How Cloud Can Drive Sustainable, Data-Driven Success

Chief information officers have been charged with driving financial, security, and agility benefits through cloud, but sustainability is quickly becoming another imperative for technology leaders.

As technology increasingly takes the driver’s seat in delivering value for enterprises across industries, technology leaders themselves are increasingly being held accountable for areas previously outside of their scope.

With global data center electricity consumption estimated to be nearly equivalent to the annual consumption of the country of Spain, it isn’t a surprise that sustainability sits on top of this list. Luckily, as sustainability becomes top of mind for businesses and consumers alike, the cloud has proven to be an efficient way for businesses to become greener. In fact, recent research found that shifting from on-premise data centers to the public cloud can reduce an enterprise’s energy usage by 65% and cut carbon emissions by more than 84%.

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Further research even found that organizations that go beyond migration and look at cloud computing as a launch pad for innovation and new operating models are up to three times more likely to use the cloud for sustainability goals. These include initiatives such as using green energy sources, architecting for lower power consumption, and better utilizing servers for a lower energy footprint, resulting in up to 2.7x greater cost reduction than businesses that stop their efforts at migration.

This is because sustainable thinking and innovation go hand in hand when approaching cloud computing. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Canada’s national housing agency, is a great example of that. In 2020, through their IT transformation efforts, which included a transition to the cloud, CMHC reduced its IT-related CO2 emissions by more than 80%.

Such findings, along with increased demands from consumers and stakeholders alike that businesses be more sustainable, are some of the many reasons why it is now up to CIOs to lead efforts to adopt sustainable approaches to cloud that will help them deliver on both financial and sustainability targets.

Aiming for a Greener Cloud

The first step toward a sustainable cloud journey always begins with selecting a carbon-thoughtful provider. While IaaS migrations alone can significantly reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, sustainable software development approaches deliver even more improvements. When designing applications specifically for cloud, choosing the right “fit-for-purpose” coding language alone can reduce energy consumption by as much as 50 times.

Further customizations can stretch reductions by taking full advantage of on-demand computing, higher asset utilization rates and dynamic allocation of resources. It’s in the CIOs’ best interest to consider sustainability as an outcome when optimizing software, as it has become apparent that shifting away from their traditional focus on performance and cost reduction can actually be a counter-intuitive way to achieve greater cost reductions.

Speed, Agility, Scale

Another more fertile area for exponential value is realized when you leverage data to reinvent your business, develop new industry business models, or drive new levels of value through your partner ecosystem. Because data’s worth depends on its accessibility and application, to harness the power of data, companies should first take steps to modernize their data foundation in the cloud so customers, suppliers and employees can operate with data at their fingertips.

If you want to operate with speed, agility and scale, empower human ingenuity, enrich customer relationships, tap into new markets and compete effectively, now is the time to embrace a modern data foundation on cloud. In short, modernizing your data foundation and running your data, associated processes and consumption workloads on the cloud is the key to transforming your business to grow, innovate and generate sustainable value.

It can also help in dealing with AI, which can be quite energy-hungry, depending on the choices made around accuracy or data location. Consider this: We found that while training a simple AI model for identifying flowers, increasing model accuracy from 96% to 98% resulted in a nearly 7x jump in energy consumption. With limited resources, companies need to prioritize which applications will deliver the biggest benefits when it comes to sustainable development efforts.

Ultimately, when it comes to unlocking greater financial, societal, and environmental benefits, leading companies — and CIOs — outperform their competition by looking beyond the bottom line and using cloud-based technologies for rapid innovation and business growth. They crucially view cloud as a continuum of technologies, choose the right type of cloud and cloud-based services — such as AI, IoT, edge, machine learning and others — and implement the advanced practices needed to leverage those technologies for the best business outcomes.

Karthik Narain leads Accenture Cloud First, with responsibility for helping clients shape, move and operate their business in the cloud to accelerate innovation and achieve their digital transformation goals. He is also a member of the company’s Global Management Committee. A technology industry veteran, Karthik most recently served as the lead for Accenture Technology in North America, helping guide Global 2000 brands in using the power of the cloud and other technologies to transform their businesses. Over his 20-year career, he has led many innovative technology programs for clients across a variety of industry sectors, including Financial Services, High Tech and Software and Platforms.

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