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Leadership at the Edge by Rajesh Thangaraj

Sydney NSW, Australia


The path to a sustainable future is challenging but venturing to the edge can play an important role in helping to drive innovation and create alternative ways of doing things.

That’s the learning of Robert Swan OBE, the only man to walk to both the north and south poles, who recently gave the keynote address at Schneider Electric’s Innovation Day event (02 June 2021).

Having experienced leadership and team cooperation in some of the world’s most hostile environments, Robert applies the leadership lessons he has learned to inspire bold management practices and effective communication styles.

In his speech, Robert talks about his decades of experience venturing to the very edge of the world and how over time, the science and technology he uses on these expeditions has evolved to improve both the experience of the challenge and the results. 

He shared how on returning from his first successful trip he was given a 50-year mission by French explorer Jacques Cousteau, to save Antarctica from the impact of climate change by 2041. Since then, Robert has dedicated his life to the preservation of the planet by setting up the 2041 Foundation and promoting renewable energy and sustainability. 

We are applying this same thinking to Schneider Electric’s operations that focus on energy management and sustainability. For Schneider, the journey towards ‘the edge’ would translate as the shift towards edge computing. 

While it will not be a replacement for cloud computing, or even traditional on-premises infrastructure, edge computing has the ability to be an important complementary force. Much like the evolution of Robert and his team’s expedition kit and navigational technology, which complements the expertise and older tools used on the very first trip.

The increased adoption of edge computing will help drive new investment and improved outcomes for many organisations and as they prioritise digital transformation, it will play a key role in changing the way they operate and support sustainability. 

A recent report by Tech Research Asia revealed that the top reason IT leaders adopt edge computing is to address bandwidth and latency issues, evidence that there is significant value in deploying edge computing in today’s business environment where speed and greater efficiency is a competitive advantage.Therefore, to meet increasing demand, it is absolutely critical for data centres to be both sustainable and resilient. 

For example, at a time where business continuity is a critical priority for organisations thanks to COVID, the decentralised flexibility behind Edge computing is enabling organisations to maximise their remote working capabilities. By using Edge computing, more data can be processed locally, minimising the impact of the shift to remote work on the network, and enabling remote employees to continue seamless interaction with the data. Systems located close to the user will continue to operate regardless of whether a WAN or internet connection is performing well. 

At our current pace and based on internal projections at Schneider Electric, energy consumption by data centres is expected to double by 2040; an increase largely attributed to the continued rise in edge data centres. And with 7.5 million new micro data centres expected to be installed by 2025, the global footprint at peak power stands at a staggering 120 GW for edge facilities alone. This adds up to between 450,000 to 600,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. 

Of course, increased energy consumption at this level by the data centre industry will not go unnoticed by the public and governments.

Therefore, much like Robert Swan has taken responsibility to help preserve Antarctica, businesses have a responsibility to help preserve the areas we work in by helping reduce these rates of energy consumption.

As digital transformation initiatives accelerate, sustainability remains an essential cornerstone in our digital-centric world. While the world moves towards leveraging the edge, we need to keep in mind that the solution is only as strong as the coordinated efforts that are put in place to optimise systems and processes. 

By pushing the limits of technology and innovation, it’s not just explorers that can benefit, but more successful and sustainable business operations will come within reach.


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