Cloud technology has been transformative. For many public sector organisations, it has provided the flexibility and scalability to help tackle uncertainty and unplanned demand, as well as providing new opportunities for to accelerate new ideas. It has driven the modernisation and cost reduction of services and, as a consequence, the business case debate has been won.
Looking back, it is difficult to imagine what life would have been like during the worst of the pandemic if wasn’t for cloud technology – no access to services, no virtual meetings, no online teaching, no telemedicine, no instant access to regionalised COVID information.
The pandemic, moreover, has made people more aware of the role of government in their lives. This hyper-focus on public service now offers a window of opportunity to deploy cloud technology more extensively to help meet the demand for new, more responsive and personalised citizen experiences.
These personalised digital services will demand the generation of more data, requiring more processing power and ultimately consume more energy. So, if we are to mitigate this risk, its vital that sustainability is baked into the cloud, right from design through to implementation.
‘Greening’ the cloud in this way means focusing on an environmentally friendly operation alongside the use of cloud services proactively to lower carbon emissions and unlocking new responsible applications of cloud technology.
It starts with choosing the right cloud partners – those with clear plans to reduce their own carbon footprint – and the design of software. Increasing the accuracy of an AI calculation by just 2% can, in some circumstances, result in a 7-fold jump in energy consumption, these trade-offs need to be considered.
Then it is about purpose. For instance, technology can support development of the circular economy by designing out waste and pollution from the supply chain. Banyan Nation is an award-winning example of this. It’s India’s first vertically integrated plastic recycling company, which employs mobile and cloud-based technology platforms to recycle plastic that can be used for packaging of new products.
In terms of reducing carbon footprint, Scotland has its own pioneering initiative in NHS Near Me. This a secure video consultation platform used extensively during the pandemic for doctors to ‘see’ their patients, has been estimated to have eliminated over 14 million miles of travel and hence reduced CO2 emissions.
In research launched last month, Accenture found that greening cloud services could lead to a global reduction of 59 million tonnes of CO2 per year. This represents a 5.9 per cent reduction of total IT emissions or the equivalent of taking 22 million cars off the road.
If that was phase one of cloud adoption; as its implementation and uses continue to multiply, the next phase must have sustainability at its heart. So as digital public services become ubiquitous, we need consider the environmental impact. As scrutiny and citizen expectations in this space are only going to increase, it is not just the right thing, it is also the smart thing to do.