From unlimited growth to purposeful flourishing

“We are in a period of unprecedented economic, social and technological change. With all the uncertainty in the world, one thing is certain: organizations in every industry are turning to you and your technology skills to do more with less.” This is how Microsoft CEO Nadella opened his annual Ignite meeting. Despite all the commercial gossip that followed, these words are significant for 2023. In the current permacrisis of political instability and cut-it-all economy that also has to become more sustainable, pruning to flourish in a different way is the message for the new year.

Scarcity is everywhere. In terms of materials, IT talent, reliable transport chains, energy, time, attention and sometimes even hope. These are all important resources in the IT sector. For example, the explosive growth of the digital society in recent decades has led to shortages of critical metals such as magnesium, cobalt, graphite and lithium. In their wake are also difficult to extract earth metals such as dysprosium, gadolinium and lanthanum. Raw materials needed for server farms, mobile phones, windmills and batteries for electric cars. The demand for rare earth metals is expected to increase by more than a thousand percent in the next ten years. China holds more than half of those reserves of scarce metals. Already 97% of the total world production comes from this world power, which makes it the absolute ruler in this field.

Regenerative innovation
The slogan “more with less” – which has been doing the rounds for years – is now being chanted in the context of the so-called permacrisis. In the UK, this term was even named word of the year. A permacrisis describes the feeling of constant upheaval and uncertainty. Such as the pile-up of Brexit, pandemic, climate change, war in Ukraine, political instability, energy scarcity and rising cost of living. ‘More with less’ may not be a pleasant message for the new year, but the hope is that scarcity will encourage regenerative innovation.

Green agenda in Europe
For example, the European Union will focus heavily on green IT over the next ten years. The digital and green transition thus become an intertwined challenge. More digitization can lead to a smaller carbon footprint thanks to, for example, video calling, providing real-time insight into energy consumption and making systems more efficient. New laws and regulations are being deployed to make the digital transition greener and to make organizations climate neutral or even regenerative. If, for example, all smartphones last at least one year longer from 2030, this would save 2.1 Mt (million tons) of CO2 emissions per year. That is equivalent to removing 1 million cars from our roads. The switch to 5G should also help to drastically reduce energy consumption. And don’t forget the transition from the still energy-guzzling data centers to green cloud environments.

Compete with CO2
Where digital and green transitions come together, new services, partnerships and demand for different knowledge also arise. The Dutch startup Coolgradient, which reduces data center energy costs by up to 40 percent, is a good example of this. But IT companies that compete in tenders with ‘a smaller CO2 footprint’ or the ‘use of energy-efficient programming languages’ are also asserting themselves. There are now well-founded lists of how green which programming languages are.

Winners and losers
In this new phase of scarcity and abundance, there will also be organizations that are ahead and lagging behind. In his book Volt Rush – The Winners and Losers in the Race to Green, Henry Sanderson describes the race for minerals and metals. Many companies have no idea that this battle is already in full swing.

This new perspective of ‘more with less’ raises the question of what cask organizations will use to benefit from the wave of change. Whether traditional forms of innovation are sufficient is highly questionable. This even calls for innovation of innovation.

Necessity as motivation
The hope is pinned on the great necessity. That has always been the main driver for innovation until now. The IT manager of the future will be the man or woman who says ‘No’ in time to projects that make little or no contribution to a sustainable digital society. The IT manager of the future happily gets to work with a lean portfolio that simultaneously achieves the greatest impact. It is the same IT manager who will soon know exactly when to use large amounts of data or, conversely, ‘tiny data’. This IT manager also knows how to convert scarcity in personnel or raw materials into automated processes that are both customer-friendly and meet new laws and regulations on the way to a sustainable society.

In the end, it is mainly about a mindset in which focus on unlimited growth is exchanged for purposeful growth. Flourish in a sustainable economy. So more with less, but in an organization that continues to develop and flourish.

Published @ ICT Magazine in Dutch.