How digital technologies can fuel sustainable disruption

11 November 2021 | Pankaj Sharma

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Pankaj Sharma

Blog Author | Guest contributor

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Pankaj Sharma, EVP, secure power, Schneider Electric, says there are three key factors that will be crucial for driving sustainable disruption – and for leaders steering the course

Digitalisation and electrification have long been paramount in the quest to decarbonise. Climate change has become one of the greatest challenges of our generation. From C-level professionals to consumers, sustainability has become a focal point of decision-making.

As more businesses begin to take climate action globally, digital technologies have, in many respects, become our greatest ally. From unlocking business innovation, to reducing carbon emissions, data – and the insights that we can gain from it – remain crucial. Importantly, with digital dependency accelerating at a rate we have never seen, I believe now is the time for us to use innovative technology to fuel positive disruption, and to transform the way in which many industries operate.

Fuelling sustainable disruption

Right now, entire sectors – from construction and agriculture to industrial manufacturing, data centres and the electrical grid – are harnessing both renewable energy and technological innovation as a means of driving sustainable change. With net zero deadlines getting closer, fast-tracking the development of a green and digital future requires bold action and, importantly, more businesses need to embrace disruptive technology.

For many organisations, cloud computing, data centres and edge infrastructure have indeed become critical to their operations. During the pandemic, these technologies played a huge role in powering the digital economy. As we emerge into a new hybrid world, it’s clear they will become even more crucial.

Digitalisation in the form of edge computing has already begun to disrupt and become synonymous with segments such as retail, food, and beverage, where kiosks and automated payment systems are transforming both the speed of transactions and the experience of consumers in-store. Within process-driven sectors such as industrial manufacturing, increased levels of automation, advanced robotics, AI and machine learning are also driving unprecedented change, much of which remains dependent on secure and resilient edge technologies.

The advent of 5G is another focal point, and one well known for its edge dependency. 5G has given us access to faster, better connected, and more immersive experiences, unlocking the digital world in new and exciting ways, but at the same time increasing our consumption of data 10-fold.

It’s clear to me that for many businesses undergoing digital transformation, embracing disruption has become pivotal in boosting productivity, profitability and in identifying new opportunities for growth. Yet, building out these technologies in a sustainable and resilient way needs greater attention. Technology must be used to fuel purposeful, sustainable transformation, but how can businesses achieve it?

Purposeful digitalisation

At a fundamental level, technologies – especially those at the edge – can help business leaders leverage digitalisation to support a sustainable purpose. Our own research has found IT energy demands, those pivotal in driving purposeful digitalisation, could increase 50% by 2030, signalling a step-change to decision-makers globally. As a result, I believe there are three key factors that will be crucial in driving sustainable disruption, and for leaders hoping to harness the power of digitalisation.

The first is to combine digitalisation, innovation, and purpose. Digitalising processes and adopting new technology will unlock revenue streams and change the dynamics of many business models. However, it is incumbent on those embracing the technology to enable this to ensure that other stakeholders within their ecosystem will benefit from this change. When deploying greater volumes of IT at the edge, for example, doing so methodically and adhering to engineering principles that include pre-integration and standardisation, will ensure we take steps to avoid the next great emissions challenge, and that energy consumption is controlled.

Second, data quality is critical and remains central to any digital transformation initiative. Understanding which facets of a business demand change, and creating a technological strategy to enable it, requires careful analysis. Here, data-driven insights can inform the way a business creates a purposeful strategy. The quality of information remains pivotal, however, and any leaders undergoing digital transformation should ensure they use high-quality data to inform their decision-making, thus ensuring they can meet business, environmental and social goals.

Third, leaders must empower individuals to find their own purpose. Pursuing any goal to disrupt or change an industry requires that business leaders empower the individuals within their organisation to find their own purpose. Here, leadership must provide the tools, including the disruptive technologies, to help their teams fulfil their ambitions, and give them the autonomy to act.

There is no need for trade-offs when pursuing a purpose, and technology remains our enabler. As we look forward, our ability to remain resilient in the face of challenging circumstances will require greater digitalisation, sustainable technologies and visionary leadership.