Responsible Digitalisation

Written by Wilfried Kirschenmann, on 09 September 2021

For the first session of the IT Directors Circle of the 2021-22 season, we gathered at the Hôtel des Arts et Métiers on Avenue d'Iéna to discuss Responsible Digitalization. It's an exciting theme that raises questions for us not only as IT directors but also as citizens.

It was also an opportunity for us (finally!) to come together for a friendly dinner and share our best anecdotes from a year and a half of intensive telecommuting practice.

The Rise of Responsible Digitalisation

Responsible Digitalisation is a relatively new topic for IT directors, and its impact has been rather marginal until now. However, the tide is turning with the rise of ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) non-financial performance indicators. By 2024, ESG investments will represent one-third of global assets under management! (Source: Bloomberg Intelligence).

The integration of non-financial objectives into companies' strategies will be a major trend in the coming years and will undoubtedly impact IT directors. Under the impetus of new strategic plans, several large organizations (e.g., Société Générale, Natixis, Banque de France...) have already structured Responsible Digitalization projects.

Beyond "pioneering" organizations, most companies have opportunistically and more or less ambitiously launched a wide variety of initiatives around Responsible Digitalization. The "Ongoing and Planned Actions" illustration provides an overview of the initiatives identified by participants at the event. While reducing CO2 emissions clearly represents one of the priorities, we also see numerous initiatives in the societal aspect.

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The Company and Its Stakeholders

What does Responsible Digitalisation mean, exactly? While the notion of Digitalization is quite obvious, the same cannot be said for that of responsible business. The idea that a company should be responsible dates back a long time, and over the decades, many approaches and definitions have been proposed. Without claiming to put an end to this debate, we propose the following definition:

"A company is responsible when it can bring value to all its stakeholders: shareholders, employees, customers, creditors, territories, democratic institutions, and the planet."

The following six key questions help concretely translate the notion of responsibility and represent a good starting point for assessing the maturity level of a company:

  1. Has the company defined a purpose that goes beyond profit?
  2. Does it integrate environmental and societal issues into its strategy?
  3. Does it measure and manage non-financial indicators?
  4. Has it mapped its stakeholders (including those with whom it has no direct economic ties)? Does it promote dialogue with them?
  5. Has it evolved its governance to allow for real trade-offs between value to shareholders and value to other stakeholders?
  6. Is it evaluated on its environmental and social practices through standards and independent organizations?

All Aspects of Responsible Digitalisation

Responsible Digitalisation is often perceived as synonymous with "Green IT." However, while reducing environmental footprint is undoubtedly a priority, Responsible Digitalization cannot be reduced to Green IT alone. The illustration above provides a comprehensive view of the various aspects of Responsible Digitalization.

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Lever #1: Infrastructure

Concretely, what are the levers available to IT directors to address these challenges? The first is infrastructure, for which you have six action areas:

  1. Implementing a responsible procurement policy: The Purchasing Department needs your expertise to integrate environmental criteria into the selection of IT suppliers.
  2. Extending the lifespan of equipment: This is essential because 83% of greenhouse gas emissions related to Digitalization in France come not from the use of digital equipment (terminals, networks, data centers) but from their manufacturing.
  3. Providing RSE (Environmental, Social, Governance) Metrology to Business Units: Moving beyond the FinOps approach towards an "ESG-Ops" approach integrating RSE metrics.
  4. Optimizing software/hardware adequacy: Challenging the trend towards standardization that has dominated in recent years to find the most energy-efficient software/hardware combinations.
  5. Optimizing infrastructure operating modes: Several studies show that generally, reducing processor frequency by 20 to 30% only marginally affects performance, less than 5% in the vast majority of cases.
  6. Resource pooling: Cloud computing is the preferred solution to reduce your environmental footprint while ensuring the performance of your infrastructure!

Lever #2: Software/Development

The integration of Responsible Digitalisation issues also involves the evolution of skills and working methods within your teams:

  • Raising awareness and training: Organize moments of awareness and exchange on Responsible Digitalization (especially since it interests your employees, especially the younger ones!), training on Eco-design...
  • Providing tools for developers: There are plenty of turnkey solutions available today to allow developers to test in real-time the impact of their work on the environmental footprint of the service, but also on its accessibility.
  • Promoting the evolution of practices: The goal is to ensure that concern for environmental footprint or accessibility is embedded in individual practices and collective rituals of your teams.

Training, tools, improving practices... it sounds like Software Craftsmanship!

Lever #3: Usage Sobriety

Developing Responsible Digitalisation also involves sober usage. Is an IT department legitimate to challenge Business Units on the environmental footprint induced by a need expression? One thing is certain: the lines are shifting, and some of you are already doing it. Some are even considering systematically estimating the environmental footprint before launching a new project!

So here are our 3 action areas in terms of usage:

  • Encourage sober usage: The famous hunt for waste, derived from Lean management, is also relevant concerning digital needs.
  • Train Business Units on eco-design and its issues: Responsible Digitalization is a team sport; Business Units and IT must move forward together, otherwise, you won't get very far.
  • Offer an "RSE++" service offer to pioneering Business Units: Given the diversity of maturity levels among various Business Units regarding responsibility, why not offer an "RSE++" service offer to the most mature Business Units?

Lever #4: The DSI as a Leader in the Organization

Finally, if the IT department (the organization) can act as a Business Unit, the IT director (the individual) can also take initiatives as a Manager and Leader within his/her company. Again, there is no shortage of action areas:

  • Being an actor in the company's CSR strategy (for example, through an CSR correspondent within the IT department).
  • Practicing exemplary management (inclusive HR policies, empowering management, project management based on value...).
  • Offering external actors the benefits of the IT department (skills sponsorship, hardware donation, mentoring of young people...).

An Exciting Journey

If it's not the case today, it's highly likely that in the near future, you will have to contribute to the non-financial objectives set by your company.

In the future, you will manage investments and costs, but also the carbon footprint of your services. With Business Units, you will talk about Performance but also about Energy Efficiency and Accessibility. You will train your employees in C++, but also in Eco-design.

It will be an exciting journey that will allow you to reconcile your role as an IT director with your citizen's desire to contribute to a more sustainable world. We are here, if needed, to accompany you on this journey.