Just over two years ago during the height of the pandemic, I published one of my first blogs since taking my new role as the leader of the Secure Power Division and the Data Center business of Schneider Electric. While many of the learnings I shared at that time still hold true, the world is challenged with many new uncertainties as the pandemic talk dwindles.
As I reflect on nearly 3 years in this role, technology is the constant force that continues to shape everything that we do – from the way we work, to the way we build relationships, to the way we combat climate change.
The point is…everything is touched by technology. And while we’ve made leaps and bounds in digital transformation as a society, with that has come an increasing dependence on technology.
This imposes a whole new set of dilemmas, not only for data centers, but also for humanity as we look to make up for nearly 2 years in pandemic-related isolation.
As I am getting ready to deliver my Innovation Summit World Tour strategy talk which will focus on net zero data center operations, I want to highlight three key reflections as we work towards becoming a more sustainable world, but also a more equitable one.
Environmental pledges are getting stronger, but progress is limited
Sustainability has taken center stage as outlooks for our planet continue to worsen. While there is still significant work to be done to combat the effects of climate change, I remain optimistic as companies continue making bigger and bolder commitments when it comes to ESGs. In fact, 92% of the S&P 500 companies published a sustainability report in 2020, up from 90% in 2019.
However, given the rising demand for data over the past decade, data centers now account for over 2% of global energy consumption. For technology this is looking to ease the pressure on our environment, this seems counter-intuitive.
Recent research we’ve commissioned with Forrester among 1,000 colocation providers found that, when asked to rank their top business priorities for the next year – 73% of respondents selected implementing their sustainability initiative as their #2 priority – just after improving profitability.
As such, with new and exciting technologies continuing to gain traction – such as, the metaverse – it’s critical to ensure that data centers are 1) prepared for an influx of data and 2) sustainable and agile enough to match the rapid pace of digital transformation. In other words, our technology is only as efficient as our data centers.
Technology matters – but so does purpose
As mentioned, technology is a fine balance between digital and traditional – and as we’ve seen from the pandemic, people have reevaluated traditional working models as we knew them. Employees have rethought when they work, how they work and most importantly, what they want to do for work.
For example, working models like the gig economy and hybrid schedules show just that. The number of global gig workers is expected to rise by more than 30 million people in the next year as more workers are starting to see the benefits and flexibility of contracting and independent work.
More and more employees are making career decisions driven by purpose, rather than capital ambitions – and we are seeing companies respond to that by rethinking their own values (e.g., innovation, ESG, etc.). Sustainability is becoming more of a priority on both sides, but it’s also a challenge to implement and execute.
While this digital transformation has positively impacted the working world, I do think it becomes a double-edge sword in some instances.
For example, as I have begun to resume travel, I value the importance of in-person, meaningful connection that cannot be replicated virtually. Some traditional ways of business still have their place in the workday – especially when it comes to relationship building.
As new generations enter the workplace, it’s important they’re able to build the in-person professional skills needed to be successful.
It’s become very clear to me that we must walk the fine line between implementing technology and staying true to some traditional ways of doing business. This balance will be key as we head into 2023 and beyond.
Balancing Momentum Versus Disruption
In today’s fast-paced world, it’s not enough for big companies to rely on their momentum.
You need disruptive innovation to truly make a difference and revolutionize technology that ultimately advances sustainability.
Innovation is the backbone of any digital company and is what will set a company apart down the line.
A lot of the time innovation sparks advancements in major challenges of our time, such as sustainability.
For example, we recently introduced the APC Smart-UPS Ultra which completely reinvents the single-phase UPS category, further supporting the next wave of sustainability and resiliency in data centers and distributed edge.
Reimagining products that have been standard for some 20-years is helping us better understand where the IT and data center industry stands in contributing to the vision of net-zero operations and the importance of disruptive innovation in achieving such.
The key point here is we need to be constantly disrupting – even ourselves and our companies – to get stronger and smarter. When we rely on momentum, we do ourselves a disservice and stall industry progression.
Technology is a staple of every aspect of our lives – from business to personal and everything in between. And while we navigate the next wave of innovation and disruptive tech, it’s important to balance digital transformation with the inter-personal skills that will never be obsolete.
I invite you to further the discussion with me as we deep dive into data center sustainability and learn how some companies are turning their pledges into progress.