The challenges of eco-responsible digital technology for the public sector

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Public organizations have particular challenges when it comes to digital eco-responsibility. Like private organizations, they respond to a global challenge to limit the environmental impacts of digital services, which are growing as much as public services are modernizing and rapidly becoming computerized.

This subject, like accessibility to the greatest number of people becomes a subject of exemplary nature for public services which, we hope, will have a vocation to have a capacity to train private organizations and more generally society at large. Eco-responsibility has appeared several times in the political sphere since we see elected officials who seized on the subject at the same time as political dissident movements integrated this dimension of eco-responsible digital. As a sign of this enhancement and of the new speeches / political programs, we now have an elected representative in Responsible Digital for the city of Nantes (France).

Beyond the environmental issue, digital sobriety also helps to reduce the digital divide, allowing equal opportunities for online content and services since a more frugal service will also be more accessible to citizens with limited or limited connection. an old-tech, low-tech or cluttered computer / mobile.

An acceleration is underway for the consideration and will become even more visible since article 55 of French Law n ° 2020-105 of February 10, 2020 relating to the fight against waste and the circular economy »Specifies that organizations must promote in the markets software whose energy consumption is limited during the use phase.

As of January 1, 2021, the State services as well as the local authorities and their groups, during their public purchases and as soon as possible, must reduce the consumption of single-use plastics, the production of waste and prioritize goods resulting from reuse or which incorporate recycled materials by providing useful clauses and criteria in the specifications.
When the acquired good is software, the administrations mentioned in the first paragraph of article L. 300-2 of the code of relations between the public and the administration promote the use of software whose design makes it possible to limit the associated energy consumption. to their use.

A digital eco-responsibility approach is a quality approach that comes at a cost

This constraint beyond the gain it brings also represents a cost because it requires integrating this eco-design approach into the manufacturing process and thus training the teams in the production chain in good practices, reflexes but also to measure, analyze, detect over-consumption and therefore spend time controlling, measuring, sometimes correcting; All the more so since this approach must take place beyond its initial manufacture but also during the maintenance phase in a context of technical developments often undergone and functional adjustments.

Should a Project Owner (MOA) expect its Project Manager (MOE) partner to integrate this approach spontaneously? Today no, as this approach comes at a cost, it is often risky to integrate this qualitative dimension without taking the risk of drifting or losing the market for a MOE candidate. The MOA must in this case integrate REQUIREMENTS from its specifications which must allow to qualify the expected “quality”.

The project management of the development project – maintenance of its application heritage must be fixed – and set for these partners (MOE, AMO, COM teams, …) – objectives = REQUIREMENTS

But how to integrate these requirements in the clauses of the contracts, how to manage them and how to verify them?

We can read some requirements:

  • The candidate must demonstrate in his response, his level of maturity of his CSR approach in his activities
  • The candidate will have to demonstrate his ability to integrate the digital eco-design dimension in his response
  • The candidate will have to propose / integrate good eco-design practices for websites

Often awkward or superficial, digital eco-responsibility requirements must be more precise and be oriented towards results objectives rather than means requirements.

What type of requirement?

Results requirements have several advantages over good practices (means requirements) because they absolutely validate that the result is good or not good without an expert debate, without a debate on the applicability of a rule, partial application or not, correct implementation or not.

They are above all not very dependent on technological developments and have the advantage of remaining on intermediate indicators that are easy to collect and are easily verifiable and measurable.

However, they must be accompanied by a repository of best practices, in the appendix, to avoid putting in place corrective actions to optimize after the fact. It is also a good way to involve the design and development teams in the process. These attached documents should not be too heavy and focus on generic standards, not techno or language oriented.

They have 2 complexities: they must be calibrated to set thresholds and they do not transfer all responsibility for the result to the person who “manufactures” (MOE).

What metrics to measure to cover the major impacts of a digital service?

A high level indicator comparable to other areas is the carbon impact expressed in geqCO2. The advantage of this indicator is that it is universal and can be shared by everyone in the company, with its customers, comparable with its competitors, in its ecosystem, with any service / product.

The carbon impact is not a measurable indicator but “projectable” on the basis of flow or intermediate indicators. These include energy consumption, network data consumption, display performance or the number of requests to servers internal or external to the organization.

In any case, the Carbon projection will be all the more reliable if we start from real measurements on real devices than from estimation or measurement on an emulator. This projection can be improved by knowing the routes or the type of material on which the service or the content is used.

How to set thresholds for a result requirement?

Setting thresholds first requires specifying the conditions under which measurements such as:

  • The technical conditions of the measurement: on a device type, on a wired / mobile / wifi type of connectivity, on a given browser, etc.
  • Adjustment parameters: with such brightness, with an empty cache or not,….
  • The use case that can be compared to a functional unit: one or x pages played over a given time, one or x steps, a journey from A to Z.

Setting thresholds also requires benchmarking one’s domain or existing sound in order to understand the values. By fixing such a value, we answer the 2 questions, am I in values of good qualities and are they attainable?

Means objectives can be added as appendices to the results requirements. A repository of good practices will have a positive impact and allows the MOE teams to get it right the first time without additional correction costs, but be careful, these repositories of good practices or Green Patterns must be instantiated by technology or by languages and therefore evolve over time. pace of technological change or remain very generic.

Example 1 of requirement on the result:

The reference environment is a mid-range tablet, with a Wi-Fi type connection, based on an environment …, on the 5 key routes of my web application made up of X steps, X screens, we set 4 requirements of resources. Each step must not consume more than X KB AND each step must not consume more than X times the power consumption of a blank page AND each step must display in less than X seconds based on the last element loaded AND each step should consume less than X MB of memory.

Example 2 of requirement on means:

The candidate will have to demonstrate his ability to measure / manage his indicators during the project and alert to a deviation in this consumption as quickly as possible during the project.

Example 3 of requirement on means:

The candidate must integrate good development practices at a minimum (annexed to the technical document). 

Validate compliance with a requirement in a project

Once the requirements have been set, they must then be managed during the project via intermediate points which make it possible to probe a partial result and thus avoid the tunnel effect. All these intermediate reviews make it possible to develop automatic scripts which will allow measurement to be carried out in a reliable and comparable manner and to be able to consolidate the test heritage over time. These views also make it possible to adjust if necessary and discuss over-functional or over-content or additional on-board intelligence costs between MOA and MOA.

It is in this validation phase that the result requirement finds its full meaning since we do not need to audit all screens / pages on a repository of good practices but just automated scripts during the project which are replayed on the finished product.