If you ask me

Our twin topics under discussion this week: the future of carbon trading and arresting the insidious vapidity of corporate IT mouthpieces.

Stop this so-saying now

Does anyone know where the annoying IT industry habit of starting sentences with the word 'so' came from? I first noticed it about two years ago, while interviewing the American CEO of a multi-national software company. The conversation went something like:

Me: "Are there opportunities for Linux in specialised applications that have historically been developed as proprietary bespoke systems?"

CEO: "So what we are seeing is a multitude of potential niche application areas for which Linux would be eminently suitable both for application development and as an operating systems environment."

Me: "How much of your annual turnover do you spend on R&D?"

CEO: "So we aim to devote between 8 and 10 per cent of our turnover to our R&D programme."

Me: "Will you need to recruit specialist skills to enter new sectors?"

CEO: "So we feel that our current core skills complement…" And so on.

Almost every one of his answers in a 40-minute conversation began with 'So'. Not 'so-comma', or so with added emphasis, just 'so', serving no verbal or grammatical purpose whatever. At first I assumed that he thought I was a bit slow on the uptake and needed an extra verbiage to help get my head round his meaning; or that it was just some irritating executive quirk. 

But then the 'so' phenomenon started manifesting at other meetings with IT industry executives and spokespeople, and found its way into presentations and panel debates at conferences; and it wasn't just a 'Yank' thing – Brits were saying it as well. The IT industry has long been prone to mass-adoption of silly buzzwords (think 'paradigm shift', 'rocket science', and 'core competences', et al), but I'd encountered nothing as ubiquitous – or as aggravating – as this before.

After a product briefing in which I had three IT company spokespersons so-ing in unison, I determined to find an antidote. I tried treating fire with fire. With the next so-sayer encountered I also started my sentences with a pointless and unnecessary word:

Vendor: "So one of the ways in which we add value for our customers is in ensuring that our solutions portfolio is highly scalable for enterprises of all sizes."

Me: "Anyway what market share do you now claim?"

Vendor: "So in total we have around about 40 to 50 per cent market share."

Me: "Anyway what vertical sectors do you have the biggest customer base in?"

Vendor (getting slightly flustered): "Well, er, so we have significant constituencies of, er, customers in the finance and retail spaces."

Me: "Anyway how many of those are SMEs?"

Vendor (losing it): "Er, the, er, approximately, er, 25 per cent…"

Me: "Anyway do you sell directly or through channel partners?"

Vendor: "Er, both…yes…"

I realised that my counter measure was working: the vendor soon stopped saying the word 'so', not just at the beginning of his sentences, but entirely, during the course of our conversation. I urge E&T readers to try this simple tactic to quash this verbal scourge. Next time you find yourself facing a 'so' afflictee, try this cure – and together we can stamp out this noisomeness before it enters the sphere of social discourse.

James Hayes is the IT editor

The future for carbon trading

Carbon trading can have a big influence on the bottom line and is here to stay. Its future, however, is uncertain, driven by emerging legislation for the period after 2012.

One of the most strongly supported mechanisms underpinning the carbon markets is a cap-and-trade system where the overall level of permitted emissions is set; companies are given the flexibility to decide whether to make CO2 reductions, deal in emissions allowances with other companies, buy certified emission offsets, or all of these. These mechanisms aim to ensure that reductions take place where the cost of reduction is lowest.

The three major mechanisms are the clean development mechanism (CDM), joint implementation (JI), and cap-and-trade, and are subject to important change.

This change is prompted by the realisation that CDM and JI originally failed to address areas related to emissions reduction, such as including funding for carbon capture and storage. There are also many issues up for discussion in relation to cap-and-trade mechanisms, such as approaches for allocating permits, links between emerging cap-and-trade schemes and inclusion of specific sectors into schemes.

Debate and developments on these issues will continue leading up to the last of the current programme of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change meetings, set for Copenhagen in December 2009.

Despite the uncertainty, investors adopting a 'wait and see' approach to investment decisions are taking a dangerous decision. Approaches such as our structured scenario development can help to reduce the complexity and uncertainty by identifying key success factors across a range of potential futures. What is important here is that a company's carbon strategy is flexible enough to deal with a range of potential futures.

At the same time as being flexible, executives preparing or making investments will benefit most from focusing on key areas. Knowing your business's likely CO2 risk exposure post-2012 is critical. What direct and indirect costs could you incur from changes currently in discussion or taking place? What additional revenues may be achievable through anticipating changes in regulation that open up new market opportunities? 

The geography of your business operations is also an important consideration in relation to exposure and opportunity, as is knowing how much ability you have to pass additional costs incurred through carbon, on to your customers. What impact would such action have on the competitiveness of your goods and services?

Finally, investment attention needs to be focused on the technologies that will benefit your business most, both through carbon emissions reduction, becoming a preferred partner for your customers and other companies in your supply chain, and through new revenue generation.

David Lyon is a senior manager for Arthur D Little's Sustainability and Risk Practice based in the UK

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