How Digital Transformation can create a more sustainable world
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How Digital Transformation can create a more sustainable world

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By 2022, over 60 percent of global GDP will be digitized, with growth in every industry driven by digitally enhanced offerings, operations, and relationships, according to IT advisory and research firm IDC. Unless business leaders put Digital Transformation at the top of their agenda and transform their offerings and their operations, IDC says businesses will find themselves competing for a progressively shrinking share of their traditional marketplace.

Much has been written about the Digital Transformation imperative. But there's a parallel narrative increasingly seen as an urgency that business leaders would do well to heed. Perhaps the most visible spokesperson of this urgency in recent times is 17-year old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, TIME magazine's Person of the Year 2019. But while Thunberg may be the most visible representative of the climate emergency, empowered customers are asking the same questions.

In business schools, future CEOs learn that the primary objective of a business is profit. While innovation, excellence, product and service quality as well as employee satisfaction are all part of what any business endeavours to deliver in this quest for profit, today's empowered customers and employees are looking beyond the best product at the right price, or joining organisations based only on remuneration and brand name. Customers today are looking at brand values and what a business stands for, and employees want to work for companies that are forward thinking when it comes to issues like the climate emergency and sustainability, and are taking responsibility in their role as corporate citizens. And in what may be even closer to the C-Suite's heart, investors are increasingly watching metrics beyond mere corporate performance, as sustainability-related activities also play a role in the success of a business.

Besides issues like the climate emergency and its impact on our planet and its future, customers and employees are increasingly concerned about the impact of Digital Transformation enablers like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation on social issues such as job security; growing inequality and concentration of wealth, resource efficiency, privacy of data and security.

In fact, Digital Transformation and sustainability are two of the most powerful drivers for the future of business. And to harness these drivers, what business leaders need to do is ensure a seamless integration of Digital Transformation and sustainability. Whether it is the use of sustainable sources of raw material, using cleaner and renewable sources of energy in factories and data centres, agile supply chains, or articulating a clear vision of embracing sustainability and corporate responsibility beyond profit, business leaders must have a clear roadmap for their companies.

On the ground and in shop floors this can translate into the use of AI, IoT and analytics to assess environmental impact and take steps to reduce harmful impact, set clear timeframes and processes to become carbon-neutral and the like. When these digital technologies are combined with agile processes, businesses can embrace new business models and new business opportunities.

AI can help personalise medicine and help in delivering healthcare for all, a critical need for countries like India. IoT sensors when combined with AI can reduce road accidents in India by improving enforcement that goes far beyond traffic policemen on the ground to influencing change amongst Indian drivers. Blockchain has the potential to not just disrupt banking but also dramatically improve trust across food and pharma supply chains, which are again important issues in India. When the integration of Digital Transformation and sustainability is articulated well through sustainability performance communication to customers, employees and investors, such measures will boost brand image and become an enabler of growth.

Of course, this is easier said than done. The integration of Digital Transformation and sustainability means embracing digital in all aspects of business, it means greater transparency in how customer data is used, and ultimately it means transformation across all echelons of an enterprise because culture is transformed and will embrace sustainability only when business leaders drive this agenda and own it.

But ignoring this call is no longer a choice. From the climate emergency to trust issues, businesses must look beyond their comfort zones and take a long view towards the future and this can only be done when Digital Transformation powers a sustainable world. That will be the best way to demonstrate how digital technologies are catalysing positive economic, social and environmental impact by building trust through sustainability. A slew of cutting-edge technologies ranging from AI to Blockchain are helping businesses embrace Digital Transformation and it's time to use them to take some of the world's biggest challenges head-on, and transform these challenges into opportunities—to enable a better tomorrow for our planet, and yes, for profit too.

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