Thought Leadership: Aisling Curtis of Microsoft on a changing world

Thought Leadership | Fri 14 Oct | Author – Business & Finance
Pictured: Aisling Curtis, Director of Strategy and Sustainability, Microsoft Ireland

Business leaders must increasingly connect how they approach their digital and sustainability transformation programs. Written by Aisling Curtis, Director of Strategy and Sustainability, Microsoft.

Note: This piece was originally published in Business & Finance magazine, vol. 59, no. 3, available to read, with compliments, here.


We’re living in a changed world, still confronted by an unprecedented health and economic crisis, persistent issues of systemic inequity, a drastically widened skills and employability gap, an intensified unmet demand for access to broadband, and increased urgency to protect the planet and the fundamental rights of everyone on it. This is the scale of the challenges businesses are faced with every day.

As organisations of all sizes re-evaluate how to navigate such external challenges, business leaders must increasingly connect how they approach their digital and sustainability transformation programmes and embed both coherent strategies and roadmaps to achieve their overarching long-term value objective.

Innovation

Technology can and should be a force for good, which is why Microsoft aspires for meaningful innovation rather than innovation for innovation’s sake. 

Great innovation is never in the technology itself, but in what that innovation enables people to achieve and to overcome. To reimagine a future in which all people have access to the benefits and opportunities of technology and the digital economy, we must ask ourselves not just what technology can do, but what it should do. When this mindset is adopted, technology can help create opportunities, protect fundamental rights, and support a sustainable future. 

Many organisations are already using innovative technologies to achieve more sustainable ways of working. At Microsoft, we are working at the forefront of sustainable transformation alongside innovative Irish organisations across all sectors.

For example, through integrating technology across many manual, outdated processes, Microsoft has supported Ulster University on a digital transformation journey that is not only reducing administration time and increasing student engagement, but developing processes across digital platforms that will ultimately streamline and reduce paper consumption by 85% across the campus. 

Additionally, through the use of Microsoft Azure, SoapBox Labs have demonstrated how state-of-the-art kids’ speech recognition technology can be used at scale to support play, accessibility, literacy, and language learning for young children.

ApisProtect is another great Irish start-up that has embraced technology to address the declining bee population, which would have devastating consequences for our plant. They are bringing the power of advanced sensors and machine learning technology into beehives to deliver a 24/7 early warning system so beekeepers can give at-risk hives immediate attention and improve bee health. 

The challenges facing people and the planet are complex, and no one company, sector, or even country can solve them alone. In fact, it is clearly evident that there are different sustainability focus areas across different industries and that different methodologies are required to make a step change in relation to sustainability ambitions. This will take trust, imagination, and innovation.

Working towards solutions

That’s why Microsoft is committed to working across sectors to foster partnerships and solutions that will have lasting impact.

Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more.

And with more than 160,000 employees, hundreds of thousands of partners, and 75 million customers in 190 countries around the world, Microsoft has both an enormous opportunity and responsibility to ensure that the technology we create benefits everyone on the planet, as well as the planet itself.

Everything we do is driven by this deep sense of purpose and the timeless values of trust, privacy, inclusion, and transparency. Our mission and purpose guide not only the products and services we develop, but the policies and practices that govern our work, and our commitment to causes and communities around the world.  

Over the last two years, Microsoft has been focused on a new biodiversity initiative to put data and digital technology to work, including through an ambitious program to aggregate environmental data from around the world and embed it within new “Planetary Computer.”

We will combine this with new work to enable partners and customers to use the resulting output to enhance environmental decision-making in their organisational activities. We must use the architecture of the information age – data, algorithms, application programming interfaces and end-user applications – to accelerate a more environmentally sustainable future. 

These times demand different thinking, accelerated efforts, and collective action to realise the ambition. The role of business leaders is not just to manage but to empower and inspire change – to create the right foundation and organisational culture and setting a clear, achievable vision is perhaps the most important element. It’s what directs organisations toward a single objective.

Culture

Now, more than ever, leaders need time to rethink their vision and their strategic approach to sustainability, and to ensure it is lived within the business. 

We see that organisations are best able to evolve and accelerate their business when the people inside it are unified and working with shared values and ideas. They have a culture that keeps their team connected, and an organisational mindset rooted in flexibility and openness.

Leaders with a growth mindset foster an openness to new ideas, processes, and technologies – that’s what it takes to build resilience. 

Additionally, organisations that do best are thinking about and continually developing a wide range of capabilities and learning. Do we have the right people with the right skills, and are they staying connected? Does everyone have the resources needed to do their job? 

To ensure that organisations can be agile and productive in the new environment, the right capabilities need to be in place. As sustainability and digital transformation become more and more intertwined, digital skills and a digital-first mindset are absolutely central.

Digital Transformation

We have seen a significant acceleration of digital transformation in the last three years in the wake of the pandemic. In fact, the equivalent of seven years of digital transformation happened in a matter of months. It is now imperative that organisations persevere with their digital journey to harness technology that will enable them to become a force for good, without consequences for our planet or society.

Our recent report, Digital Ireland – Inclusive Recovery, highlights the significant untapped potential of Ireland’s digital economy and the willingness of the business community to accelerate their journey of digital transformation further into the future, with cloud solutions very much to the forefront of their mind. Almost three-quarters (72%) of Irish leaders believe digitalisation will help meet their sustainability goals, with four-in-ten (41%) already using these services to create a sustainable IT infrastructure. 

We are only at the beginning of a long process of adjustment to the new realities of a post-pandemic economy and society in Ireland and we are very excited to work with our customers and organisations to realise the potential to further embrace technology for good.


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