Radical Collaboration through Technology
Posted January 24, 2013
GE has asked the members of its Citizenship Advisory Panel to reflect on trends and key challenges for sustainable development in 2013. This post by Jane Nelson discusses the potential for new kinds of collaboration through developments in information and communications technology.
Addressing sustainability challenges at the scale and speed needed to solve the world’s most pressing problems is beyond the reach of even the most global of companies. It demands strategic alliances across business ecosystems, and partnerships with government, in energy, water, food, healthcare, finance, minerals and metals, transportation, construction and urban infrastructure.
Leading corporations have already integrated performance on safety and emergency planning, pollution, carbon emissions, water use and waste into their own everyday management systems, and increasingly into their product-development pipelines. High-level commitment, integration into business strategy and reporting publicly on progress continue to be crucial. But such individual sustainability leadership is insufficient for solving the “wicked problems” of sustainability.
As GE’s Peter Evans and Marco Annunziata outlined at the end of last year in their white paper on the Industrial Internet, information and communications technologies are converging with physical and life science technologies. In 2013, this convergence offers enormous potential for new kinds of collaboration that will enable systemic transformation of industries towards sustainability.
Over the past decade, innovative companies have demonstrated the potential for dramatic increases in efficiency, productivity, access, affordability, reliability, waste management and system resilience through smarter systems—from smart grids and transportation systems to distributed-energy services, agricultural productivity enhancements, mobile banking and medical devices. In 2013, there is potential in many of these areas to shift from demonstration to large-scale, systemic impact.
We can expect leading companies to increase their investment both in targeted pre-competitive problem-solving alliances with peers and competitors, and in large-scale commercial alliances with major suppliers and customers.
But while smart, systemic solutions can deliver the radical efficiency improvements needed for sustainable development, public policy and financial markets remain both critical enablers and obstacles. Business alliances enabled by technology can drive innovation, not only within the corporate sector itself, but also help to influence public policies and capital markets.