Telstra, sustainability, and fleet management

Last week I had a very good briefing from Telstra Enterprise and Government about how ICT can contribute to companies’ sustainability strategies. Telstra has co-authored a white paper with WWF, and has had contributions from CapGemini on modelling impacts. It’s a very thorough job with some supporting calculations included, and Telstra deserves some recognition for it.

I hope Telstra won’t mind if I make a couple of critical observations though. The paper identifies four ways in which ICT can help make companies more sustainable – three of them (videoconferencing, teleworking, and fleet/fieldforce management are explicitly) about mobility, and the fourth (web contact centres) is more or less related in that it enables a more dispersed work force.

In discussion, I raised with Telstra the thought that video conferencing as a substitute for travel only ‘saves’ carbon emissions if the plane that you would have taken doesn’t fly – or if individual decisions to not travel leads to more flights being cancelled. Telstra argued that in Australia this does happen; in Europe, and perhaps in North America I don’t think it does. Here the scarce resource is landing slots at airports, and the overall fixed cost of operating the airline. If demand for seats drops then the airlines just change their pricing algorithms to make sure that the flights are still full. We need to have a better understanding of the airlines’s business models before we act as cheerleaders for videoconferencing as a means of reducing emissions; I’d be delighted to be put right on this. But ntil then, we need to distinguish between a company reducing its own emissions and a reduction in the overall level – they are not the same thing, are they?

I was also interested in the discussion on fleet management. I’ve been writing about this subject for almost twenty years. According to the suppliers, the business case is always positive – in terms of fuel and time saved. So if it hasn’t happened by now as a result of the logistics companies’ own self-interest, we must be missing something. I pointed this out to Telstra, who responded that this time the technology was really much better. I don’t think this is a good enough answer – after all, it was supposed to be good enough to make the business cases positive before.

Why don’t trucking and transport companies implement these solutions? Is it because they don’t act as profit maximisers, or don’t act in their shareholders’ interests because of internal company issues? Or because the suppliers’ business cases are wrong, and ignore costs that are apparent to the target market but not to the modellers?

Surely this is worth some proper research. Otherwise we’ll just be looking at another set of positive business cases that have no impact on implementation in a few years’ time.

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