Sustainability isn’t just a buzzword for climate change activists. It’s a way of life marked by fewer excesses and living within the guardrails of what nature has provided us.

Digital transformation, disruption, and innovation topics dominate technology forums these days, primarily because companies of the past decades haven’t had a sustainability focus. Technology processes weren’t always optimized because resources were generally abundant and cheap, and human effort to manage those resources wasn’t scarce.

The Era of Zero Everything

As amusing as it may sound, we’re living in an era of a lot of zeros. With current macroeconomic conditions, governments are facing zero GDP growth, companies are facing zero revenue growth, and employees are facing zero bonuses. In the workplace, middle managers have been given zero R&D budget and zero budget to buy new software and hardware. We have to service and delight customers with zero investment and zero incentives.

Expectations are also going zero, which is making our lives challenging. Zero emissions and zero carbon footprint are dominating sustainability discussions. Regardless of industry, all processes expect zero waste, be it concerning raw materials, process/time needed to deliver things, or even discussions about throttling things on demand (hence zero server capacity wastage). Customers and external processes are trying to use zero paper as we’re digitizing processes. Leadership teams want managers to manage resources with zero downtime and full engagement.

Lastly, human rights efforts within the tech sector have come front and center. That means zero tolerance for racism and zero tolerance for inequality and our processes. Our technology has to be managed in a completely transparent manner so that we demonstrate zero biases in everything we do.

Sustainability-First Approach

Sustainability was always thought of as an expensive fad—we were trying to greenwash things to gain social and financial currency. But as folks started getting deeply involved in digital transformation across various industries, it dawned on us that sustainability-first is actually a frugal way of living, and it’s often simple practices that yield great returns.

In this section, various automation topics and practices will be discussed that can help every enterprise’s sustainability goals:

  • Sustainability metrics and reliable datasets: For any organization to track its carbon footprint and manage its sustainability targets, it’s necessary to keep track of various sustainability key performance indicators (KPIs)—such as CO2 footprint and percentages for waste, usage of harmful material, water usage, energy usage, energy coming from fossil fuel, and unrecycled waste, to name a few. Additionally, for automations to be accurate and mature, organizations need reliable master data, which can power mature automations and business process management initiatives. It would be a good practice to make sure every new CAPEX/investment initiative demonstrates how it affects sustainability KPIs along with revenue and profitability KPIs. Both should be factors for the prioritization of projects.
  • Reduce wastage of any kind: Many of our robotic process automation (RPA) initiatives are structured around reducing time wastage—having processes seamlessly speak to each other, ideally without human intervention. This allows efficiencies of scale and less strain on physical and human resources. Waste has multiple dimensions; therefore, focus on wasting nothing, including time, money, resources, raw material, machine capacity, budget, business opportunities, and learning and development opportunities. The more you embrace reducing waste, the more efficient your processes will be and the further the gain to your bottom line and your sustainability goals.
  • Planned obsolescence: Hardware, machinery, and manufacturing equipment are planned through their usual depreciation cycles. Many successful Fortune 100 companies have critical processes still powered by mainframes. Companies need to invest in planned, gradual obsolescence so that they don’t have to suddenly invest a lot of money in replacement activities and experience difficulty in managing those projects. Even many tech leaders constantly need to prevent obsolescence by pivoting and reinventing themselves. Change is inevitable, but how we manage it sets us apart from the competition. It is advisable to have a near-term and long-term plan and set up a roadmap to keep your hardware, software, and skills updated and relevant so that we don’t have to plan a big transformation project down the line.
  • Forecast, simulate, and predict (FSP): With today’s FSP technologies, almost every real-life business scenario can be modeled in a virtual environment. Manufacturing and design tests can be simulated easily. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) simulations can best many other scenarios. Sensitivity analysis can be run on large data sets for prediction and forecasting purposes. Advancements in sensors and internet of things (IoT) platforms allow leaders to make real-time prediction models and adjustments so that fewer resources are wasted. Artificial intelligence and machine learning models also allow your data teams to give you actionable intelligence based on which leaders can make business process decisions and convert simple automations to hyper-automations. Digital twins allow us to model manufacturing production floor changes easily. I’d advise evaluating digital alternatives before making big investments because adjustments and even failure are less expensive and less strenuous on the environment.
  • Continuous improvements: In my early days of digital, most of us were mostly in a supporter role for technologies and applications. Today, many of our technology initiatives are front and center of the business model that the company can capitalize on. Nearly all industries have been disrupted by technology, so embracing innovation, automation, and disruption brings profitable dividends. Large process efficiencies can be gained with business process reengineering initiatives, which can be layered with hyper-automation initiatives. We should embrace continuous improvement as a way of life in our companies and encourage leaders to welcome change—big or small. Leaders’ performance needs to be measured by how much change they’ve driven.

When we combine reliable data, minimum wastage, planned obsolescence, simulation and forecasting, and continuous improvement, we nurture a culture of hyper-automation. Only then can we build sustainable self-monitoring, self-executing, and self-adjusting end-to-end automations that are bound to affect our sustainability goals.

Sustainability Is a Team Sport

Keep in mind that hyper-automation and sustainability are team sports that require a high level of collaboration across the organization. The vision needs to come from the top, and ideas coupled with participation must come from the bottom. All players in the ecosystem—employees, contractors, vendors, and agencies—must embrace the change. Only then can we power a hyper-automation initiative with clear, defined sustainability goals.

Subrata Mukherjee is a seasoned digital and technology executive for nearly three decades, with a career spanning Americas, Europe, and Asia. He is currently Global Director of Hyperautomation, for UNISYS where his role is to drastically transform the legacy organization with automation, AI, and Machine Learning. Prior to this, Subrata led automation teams within Raytheon, the world’s second-largest defense company, where many of his automation initiatives were in Missile Defense Systems, air and space, and corporate functions such as finance and human resources.

In addition, he led The Economist’s seven-year business transformation, marketing automation, and subscription transformation. He also led business process reengineering projects and digital transformation projects at Standard and Poor’s, Bloomberg, McGraw-Hill, Wiley, Citibank, Sears, and First Data. He earned a Master of Business Administration, specializing in Marketing, from Jadavpur University and a Master of Science in Technology Management from Columbia University. Subrata is also a skilled writer, blogger for CIO Magazine, speaker and panelist, and an ex-tech journalist for The Telegraph. In his free time, he enjoys fashion design, portrait paintings, photography, interior design, and furniture making. He is an avid traveler, and his pursuits have taken him to 34 countries.

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