Fighting climate change has undoubtedly become, and rightly so, one of the major drivers of people's behavior in recent years. At the same time, the importance of sustainability to business has grown too. Whilst companies have to a large extent realized their responsibility on sustainability, the ability to find ways to become ever more environmentally healthy remains a challenge.
Many companies have or are initiating their environmental policies, aligned with increasing amount of similar requirements from their trading partners, which places demands upon their own internal processes. Thus, sustainability has become a clear factor on B2B sales, not only B2C, As people are placing more and more importance on these topics in their personal lives, green values have become an important factor. Employee demands for sustainability change are becoming selection criteria when applying for a new job. This places far more emphasis on a prospective employer to show a progressive approach to these demands if they are to persuade new talent to join.
Challenges for sustainability in Information Management
The role of Information Management is often not the most obvious when it comes to a sustainable way of working. The most notable effect of modern IT systems is clearly their ability to support collaboration over vast distances, i.e., as an enabler of remote work and avoiding unnecessary travel to business meetings. The COVID-19 epidemic has quite naturally sped up the transformation towards remote work, so communications over remote meetings with Teams, Zoom, etc., have pretty much become the norm.
Even though modern remote meeting systems enable communications over remote connections, they are not very good for non-formal communications that we tend to do while in the office or meeting clients or partners on site. The lack of such non-formal communication places even more importance in information management processes, including tools for employees to easily carry out their responsibilities.
Traditionally, managing the company's business critical documents has been especially reliant on the non-formal communications taking place in the workplace and physical meetings. Finding the correct documents or previous work has been done by asking around in the office. A lot of documentation is simply replicated, with approval processes largely completed by signing paper copies in the office. Thus, better means for document & content management are certainly one challenge that companies need to address, allowing operations with reduced overheads.
Besides providing means for remote work, there are other factors in Information Management systems that affect the total CO2 footprint of a company. As these systems consume substantial amounts of energy, optimizing their usage of computing resources and digital storage would result in a more sustainable workplace. Unfortunately, such issues were largely overlooked when companies initially set up their information management systems and, therefore, offer considerable room for sustainability enhancement.
Sustainability challenges have gained more attention lately. For example, Capgemini has recently produced a report and an article about "Sustainable IT" that outlines very similar conclusions as mentioned here: Sustainable IT Leads to Significant Benefits But Is Still Not a Focus for Most Organizations.
How to make content management an asset for sustainability
State-of-the-art information management usually relies upon Enterprise Content Management (ECM), i.e., managing a company's documents and the information related to them. The question is: How can a company become more sustainable by improving the way they are using and managing their documentation?
Reflecting the challenges outlined above, the benefits of an ECM system for a company from the sustainability viewpoint can be summarized by the following three points:
- A common system for accessing documents and supporting digitized processes. This approach enables effective collaboration on the documents, typically involving review & approval processes, even when working remotely. Thus, an ECM system can act as an important enabler for remote work, avoiding travel to meet clients and partners whilst enhancing customer service.
- Avoiding document copies. Document version management in ECM systems and the ability to use document links instead of email attachments, reduce storage requirements, thus saving energy required for maintaining multiple document repositories. In practice, this means that the companies can reduce the amount of network drives & other repositories by utilizing modern ECM systems.
- Cloud environments enable computing resources to be securely shared. A cloud-based solution is a collaborative resource distributed among many users / clients, thus using processing power much more efficiently than systems relying on the processors in each users' PCs or company servers. In this manner, using cloud-based ECM solutions can drastically reduce the overall computing power needed for document management.
Improving a company's sustainability can be seen as a ripple effect: changes that by themselves seem small but combined together make a real difference. Applying modern ECM technology to enable intelligent information management is an important part of striving towards more environmentally healthy way of working.
Jaakko Sundquist is an Information Management Specialist with over 20 years of IT industry experience helping major corporations address digital transformation and optimization.