Covid-19 lessons for sustainability


Covid-19 lessons for sustainability

The pandemic has had a transformational effect on every aspect of life, and it has prompted many businesses to rethink their sustainability strategies. Dennis Curry, Konica Minolta’s Executive Director and Deputy CTO, offers some insights and advice on sustainability post-Covid-19.

dennis-curry-sustainability-post-covidHow has Covid-19 changed the way that businesses view sustainability both in terms of technology and their broader strategies?

The Covid-19 pandemic has confirmed what we already knew: human health and environmental conservation are connected. I’m thinking, in particular, about overpopulation in certain areas, about pollution and deforestation, the destruction of natural habitats and the way in which, cheap, easily accessible air travel is increasing the possibility of spreading diseases. These factors all contributed to the global crisis of the last two years and every company has had to adapt and transform because of them.

In Konica Minolta, for instance, our digital transformation has accelerated and for the fourth year in a row, we’ve been listed among the 2022 Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World (2022 Global 100). As a Smart Data and Digital IT Services company, we’ve been meeting the changing needs of customers post-Covid with our Digital Print, IoT, Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality solutions.

What advice are you giving clients at the moment when it comes to using new technology such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to boost their sustainability?

I think it’s important to remember that intelligence evolves both because of increasing complexity and random mutations generated by the environment. AI and ML are just instruments that can augment our intelligence and thus increase the sustainability of our workflows and industrial processes. However, limited and highly customised solutions are not enough, it’s important to reframe the whole company strategy to take full advantage of the potential of AI. That’s why at Konica Minolta we focus on research to deliver comprehensive IT Services and consultancy to optimise business processes with intelligent workflow automation. In the future, we can imagine a whole new set of services directly aimed at dealing with complexity – these might include decision support, automation and awareness – that will be aimed directly at reducing our customers’ environmental footprint but helping them to grow at the same time.

How can technology help to reduce emissions and improve recycling?

Technology that is directly focused on improving efficiency and helping us to make the right decisions about how to reduce our environmental footprint will be key.  AI will become more used to augment our intelligence and support our decision-making processes. Hybrid Edge to Cloud computing will create the digital environment for AI to be used at scale. Access to data and systems for AI will be used more and more instead of a single application with limited data points and connectivity to systems of record. In other words, AI will become distributed via cloud-like web services today.

For instance, with Video Analytics you can now use Visual Inspection as part of Industry 4.0. This means that you can automate visual quality inspections using smart cameras with AI technology to detect defects and anomalies in the production line to ensure product quality.  Technology can perform this task more quickly, efficiently and consistently than humans can do it.

This can be highly customisable in order to meet an individual organisation’s needs, from defect detection and high precision mechanical systems to loading area monitoring or automated inventory check. This automatic visual inspection improves sustainability because it reduces waste due to product defects in the manufacturing process.

The construction sector alone accounts for almost 40% of total global CO2 emissions every year.  With an orchestration service, it’s possible to validate the workflow here and split it into several tasks according to different parameters to optimise the overall process. In fact, within the Innovate UK project DMOC (Distributed Manufacturing for Off-site Construction) an Orchestrator has been developed by Konica Minolta to provide support in decision-making and planning using AI to manage the construction workflow in the most efficient way.

What about the human aspect of sustainability such as flexible working – how are you at Konica Minolta handling this? How are you able to help clients manage it with technology?

At Konica Minolta, like so many other companies, we embraced flexible working, enabling our employees and researchers to work remotely.  But we had already been empowering our teams with more autonomy and a goal-oriented approach. When the pandemic hit, working with agile methodologies and with design thinking enabled our teams to keep moving forward on projects and activities even during the lockdown months. Starting from the need for remote workers to manage information, within the last year we developed the Company Navigator, a tool that finds and visualises documents, people, events or categories relevant to an employee’s current tasks or interests and interacts with the Microsoft 365 ecosystem.

This application can be easily installed from Microsoft Teams as a basic Free Version that features core functionalities such as explorative search and document relations visualisation, and it can help employees easily find documents, tasks or people and thus save time in their daily routine.

How do you see things developing in this space? Can you share any trends over the next four or five years?

Even if we appear to be overcoming the Covid-19 health crisis, we are already experiencing another crisis which demonstrates how political instability Is strongly connected with supply chain disruption and climate change.

But then new opportunities will also arise from these and other events.  The key, I believe, is to see them not as crises but to treat them as opportunities to adapt and improve. So many of the technological solutions that we are developing at Konica Minolta are aimed at enabling people to do this.

Our role is to support SMEs and companies by providing them with services that improve their cybersecurity, information and data management resilience. We’re only at the beginning of the digital transformation and in the next four to five years, we’ll be able to drive more benefits for businesses and individuals. Technologies will grow to help us understand the environmental consequences of our own decisions and interaction with our environment.  More than that, though, these technologies will allow us to support our customers and to improve their sustainability in a way that benefits them – and the world as a whole.

Cover Picture by thisisengineering – Unsplash