How Data Can Move the Needle on Sustainability

When envisioning oceans and beaches, many conjure images of pristine, sandy shores with tropical palm trees. Yet, the reality is that our planet’s oceans are far from the untouched paradises we imagine. They bear the burden of billions of pounds of plastic waste, a menace silently drifting through the vast expanse of waters with a lethal impact on marine wildlife and human well-being.

What most people don’t realize: tackling plastic pollution often starts at sea, yet the solutions begin on land.

I sat down with Emily Penn, sustainability activist and skipper, for the Let’s Talk Data podcast to delve into her personal journey and how companies, regardless of size, can initiate their sustainability vision and translate it into real-world impact.

Over recent years, I’ve seen a significant change occur in the mindset of business leaders as they make sustainability a core aspect of their operations. Companies want to make a difference, but many don’t know where to begin.

Start acting on a circular economy and eliminate waste

“Understanding your own carbon footprint and being able to access that data is crucial because we can’t change what we don’t know,” explained Penn while talking about first steps companies can take to reduce plastic waste.

One of the key opportunities for businesses is having visibility into the right data to make informed decisions. About 80% of data within a given company remains untapped. By leveraging the right technology, companies can uncover a bigger picture of their business – for example, transparency around waste and supply chains to make changes that will support them in achieving their sustainability ambitions.

In 2014, Penn co-founded eXXpedition, a community interest company and non-profit organization that runs all-women sailing research expeditions at sea and virtual voyages on land to investigate the causes of and solutions to ocean plastic pollution. To do so, eXXpedition set out to first collect data to better understand the composition of plastic in our waters.

“During one of our research missions of these ‘islands of plastic’ in the ocean, we quickly realized that the plastic breaks down into tiny fragments, called microplastics,” explained Penn. “These 171 trillion pieces of microplastic make their way into the food chain and, in turn, into our bodies.”

eXXpedition set out to define changes that people, governments, and businesses could make to curb the environmental crisis. But first, the organization needed to correlate the data it had collected to specific regions, products, and more. This process of cleansing the data to identify patterns of consistent and high-quality connections allows organizations like eXXpedition and businesses to better understand where issues or areas for optimization exist and simulate potential solutions.

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For example, Penn shared insights from her involvement in a project with a company that manufactures TV remotes. The project team unveiled that roughly five times the plastic used in a single TV remote was wasted during the production process. “You have to be able see the unseen waste that you’re creating,” said Penn. “Getting visibility across the whole supply chain is absolutely key.”

To share the learnings of eXXpedition, Penn created SHiFT, which offers a comprehensive collection of hundreds of solutions designed to address the issue of plastic pollution. “The idea of the platform is to encourage people to see that not everybody needs to do everything to tackle this global problem, we just need everybody to do something,” she explained.

This is one example of how data can drive sustainability. SAP Business Technology Platform (SAP BTP) can unify data and analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), application development, automation, and integration in one environment. Customers from around the world and varied industries have used SAP BTP to help drive sustainability initiatives. For example, a Belgian utility company uses SAP BTP to harness smart meter data and identify opportunities for more efficient and environmentally responsible water usage.

Small changes in behavior can have a significant impact when we unite our efforts. For companies, the first step is to address the data problem. Only with more visibility and improved data quality can they drive sustainability throughout the entire value chain.

Ragunath Ramanathan is chief revenue officer for SAP Business Technology Platform.

Top photo courtesy of SAP employee Angela Klose.

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Digital Transformation Helps Companies Keep Promises

As I meet with business and IT leaders across various industries, I increasingly see how much they value their business’ relationship with customers. Like any relationship or partnership, how brands interact with their customers is essential to forming a foundation of trust and loyalty.

Organizations must deliver their brand promise to customers to establish that deep connection, and it is a lot easier to do when you’ve gained supply chain agility by embracing digital transformation.

The technological developments of recent years have given us greater resilience, flexibility, and visibility into what brands can deliver and what customers expect, but how can brands embrace digital transformation to go even further to enhance those relationships?

I had the chance to discuss this topic with Sally Eaves, professor in Advanced Technologies, and global strategic advisor and special guest Steve Birgfeld, VP of Information Technology and Services at Blue Diamond Growers, as part of SAP’s Live Chat series on Tomorrow’s Tech Today platform. I am pleased to share a few key takeaways from our engaging conversation about how brands can achieve end-to-end visibility of their supply and distribution chains to create the type of customer experiences that drive loyalty and profitability.

