Circle Insights

Responsible and sustainable practices

Joe Finucane

Could digitalisation save the planet?

Only if businesses can achieve sustainable cybersecurity and digital inclusion too

Digitalised businesses are onto a win-win – it’s good for corporate reputation, the planet and the environment to stop using paper and resource-consuming processes that create waste, take up storage space and hinder productivity. There are important caveats for doing all that good though: robust security for digital data and accessibility for all.

A well-understood approach to organisational corporate responsibility and sustainability is going paper-free and taking as many interactions and records as possible online. It avoids unnecessary worker travel and cuts the use of paper, postage, deliveries, physical storage and workspace, thereby reducing energy and fuel consumption.

Everyone knows the benefits of paperless offices

Forbes says that the paperless office is “one of the most tangible examples of digitalization that has a positive impact on the environment while also providing major business performance benefits”. It estimates that even now, US businesses waste USD 8 billion on managing paper every year. It’s far more efficient and faster to transact, interact and work digitally.

Covid has accelerated adoption of these practices, as people have adapted rapidly to home-based and distanced working — which is one positive at least from the pandemic. But that means putting a lot more data online.

But hackers have an eye on the main chance. Since the pandemic, criminals have been quick to exploit security vulnerabilities created by a hasty shift to home-working and reactively moving transactional systems online. Recent headlines and share price drops show the impact of losing consumer and shareholder confidence for companies that experience data breaches and vulnerabilities.

Security by design is the gold standard for digitalisation

With so many financial transactions now executed digitally, security and trust are more important than ever to protect people’s money. Many consumers are far more aware and concerned about who is using their data and digital privacy. Building robust transactional apps, systems and data will continue to be crucial for success and reputation. Marketing compliance will need to be effective and transparent.

Security by design is the gold standard for planning, optimising and establishing cloud and digital infrastructure and systems. That means choosing and developing digital platforms and services in the specific context of cybersecurity – from thwarting hackers to back-up and recovery.

It also means that adopting new and more environmentally friendly technologies —from industrial plant equipment to electric cars, remote heating controls and contactless payments — must make digital security a top priority consideration. Hackers are not just delving into poorly password protected bank accounts for financial gain these days. They’re finding ways to hold organisations to ransom by infiltrating property, systems and infrastructure that are remotely and digitally controlled and operated.

On the surface, climate transformation has nothing to do with security. But dig a little deeper and you discover that it has profound implications indeed. The new technologies required for climate transformation will change both how businesses work and how they use technology. Security by design must be applied in order to prevent climate transformation becoming an excuse for greater vulnerability.

Deloitte Energy Resources & Industrials

Smart organisations plan ahead and ask the right questions

Advanced digital mass security may not come cheap for larger organisations. It’s not just a one-off cost either: security protocols need to be maintained and measured against ISO 27001 and continually updated to mitigate the latest threats. But then there’s the potential risk and cost of neglecting security in any digitalisation solution. Smart businesses plan their budgets realistically and know that market-leading digital operations need to be underpinned by market-leading digital security.

Another important issue for ESG-aware organisations is the footprint of their digitalisation. The more data that’s online in the cloud, the more cloud storage is needed. Data warehouses have a big impact on the environment, not least because they consume so much electricity. Responsible businesses will ask questions of their cloud technology providers about their carbon offsetting and use of renewable energy sources, to maintain their integrity and reputation.

It’s not a good look to leave anyone behind

There’s another issue around digitalisation – and that’s digital inclusion. Consumers who are financially stretched typically don’t have such free access to the latest technology, devices and web access, which can lock them out of the digital environment, either partially or totally. Smartphones are increasingly the default device for managing banking and finances, but not everyone has one.

Income isn’t the only determinant of digital poverty. Location has an impact too: some rural areas struggle to access fast broadband, which can affect wealthier households. Some older citizens are digitally naïve. As well as struggling to access and use digital-only services, they may be more vulnerable to cyber-crime and scams. However good digitalisation may be for the wider environment, excluding less privileged demographics from online services and pricing generates damaging headlines and dissolves consumer loyalty and trust.

Consumer insight provides vital context for digital transformation

Savvy organisations seek insight to help them understand and avoid digital exclusion, using data like CACI’s Vulnerability Indicators. This includes detailed and granular digital vulnerability data that allows organisations to identify people who lack digital knowledge or may have little or no access to technology and the web.

Assessing and planning to enable digital inclusion must be a priority aspect of digitalisation programmes and initiatives. Responsible brands and public organisations need to understand the impact on their entire audience before assuming that the best choice is to move everything online, without exception.

Digitalisation is the right thing to do for the planet – as long as we do it right

There are huge gains to be made for our planet by embracing digitalization, cutting our consumption of the planet’s physical resources and improving efficiency and energy use in everyday life. But organisations must do this in well-considered way, taking into account the new risks and challenges that a fully digital world presents.

Innovative and rigorous digital partners like CACI are constantly surveying and adapting to the latest technologies and cyber-threats and helping companies to digitalise in a robust and responsible way.

To maintain their integrity and reputation, businesses also need to consult and consider their customers and audiences and help them with digital adoption, as well as scrutinising and challenging the environmental practices of their own digital service providers.

If you’d like to know more about optimising processes and energy efficiency through data science or developing waste-reducing digital services and tools that meet current consumer needs, talk to the experts at CACI.

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Joe Finucane