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IoT is the key to sustainability, so what's holding it back?

The year has only just begun, and the U.S. has already been hit by a bomb cyclone, mudslides and multiple wildfires. Most experts agree that these incidents of extreme weather are directly linked to climate change — and the buzz around building a more sustainable world has never been louder.

Unfortunately, many companies are still underutilizing a tool that could help turn the tide when it comes to sustainability: IoT. A recent survey conducted by Wipro Digital and Forum for the Future found that IoT, data and connectivity have the potential to restore existing damage and reduce the future harmful effects of climate change.

According to the survey, 98% of business leaders believe that IoT is already contributing to a more sustainable future in some capacity. Yet, despite acknowledging IoT’s sustainability power, only half are using data and connectivity to support these efforts.

The path toward a more sustainable, connected future is not without its challenges. Such obstacles include misaligned priorities, security risks and a lack of governance or oversight. Additionally, many fear the widening of the digital divide around the world and the emergence of a “rebound effect,” meaning that the exponential rise of data and connectivity could actually strain energy supplies and create more e-waste.

Luckily, there are steps that companies can take to address these concerns.

Align priorities, strategies, and goals internally by increasing cross-departmental collaboration.

While many business leaders believe that sustainability is an important goal, many also hold a mistaken belief that sustainability efforts cannot be improved alongside more traditional business goals, such reduced costs and improved operational efficiencies. But this simply isn’t true.

One way to resolve this fallacy is to encourage interdepartmental communication. In other words, various aspects of a business need to communicate with one another to align on goals, challenges and technology implementation strategies. Doing so will create an open network and fluid exchange of information, which often leads to new ideas and innovation.

Just as every department has its own goals and priorities, each group also has a critical role to play in reducing future harmful effects on their environment. To drive companywide sustainable efforts, departments such as operations, supply chain, marketing, and research and development must share projects and budgets.

If done correctly, teams can more easily align on achievable sustainability benchmarks without the risk of undermining traditional business-related goals. Equally important, departments can share valuable data and insights that fuel IoT and connectivity.

Stress technology governance to increase open innovation and provide oversight.

When governments and businesses work together, meaningful change happens. For instance, the City Government of Buenos Aires partnered with SAP HANA and SAP Mobile to deploy IoT that can analyze data from storm drains in real time — helping prevent dangerous flooding that has burdened the city for years.

Yet the relationship between governments and businesses — especially tech companies — has always been difficult to navigate. It seems technology is evolving too fast for government standards to keep up, let alone create new regulations and oversight. While many leaders are unsure what role the government should play when it comes to managing technology’s evolution, it is becoming increasingly apparent that some level of unified tech and environmental guidelines is necessary.

Business leaders should work with the government to develop the appropriate measures to ensure that technology is channeled for the greater good. For example, the government could architect a platform that makes certain data is freely available online for public use. Doing so will help increase transparency, democracy and open innovation. This access will also help level the playing field between demographics and geographies.

Similarly, concerns over information security and privacy can also make business leaders more hesitant to throw more weight behind IoT initiatives or share their data with other organizations. Developing legislation that helps secure private information and encourage the sharing of other data is critical to the long-term success of a connected, sustainable world.

Highlight social responsibility to create a collected and joint effort.

There is a massive gap — known as the digital divide — between those in the world with access to technology, data and relevant skill sets and those without it. This is true even in the United States. According to the most recent report from the FCC, 34 million people lack access to broadband networks.

It is important for both businesses and communities to share and make sense of open data about their environment to work together toward a solution.

Use smart design to create products that consume less energy and less waste.

Many experts have predicted that the increase in data-enabled products will inevitably lead to greater energy demand and even the creation of more e-waste. In fact, according to a recent study, 44.7 million metric tons of electronic waste was produced in 2016 globally, a disturbing 8% increase from 2014.

Avoiding the creation of such waste will require the developers and engineers behind IoT-connected devices and infrastructure to pay more attention to smart design. Indeed, design can help extend the lifecycles of products, reduce the amount of energy needed for a device to operate and much more.

Designing and implementing such devices and products will require companies to work with one another as well. Microsoft Azure and Grundfos, for example, recently worked together to create intelligent sensors that collect data from Grundfos’ water pumps. These sensors help predict, prevent and react to water issues, ultimately helping not only reduce water waste, but also improve disaster relief and sanitation.

Business leaders and experts have immense responsibility when it comes to helping build a more connected world. Predicting mudslides or bomb cyclones remains an extremely challenging endeavor. But IoT, data and connectivity will inevitably play a major role in driving positive business outcomes and transforming the way that the world works. If business leaders and companies align on priorities and take the proper steps, these technologies can actually protect the planet for years to come.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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