Equinix Digital Leaders Spotlight: Ashling Cunningham, CIO of Irish Water on sustainability, security and innovation

Environment | Tue 20 Sep | Author – Business & Finance
Pictured: Ashling Cunningham, CIO, Irish Water

Irish Water CIO, Ashling Cunningham discusses the partnership Irish Water has with Equinix, the role of IT in business and the threat of Cybercriminals in an Equinix Digital Leaders Spotlight discussion.


Almost 10 years ago, Irish Water was established as Ireland’s national water utility. Taking responsibility for the delivery of public water and wastewater services, which up to that point had been provided by 31 local authorities, it faced the mammoth task of creating a centralised system for the provision of safe and clean drinking water, and the treatment of wastewater, across Ireland.

Since then, the company has been supplying Ireland with 1.7 billion litres of treated water every day, while treating 1.3 billion litres of wastewater on a daily basis. It continues to evolve and expand its services, relying heavily on cutting-edge technologies and data analytics to fulfil its commitment and service to the end user. 

As a large — and growing — consumer of technology, Irish Water relies on its partners to help it to meet its sustainability goals.

“We are part of the green IT agenda and have to report on our sustainability progress,” says CIO Ashling Cunningham in an Equinix Digital Leaders Spotlight discussion. “That requires finding and working with the right partners who share the same values as Irish Water and who can help us to get to where we need to be. Equinix is helping us to reduce our carbon footprint by passing on their own energy efficiencies to us, whilst also driving us into the cloud.”

Equinix

Recognised as an industry leader in data centre sustainability, Equinix, the world’s leading digital infrastructure company, has made significant investments in renewable energy. Equinix was the first data centre company to set a 100% renewable energy target back in 2015. In 2021, Equinix expanded the scope of their climate commitments to include both a validated science-based target and goal to reach climate neutrality across its operations by 2030.

Equinix sources renewable energy for 100% of its sites across Europe and in 2021, it achieved 95% renewable energy globally. Equinix is also a founding member of the Climate Neutral Data Centre Operator Pact, a movement to make data centres in Europe carbon-neutral by 2030

Deploying a cloud-first strategy, leveraging both public and private clouds, Irish Water works with Equinix to ensure that it is continuously reducing its carbon footprint. Last year, IDC reported that the continued adoption of cloud computing could prevent the emission of more than 1 billion metric tons of CO2 from 2021 through to 2024 due to the greater efficiency of aggregated compute resources. Equinix Fabric enables enterprises to connect to more than 3,000 cloud and IT service providers through a single port on Platform Equinix, providing businesses with the efficiency required to meet their sustainability goals.

“Could we have our own data centre? Yes, we could, but at what cost?” asks Cunningham.

“If you look at it from a carbon footprint perspective, it just doesn’t make sense. There is an onus on us, and all organisations, to ensure that we are being very smart about how we work and who we are partnering with so that we can continue to drive down our carbon footprint. As we plan for the future, we are working very closely with Equinix to ensure that we will continue to meet our sustainability targets.”

Cybercriminals & Security 

Cunningham describes Irish Water as a ‘continuously-connected utility company’. Using a centralised telemetry solution, which relies on internet of things (IoT) technology, the company can access real time data on its operations, enabling it to respond quickly to issues and plan investments more effectively. The cloud-enabled system also enables field workers to find faults faster, therefore keeping the impact to the end user to a minimum. Using robotics and AI, meanwhile, Irish Water is able to stream customer calls to reduce wait times and ensure everyone is directed the person best qualified to deal with their query.

“We are using emerging technology to revolutionise how we work, and how we will work in the future,” says Cunningham. “We want to enable our people and partners with the right information, in the right place, at the right time. We are forecasting years ahead — 10 or 15 years — and the role of technology in that is wide and varied.”

For Irish Water, as with any public utility company, this use of data — combined with their fundamental role in society — makes them a prime target for cybercriminals.

“They only have to be lucky once,” says Cunningham. “We have to be vigilant every day.”

“It’s a business transaction that is lucrative; they have time to wait, be patient and hit the organisation when they choose. It’s not personal; they target companies based on their ability to pay and utility companies are a target because of the significant damage that can be done.”

Equinix adheres to industry standards and best practices to provide the highest security for customer data. These practices work in conjunction with cyberthreat intelligence and analysis being shared with customers, peers and third parties to foster security collaboration, enhance security and thwart attacks. For Irish Water, this provides essential peace of mind.

“We have a cyber security strategy and like every organisation, we are investing in threat detection,” says Cunningham. “It is a holistic approach and Equinix, as a highly certified provider, is a big part of that. Everything that we do must now be viewed through a cybersecurity lens. It would be too much of an investment to do it all ourselves.”

The Role of IT

Under its €5.35BN Capital Investment Plan 2020-2024, Irish Water has ambitious plans, including the building of a national laboratory in Limerick, which will have the capacity to analyse 1.2 million water and wastewater tests each year. As the company continues to innovate and expand, technology, supported by Equinix’s digital infrastructure, will play an increasingly important role.

“The role of IT is to remain relevant and keep bringing opportunities to the business,” says Cunningham.

“And that is what it has done — and continues to do — for us. We have become an intelligent utility.”

To find out more about Platform Equinix and how Equinix supports digital leaders, stop by the Equinix booth at The Business Show in Aviva Stadium on 6th October or visit Equinix.ie.


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