking up their prices in the meantime.
Anyway, from an IT angle, the saga has provided a couple of noteworthy points. First, there was the embarrassing Twitter car crash when British Gas decided to invite questions from customers using the #AskBG hashtag just after it announced price rises of over 10%. The company received more than 16,000 comments, nearly all of derogatory.
Then a government minister suggested one way to beat the price rises was to wear jumpers at home. Now, this raises a couple of points for IT companies. Should they seek to encourage their employees to wear warmer clothing to work as well so they too can save on energy costs in the workplace? If so, should there be an optimum thickness so that the jumpers don’t get too thick at that point where people’s arms bend (on the inside, not the elbow) thereby restricting their keyboard and mouse pointing mobility?
Should people be allowed to wear scarves and or balaclavas in the office? If so, should they be restricted to employees that are not in customer-facing roles? But if that’s the case, how will customer-facing employees keep warm without them?
Perhaps the simplest answer would be to insist, as a condition of employment, that everyone wore thermals to work during the winter months.
What about trying to save electricity on the use of IT equipment which isn’t subject to the seasonal factors as employees and their need for warmth? Perhaps employees could be encouraged to use computers every other hour and shut them down for the hours they’re not using them? If so, what type of work should they do when their computers are turned off? Or might it make more sense to leave the computers on and turn the lights off?
What about all the energy consumed by IT companies trying to keep things cool? How will they be able to reduce their energy usage to mitigate the effects of rising prices? Keep the doors and windows open on cold days? Or might they move their data centres to colder countries, preferably ones where the energy companies don’t have free rein to raise prices on a whim or whenever they feel like it.
Who knows? Not me. And I know one place you definitely shouldn’t ask: #AskBG
This was first published in October 2013