Digital and Green
Author: Markus Strehlitz
IT plays a key role in many companies’ sustainability strategy. It provides relevant data and enables digitized processes. Thanks to the cloud, it can also be used energy-efficiently itself.
Digitization is advancing in all industries. The increasing use of IT is opening up countless new opportunities. But at the same time, these systems also consume large amounts of energy. From a sustainability perspective, this is a challenge.
And this way of thinking is becoming increasingly relevant as the importance of sustainability grows. According to their own statements, 38 percent of German companies already have a company-wide approach to sustainability, and another 40 percent have at least individual programs. These are the findings of a study by market research company IDC, which surveyed 200 companies with more than 100 employees across all industries in Germany. 80 percent of those surveyed said that the pandemic had given a further significant boost to the importance of sustainability.
How and whether IT is operated as an energy guzzler in companies is thus becoming an important question. One answer is the cloud. Companies who move their systems to the servers of a cloud provider also reduce energy consumption in their own data center. The companies surveyed in the IDC study see the reduction of energy costs and improvement of their CO2 footprint as the greatest sustainability benefits when choosing the cloud as their operating model.
Cloud providers save energy
But they do not simply defer the problem. Many companies share resources in one cloud data center, making IT operation more efficient overall. Moreover, this is the providers’ core competence. It is in their own interest to operate data centers as energy-efficiently as possible and thus save costs. This is also what user companies are counting on. According to the study, 60 percent believe that large providers of cloud data centers can operate more sustainably than they would be able to do themselves. Above all, they see the benefits in using the most energy-efficient technology and renewable energy sources, and in higher server usage. In addition, software is also specially adapted for use in the cloud.
Large providers can confirm this with corresponding numbers. Microsoft, for example, has calculated its energy efficiency – based on four cloud applications that, together, are responsible for most of the energy consumption in the company’s own data centers. If the use of renewable energies is taken into account, the Microsoft cloud is 72 to 98 percent more efficient in terms of CO2 emissions than conventional company data centers, according to the provider.
DEKRA reduces paper consumption
DEKRA is also counting on these advantages. The company has outsourced a large part of its IT services to the Microsoft cloud (see interview with CIO Holger Ewald). Processes that DEKRA has successively digitized are also operated in the cloud. This example shows that IT is an effective means of promoting sustainability in one’s own organization. CIO Holger Ewald, for example, reports that he deliberately issued the digitization of processes as a guiding principle for each of his departments based on the concept of sustainability. “In concrete terms, this means that each department must digitize two of the globally deployed processes per year,” says Ewald. One of the goals is to massively reduce the consumption of paper and toner. In doing so, DEKRA is pursuing a zero-printer strategy that should result in “no more raw materials being used for printouts”, as Ewald explains.
The experts at market researcher IDC see IT in a key role because it can serve as the basis for innovative processes with a positive impact on sustainability. In addition, data processing and analysis can be used to effectively support sustainability initiatives. To do so, information from many different departments and systems must be collected and evaluated. Optimal sustainability decisions need the broadest possible data base.
Dashboards provide overview
This is ensured by software tools. For example, DEKRA uses a data analytics platform to bring together and analyze data that is relevant to sustainability from the entire company. This platform is capable of processing extremely large volumes of data, Ewald emphasizes. “We also provide dashboards that enable the responsible employees to monitor sustainability initiatives.”
Basically, Ewald sees a big advantage in the fact that DEKRA itself offers services for its customers to certify and attest to their sustainability. “This gives us a lot of expertise and a special perspective on the topic, which we can use for our own sustainability initiatives.”
And it is bearing fruit. For example, EcoVadis – a provider of sustainability ratings for companies – has awarded DEKRA a platinum ranking for the second time in a row. This puts the expert organization among the top one percent of companies assessed in a comparable category, to which IT has contributed in a variety of ways
“We’re Pursuing a Hybrid Cloud Strategy”
DEKRA CIO Holger Ewald explains what role the new data center and cloud computing play in DEKRA’s sustainability strategy.
Mr. Ewald, the energy consumption of IT is a decisive factor when it comes to sustainability. How does DEKRA address this issue?
Ewald: In 2020, we made the decision to relocate our data center from Stuttgart to Frankfurt. In doing so, we also ensured that the type of energy provided there obeys the new standards. For example, we use Kyoto cooling, which is particularly energy-efficient. This alone ensures that the new data center consumes 25 percent less electricity than the old one. These savings have also been incorporated into our sustainability KPIs, which were set by the Board of Management.
What role does cloud computing play in your strategy?
Ewald: A very big one. We pursue a hybrid cloud strategy. This means that we run applications in our own data center and use applications in both the private and the public cloud. Our cloud provider is Microsoft, which has been focusing on a Net Zero Strategy since 2012. Microsoft aims to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2025 and achieve Zero Waste by 2030. By using Microsoft’s cloud services, these initiatives also pay into our values.
How far have you come in your cloud strategy so far?
Ewald: In a first step, we centralized the subscriptions that were already in the cloud in a global context and brought them up to the required security standard by means of a cloud governance template. Subsequently, we analyzed existing processes and migrated them either to the DEKRA On-Prem Data Center or the central DEKRA Azure environment in accordance with internal policies. The decision which path a migration takes is made along the architecture in order to honor both legal and regulatory frameworks, but also, where possible and reasonable, to be able to realize the flexibility and short go-to-market times. But there is still a lot to do. There are over 1,600 applications, some of which are still running in the individual countries, which are now being successively cloudified in order to improve our sustainability even further.