Q1. What are the challenges and opportunities for digital innovations for sustainability?
Extant research has been done on the potential of innovations in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for sustainability. The Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) has been researching the role Information and Communications Technology (ICT) can play in cutting global CO2e emissions and promoting a more sustainable society. Their findings suggest that ICT can enable a 20% reduction of global CO2e emissions by 2030, cutting total global emissions of CO2e could be cut by 12Gt by 2030, thus holding emissions at 2015 levels.
However, digital innovations with a positive impact on sustainability are not limited to carbon reduction. Strong potential is seen in IT-driven innovations with positive impact on society, the environment and improving people’s lives in general.
Think about the capabilities of Big Data and analytics, e.g. genomic analysis, in the medical field and treatment of diseases like cancer. ICT-enabled virtual conferencing and telecommuting and save employees time and money. Or think about sensor data that monitor and provide important information on dangers and risks in the physical work environment as well as the health state of employees.
Q2. Can digitization increase workers safety?
Accidents often happen due to the lack of information. Take the example of a maintenance worker, e.g. in a petrochemical refinery, who is exposed to a variety of risks. Here innovative safety apps on smart digital devices can be fed with relevant data from sensors and beacons in the plant environment to inform the worker on risks present and warn the employee instantaneously. This example demonstrates how digital technologies can increase occupational health and the safety of personnel. Furthermore, so-called wearable devices are considered another digital innovation that eliminate another source of risk; namely human error and misbehavior. Think about sensors that measure the level of dehydration or the pulse rate of workers in adverse conditions and high-risk locations.
Q3. What other digital innovations can increase sustainability or the efficient use of resources?
Another highly interesting field is Augmented Reality / Virtual Reality. AR/VR is an exciting technology for 3-D visualization and simulation, by which actual resources can be saved. These digital innovations not only save cost and resources but particularly time. This applies to numerous use cases: e.g. in a warehouse environment addition information tagged to the visual can speed up operations and increase accuracy. By simulating repairs in virtual reality, maintenance processes can be streamlined. This in turn can lower downtime in manufacturing environments and operations (e.g. motors, engines, turbines in powerplants). AR/VR and Simulation also enable and support remote work and training and thereby can also reduce travel.
Q4. Which industries are the most digital and why?
As the examples shared suggest, manufacturing industries as well as asset-intensive industries like oil & gas, chemicals can be considered front-runners in the adoption of digital innovations. In manufacturing there is are exciting new opportunities for digital innovations in digital to physical conversion like additive manufacturing including 3-D printing, automation and robotics, autonomous vehicles, connected Devices, embedded systems, . . .
Yet, also the consumer and retail industries increasingly make use of a multitude of digital technologies to create connectivity between customers, things and transactions. Think of the massive collection of point-of-sale data in multiple sales channels and the related analytics of customer behavior, the use of social networks to promote products and services, and the advent of intelligent products, like sensor-enabled running shoes and athletic textiles, or the re-ordering fridge; just to name a few examples.
Finally, the financial services industry is another example for the imminent changes in business models that are brought about by digitalization. Think about disruptive digital technologies like blockchain, cyber-currencies and others resulting in significant changes in the role of traditional commercial banks.
Q5. In your experience, what are some of the roadblocks to the adoption of such digital innovations?
According to a Danish proverb “it is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future“. Likewise, it is difficult to say, where some of the obstacles in the adoption of digital innovations lie. Broadly speaking the maturity of the technology may be considered a roadblock. Yet, technical feasibility is more a matter of time and more a delay than a roadblock. More important I consider the economic viability of the underlying business model and whether the digital innovation is desirable by customers. In this regard I am curious how some of the security and data protection and privacy aspects are handled in future.
Global Vice President
SAP Digital Business Services, R&D and Sustainability
Stefan Hack is the Global Head of R&D and Sustainability Line of Business for SAP Digital Business Services. Leading the LoB R&D/Sustainability is inspiring to him, as he is passionate about ‘Innovation’ and ‘Sustainability’ – two important pillars of SAP’s success. As the global general manager, he has worldwide responsibilities for business strategy, delivery, and personnel.
Mr. Hack studied Industrial Engineering and Management at the University of Karlsruhe, Germany and earned an M.B.A. from the University of Massachusetts. He received his doctoral degree from the University of Lüneburg, Centre for Sustainability Management. He holds several patents for his work for SAP and is a published author in the fields of information technology and sustainability. Stefan has more than 25 years of IT experience.