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Welcome to the official blog of the International Society of Automation (ISA).

This blog covers numerous topics on industrial automation such as operations & management, continuous & batch processing, connectivity, manufacturing & machine control, and Industry 4.0.

The material and information contained on this website is for general information purposes only. ISA blog posts may be authored by ISA staff and guest authors from the automation community. Views and opinions expressed by a guest author are solely their own, and do not necessarily represent those of ISA. Posts made by guest authors have been subject to peer review.

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Sustainability, Automation and Cybersecurity: Partners to Drive Growth and Governance

three linksThis article provides a condensed version of a presentation given by 2024 International Society of Automation (ISA) President Prabhu Soundarrajan at the ISA OT Cybersecurity Summit in London on 19 June 2024.

Sustainability represents a phenomenal economic opportunity — McKinsey estimates that sustainable categories could generate 12 trillion USD in annual revenue by 2030, and that’s just six years away. When examining the data by sector, analysts found the largest opportunities are in transport, buildings, power and water. Agriculture and oil and gas are not far behind.

Increased sustainability is arguably imperative to remain relevant and competitive today, whether the driver is investor or regulatory pressure, consumer demand or employee attraction and retention. So why is there so often such a dramatic gap between ambitions set by policy or pressure and the actions taken by companies?

The answers may sound familiar to anyone who leads or supports digital transformation initiatives. Many companies may lack talent and resources. Many may wonder how to pay for upgrades. Many may believe their corporate structure or governance model is not set up to effectively implement plans. Whether we’re talking about advancing sustainability measures or technology, many of the challenges are the same.

For companies to compete in today’s market, they need to drive sustainability goals and profitability goals at the same time. And automation technologies help many reach and exceed both.

Automation offers many well-documented paths to accelerate environmental, social and governance (ESG) activities across manufacturing, industry and beyond. For example, automation can help:

  • Optimize energy usage and efficiency
  • Reuse, refurbish and recycle products and materials
  • Minimize downtime and reduce waste by monitoring equipment performance and doing predictive maintenance

It can also assist in ways that may be less intuitive. Automation can also:

  • Provide objective data to demonstrate the impact of sustainability measures
  • Introduce more transparency and accountability, increasing both safety and efficiency
  • Free up automation professionals to focus their tremendous problem-solving skills on tougher, more complex sustainability issues

From improving safety assurances to increasing accountability and transparency, enterprise-level sustainability depends on automation. You can read more on this topic in a position paper from ISA called “Achieving Sustainability Goals with Automation.”

And there is no automation without cybersecurity. In today’s environment, you simply cannot deploy automation technologies responsibly without taking steps to ensure the safety and security of those systems. ISA technical experts realized that over 20 years ago when we began work to develop the ISA/IEC 62443 series of standards.

The data collection and monitoring analytics that automation makes possible are key changemakers, whether we’re talking about sustainability or cybersecurity. Reliability and data integrity are the throughline of transformation in either arena.

Perhaps the most important intersection between cybersecurity and sustainability can be found in governance, which is ultimately about trust. Whether it’s shareholders, the general public or regulatory bodies — we demand to accurately understand how an enterprise operates. We want to know how reliable their data is. We want to know if we can trust them. And what is a hack but a breach of trust?

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According to recent research, 91 percent of cybersecurity professionals agree that new sustainable tech has created novel threat vectors. As a thought exercise, let’s consider a scenario of a cyberattack that jeopardizes the output of a solar grid.

Imagine this cyberattack causes power outages in certain communities some members of whom may have resisted adopting renewable energy in the first place. Now the solar provider must address a power outage in addition to a public relations problem. Residents panic and bombard city systems for a solution. Many people may be forced to skip work, causing untold disruptions and inefficiencies. Meanwhile, the solar provider is on a mad dash to patch its systems and restore not only power, but the community’s faith in its reliability.

It’s easy to see how cyberattacks lead to resource waste and operational disturbances, which have a cascading impact on sustainability goals. Businesses may redirect important resources toward recovery and remediation, taking time, energy and investment away from efforts to minimize waste and optimize resource consumption. We can only make real progress toward a greener society with secure digital foundations.

 How do we become more sustainable? By measuring our outcomes so we can continuously improve. How do we ensure our measurements and outcomes can be trusted? By maintaining safe and secure systems. And so the cycle goes on.

Automation, cybersecurity and sustainability are fundamentally interrelated. Investing in cybersecurity and sustainability can drive business growth and responsible corporate governance. And to help ensure safety and efficiency in pursuit of these goals, organizations of all sizes rely on the connective strength of automation.

To learn more about ISA’s work or explore membership options, please visit isa.org.

Prabhu Soundarrajan
Prabhu Soundarrajan
Prabhu has 20 years of experience in automation and ESG. He currently serves as ISA president and has served in ISA’s executive board since 2017 and has held several leadership roles in the society. He is currently operating partner at Kingston Capital and has held senior leadership positions at both Honeywell and Republic Services. He loves Golden State Warriors basketball and golf.

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