Emerging Technologies

Why independent software vendors can help businesses hit digitalization and green goals

Independent software vendors have become this mission’s indispensable protagonists.

Independent software vendors have become this mission’s indispensable protagonists. Image: COPA-DATA

Stefan Reuther
Member of the Executive Board, Ing. Punzenberger COPA DATA GmbH
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Emerging Technologies

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Several technologies sit at the heart of digitalization but effective data capture is critical to appreciate this process’s interrelation with sustainability.
  • Independent software vendors are crucial to enabling data capture, allowing seamless communication of data even when an organization is growing.
  • The best way of utilizing independent software vendors in your digitalization and green transition is to start small and then scale up the use.

The “twin transition” towards digitalization and sustainability involves more than two simultaneous trends. It signifies the integration of two political priorities, the fusion of which has the potential to change the world.

To realize this potential, the technologies at their core must be understood by those involved in these processes while independent software vendors can help navigate the challenge.

Independent software vendors in a digitalized world

The European Commission’s report, Towards a Green & Digital Future, argues that we cannot achieve digitalization in technological siloes: “Technologies are not independent of one another. There are several connections and interdependencies between them. In fact, the combination of different digital technologies could in itself be an impactful innovation.”

Data and data analysis are the backbone of the green transition. Due to their agility and adaptability compared to proprietary technology, independent software vendors have become this mission’s indispensable protagonists. Independent software vendors boast an ability to break down communication barriers between different equipment and systems, making the data capture necessary for environmental action more straightforward.

That is particularly true of large global businesses. Given that many industrial companies grow through acquisitions, a common hurdle for data capture is the communication barriers of legacy systems and infrastructure. Consider AB InBev as an example. The multinational brewing company leads on digitalization in breweries and highlighted the advantages of working with independent software vendors in a recent interview with COPA-DATA.

“Legacy systems may require upgrades or replacements to enable a smooth digital transformation, which can be expensive,” explained Charles Tisdell, Global Director of Connected Brewery Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) & Automation at AB InBev. “This is where partnering with a company like COPA-DATA can help you build the IIoT and data layer while maintaining or migrating away from legacy infrastructure. It enables the use of other niche systems to deliver targeted solutions.”

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Balancing innovation and trust

The advantages of independent technology for the digital and green transitions are clear. That being said, the role of independent software vendors extends beyond providing technological solutions. Many independent software vendors are small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), giving them a competitive edge over larger alternatives. In a World Economic Forum briefing paper, Data Unleashed: Empowering SMEs for Innovation and Success, these SMEs are described as the foundation of the global economy, representing 90% of all businesses and nearly 70% of all global jobs and gross domestic product.

They are also drivers of innovation. Without the shackles associated with large or listed businesses – investor pressure, slow research and development and complex organizational structures – small to medium-sized independent software vendors have a high potential for growth and change. They can contribute fresh ideas and agile approaches to digitalization and, therefore, to sustainability goals.

Of course, sustainability is not a compulsory exercise. However, with high energy prices and the climate crisis, independent software vendors offer a timelier method of embarking on a sustainability journey. Moreover, independent vendors provide opportunities to start small on these journeys and scale over time.

AB InBev recommended this model of scaled digitalization based on their longstanding relationship with COPA-DATA. “Start small and focus on quick wins,” explained Tisdell. “Identify pilot projects or use cases that demonstrate the value and feasibility of digital technologies within your organization. Learn from these initial experiences, iterate and scale up gradually.”

Choosing a project to improve a business’s environmental impact – for instance, reducing carbon emissions, water usage or waste – is an ideal first step in using technology for the green transition. And all of this can only be started by collecting the right data and its contexts.

Open automation

Transparency is as key to the success of independent software vendors as their agility. COPA-DATA, for instance, develops open automation. Its zenon software platform allows users to choose any system, equipment or software, which is ensured to communicate seamlessly, standing in stark contrast to the limitations and restrictions of proprietary software.

Our no-code approach also facilitates customers’ digitalization and sustainability goals. Moving away from silos and vendor lock-in and towards open data sharing is the only way we can empower businesses to understand their data and take action to improve their environmental impact.

We cannot solely focus on our customers’ sustainability goals – many of which focus on firsthand economic outcomes – but we must also consider the environmental impact on wider society and the planet.

Stefan Reuther, Member of the Executive Board, COPA-DATA

Future challenges of sustainable digitalization

The twin transition is not simply concurrent digitalization and sustainability efforts; it’s also a delicate balancing act. Digitalization can either support or impede the journey towards net-zero goals. According to the European Commission report, the IT industry’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions was an estimated 3-3.6% of total global emissions in 2020. That’s not to mention the colossal energy consumption of global data centres, which already consumed around 1% of the world’s electricity in 2018 and are rising sharply.

As developers of digitalization platforms, we see it as the role of independent software vendors to initiate projects that provide added sustainability value. We cannot solely focus on our customers’ sustainability goals – many of which focus on firsthand economic outcomes – but we must also consider the environmental impact on wider society and the planet.

Independent software vendors play a crucial role in shaping the intersection of digitalization and sustainability. As the twin transition converges these two prongs of business transformation, independent software vendors provide innovation, adaptability and transparency during this change.

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