Information Systems for Environmental Sustainability

IT, Resource Productivity, Environmental Preservation, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Why IS Research on Env. Sustainability is Needed

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Smart meters are cool, cutting edge, and promising. But they are also complex socio-technical systems.

So getting the service design right is critical (interface, business model, technical functionality, integration, etc.).

Here’s a passage from a response to the smart meter ordinance in California that was drafted by Jared Blumenfeld (Director, San Francisco DOE) and Ed Harrington (GM, San Francisco PUC):



While I agree “it is difficult to estimate with certainty either the costs or the benefits” that is no justification for not doing so. Approximations with high and low case sensitivity analysis – including guesses about the qualitative factors that may drive solutions to either end of the ROI scale – can be very helpful.

I also agree that “proposed Smart Grid features are unproven on a large scale.” IS researchers can help by examining system design issues, service design issues, cost-benefit issues, adoption issues, competitive pricing issues, etc. That’s what we’ve done for the past three decades and that informs policy making.

Finally, I agree that “poor technical choices can result in significant cost escalations.” However, attributing a key problem to the technical domain masks the often bigger issues on the people and process end of things (see Nelson’s paper here, especially their conclusion that IT project mistakes tend to be “people or process related”). Again, IS reseachers have developed a wealth of knowledge about what works and what doesn’t and how to avoid failure.


Author: nigelpm

Associate Professor of Information Systems, Stephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan - Helping organizations to navigate digital transformation.

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