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ESG is high on the agenda for most companies. With carbon footprint data becoming a key requirement in various business areas such as sourcing, investments and supplier metrics for partners, customers and shareholders, today’s CIO has a critical role to play in driving corporate sustainability efforts. To address this new responsibility, it is imperative to move the company from a reactive approach to a proactive plan based on long-term thinking.
From recent interactions with many CIOs of F500 organizations we serve, technology leaders know they can make a significant impact on sustainability. These leaders have a multidimensional view of the many influences that support an environmental sustainability agenda, from measuring the carbon footprint of the extended enterprise’s technology stack to identifying opportunities to reduce costs and waste by reducing the number of assets throughout the company.
Additionally, change management is key to orchestrating sustainability initiatives across the organization. With a history in a changing tech market from mainframe alternatives to cloud-native and mobile-first offices, the Office of the CIO has the talent and experience to successfully drive large-scale project management across the enterprise.
And most importantly, CIOs have access to a critical lever to drive this transformation – data. Data fabrics, data engineering, data analytics and reporting are the critical foundation for ESG today. There is still a long way to go as today less than 10% of companies measure their carbon footprint and over 30% get it wrong.
A proven approach is now evolving across the industry, and the following steps will enable technology leaders in purpose-driven companies to build more sustainable business practices.
Build a business framework around sustainability
Leading companies have a defined plan for reducing carbon emissions with agreed thresholds at company level. Establishing and communicating the business goal of reducing the goal is one of the first steps in mobilizing change. The CIO’s role in defining the goal requires the alignment of multiple initiatives, many of which have their origins in highly fragmented and inevitably siled business units. The CIO can provide a company-wide view of the initiative and set a common goal. In addition, sustainability goals must be appropriate for the company and contextualized for the company’s industry.
Measure, manage and measure again
Looking at sustainability through a data lens offers the right leverage to change the paradigm. Establishing the baseline requires measuring the impact of the organization’s entire technology stack, including external partners and vendors, and querying, extracting, and reconciling data across external parties. Managing partners is more than just collecting decarbonization data – the decisions we make around cloud and procurement, or for that matter, the disposition of assets after a cloud migration – they all affect the carbon footprint .
Leading also means motivating employees to make the right decisions. Let’s take cell phones as an example. According to Cisco, 27.1 billion devices are connected to the internet — that’s more than three devices for every person on earth. Many corporate employees carry two cell phones. With existing technology, an employee can segment two different environments on one device. In addition, companies can completely separate hardware upgrades from a service contract, and employees can decide whether they need a completely new device or just a battery change.
Combine human and machine intelligence
Machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) bring new tools to solve some traditional problems. For example, predictive intelligence allows us to make informed decisions with corresponding predictions of impact, allowing users to make informed decisions about the options they choose.
Data is critical, but often hidden in unstructured documents, flat files, and even manual reports. AI really helps with data ingestion, extraction and classification. AI also helps with behavior change – with thoughtful and timely nudges, many of which we have perfected through digital commerce.
Apart from all digital components, it is people who make change successful. This is a truth no CIO has missed. Agile principles create a virtuous cycle by driving adoption, transforming organizational culture, creating stronger loyalty and attracting targeted talent.
Sanjay Srivastava is Chief Digital Strategist at Genpact.
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