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Driving Sustainability in the Digital Age, with Steve O’Donnell

On the latest episode of the Programmable World podcast, host Dan Ilett, Managing Partner at Tollejo, interviews Steve O’Donnell, a CIO with over thirty years’ technology experience.


Steve has worked in a variety of fields and businesses, overseeing technological innovations in logistics, software, data storage, banking, telecommunications and more. 


He has received numerous awards for his work and is also the author of “What Every CIO Wants – A guide for global technology salespeople.”


Data centres, smart technology and the climate crisis

In 2007, Steve worked as Head of Operations for BT. He was tasked with reducing the company’s carbon footprint by 90%. 


It became clear that the company’s data centres were generating the most carbon emissions – and that ‘radical action’ was needed. It was a simple innovation that helped to reduce the energy required for the entire data centre dramatically. 


Steve managed to help reduce BT’s emissions by 90% in ten years, and then 90% again over the next ten years – illustrating that a creative but science-led approach was the key to both reducing costs and carbon emissions.


Steve talks more widely about how technological innovations are seeing massive changes to the entire data storage industry. Being an investor and director for Iceotope, he oversaw developments in new areas of the industry, such as liquid cooling.


Can smart grids meet demand?

Asked about how smart grids can be used to meet energy requirements, Steve explains that ‘smart grids work with peak times and trough times for energy usage’. Over the course of the day – ‘the demand for electricity rises and falls’.


However while smart grids can help deal with surges in demand, Steve explains, there will always be a ‘baseline load’ (an amount of energy constantly required by nationwide infrastructure systems). This is at present met by oil, nuclear and coal power. Gas turbines play an enormous role in our energy system, and issues in supply such as that caused by the war in Ukraine can cause costs to increase greatly. While renewables such as solar and tidal can help alleviate that, their output is not regular and we have not yet developed a way to store that energy. 


Steve suggests that developing battery storage for renewable energy could see a massive change in how our energy grid can be powered.


Where next for Web3?

The question of how energy sustainability can be maintained and improved upon as our dependence on digital technology increases, is an important one. Dan asks Steve how significant Web3 will be in how businesses interact with customers. With radically redesigned touchpoints between customers and companies, how will the energy demands be met?


Steve argues that we will see a resurgence in Edge storage, alongside massive developments in cloud storage. Edge storage is storage kept near to data sources and users (such as in offices). This was largely phased out in favour of cloud storage (data kept in massive offsite server units). 


Developments in autonomous vehicles require latency-free connection to prevent accidents and as such Edge technology will still be required within infrastructure. 


Furthermore, virtual reality tech must also be latency-free, or users will feel disoriented and nauseous. Steve’s argument is that businesses and governments will need to find a way to blend and develop current and future technologies to meet consumer demands.


CIOs and the modern workplace

One of the primary pieces of advice that Steve delivers to CIOs is to remember that “not all computer systems are created equal”. Whether a business has an interface that is ‘mission critical’ such as at Uber, or simply ‘operative’, a CIO must keep on top of any developments that may take place. 


Companies must be constantly monitoring the empirical metrics of their business and engaging with customers as they engage with the interface. One simple way to do this is to manage a diverse team that reflects the customer base. 


No longer can the executive team be ‘male, stale and pale’. Teams must be product oriented – trying to ‘understand the problem they’re trying to solve, rather than the solution they’re trying to deliver’.


For the full story from Steve, you can listen to the episode here.


You can stay tuned to the Programmable World podcast by following the Tollejo website.

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