Empowering the City of Antibes to Redefine Digital Contract Management

In the era of digital transformation, multi-company processes governed by legal contracts are becoming increasingly common. With the untapped potential of decentralized processes, there is a growing prospect for digitizing and automating collaborative contract management, streamlining operations, and reducing risks and costs. 

Recognizing this potential, the City of Antibes and SAP Innovation Center Network have joined forces to redefine digital contract management with a focus on public procurement processes. Patrick Duverger, chief technology officer of the City of Antibes, describes its previous procurement operations as follows: “Although we achieved a high level of operational proficiency, our business processes lacked full traceability. This resulted in process opacity when it comes to recurring delays, delivery errors, or administrative sanctions. By gaining a deeper understanding of our processes, we can optimize them, reduce costs, and minimize business risks.” 

Transparent and Traceable Collaboration 

The lack of visibility and traceability in these processes hindered automation, cross-organizational data and process mining, and intelligence. This directly affected how disputes were resolved and impacted organizational budgets. 

Build and deploy intelligent data applications at scale with SAP HANA Cloud

To address this challenge, SAP Innovation Center Network developed a prototype based on the SAP Cross-Company Workflow Collaboration service, combined with a blockchain-based shared ledger on SAP HANA Cloud. “This prototype aims to replace manual practices with automated, cross-company orchestrations. By using an SAP HANA Cloud shared ledger, organizations like the City of Antibes can benefit from a permissioned, publicly verifiable, and immutable audit trail of cross-organizational interactions,” says Benjamin Stoeckhert, innovation product manager at SAP Innovation Center Network, illustrating the potential of this innovation. 

“Leveraging the full potential of an SAP HANA Cloud shared ledger allows us to connect digital platforms that unite businesses and government to track the compliance of services and product deliveries according to contractual terms and conditions,” explains Duverger. “We can leverage data from different parties, such as logistics companies and quality certification bodies, and move beyond the era of cumbersome paperwork and manual processes. For example, this pattern is applicable to procurement processes where multiple parties verify the compliance of suppliers and their deliveries.”

Complete Control of Unencrypted Data 

However, opening up collaborative processes directly conflicts with customer privacy concerns. This dilemma poses a significant challenge for next-generation contract management. How can businesses ensure transparency without compromising the privacy of private business information and processes? Duverger emphasizes the importance of protecting sensitive public procurement secrets: “Confidentiality, including negotiated prices and deal sizes, is paramount for us and our suppliers.” 

In response to this pressing need, the SAP Security Research team, in collaboration with the SAP Innovation Center Network blockchain team, has extended SAP Cross-Company Workflow Collaboration with a hardware-based privacy-enhancing technology (PET) innovation. Dr. Laurent Gomez, who led this innovation with Antibes, explains: “Before committing a transaction to the shared ledger, organizations encrypt it along with its associated sensitive information, using their own managed cryptographic material. Encrypted data and processes are only processed within secure and trusted hardware modules, with the explicit consent of each stakeholder.” 

Future-focused solutions can solve today’s challenges and shape the next generation of enterprise software

This innovation can unlock significant business value by helping to automate cross-company operations and protect the privacy of customer data while still allowing for analysis. The key contribution of this approach is that it gives customers complete control and ownership of their encrypted material. “SAP can never access unencrypted data; the only data that leaves our information system is encrypted by us,” says Duverger. “SAP Business Technology Platform (SAP BTP) allows us to hold our own encryption keys, which is different from competing solutions.”  

5% Less Late Payment Penalty Costs 

The co-innovation has revealed the bottlenecks that slow down the procurement process at the City of Antibes and lead to late payment penalties for suppliers and delivery delays. “By adopting this secure distributed ledger approach, we have improved these key performance indicators without changing the process itself. We can now reliably manage all our procurement transactions,” says Duverger. “A key achievement was that we reduced our delinquency rate by 5%, which significantly minimized the impact of late payment penalty costs on our global spend budget.” 

The project was recently recognized at the highest national level with the Territoria Gold Award by the French Ministries of the Interior, Ecological Transition, and Territorial Cohesion.

© Niclas Fagot Studio9

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Corinna Schmidt is part of NVT Communication at SAP.

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