Sandra Emme scaling up
based on digitalisation

Journalist: Editorial team ceo magazine | Photographer: Markus Bertschi | Magazine: Bigger, better, stronger – December 2023

Sandra Emme is one of the best-known digitalisation experts in Switzerland and is responsible at Google Cloud for the IT infra-structure, machine learning and cloud solutions used for the online and digital strategies of global corporations and industries. She believes that digital education and artificial intelligence (AI) are the best foundation for scaling companies.

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” says Sandra Emme at the start of our chat, quoting the Roman philosopher Seneca. Sandra Emme has already made the right decisions at the right time a number of times – and today she’s one of the most successful managers in Switzerland, including at strategic level. She sits on the boards of directors of both Zehnder Group AG, an indoor climate specialist, and Belimo, the building automation company. She has held the position of Industry Leader Cloud Enterprise at Google Cloud since 2019.

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”

Emme and her team at Google Cloud offer companies and developers a wide range of cloud-based products and services to help companies modernise, scale and optimise their IT infrastructure. These include offers like the ‘Google Compute Engine (GCE)’, which is an infrastructure that enables companies to adapt computing power as needed, or even a platform-as-a-service offer that lets developers create, host and scale databases, for example. 

“Nowadays it’s not just about purely volume-based scaling any more, but increasingly about automated personalisation.” She goes on to explain using a public case study of ‘Spotify’, which has been based on Google Cloud since 2016, that the company relies on machine learning and constantly expanding personalised playlists. “Among other things, in the space of a decade the company has become one of the most important players in audio entertainment.” Another example: the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) recently announced plans to store its entire library in Google Cloud. The ETH library has a vast database, including everything from books and journals to images and digital replicas. Emme says that “As a result, digital solutions will be able to make an enormous amount of knowledge available to the general public.”

“Nowadays it’s not just about purely volume-based scaling any more, but increasingly about automated personalisation.”

Artificial intelligence as a growth accelerator 

“With the right technologies and innovations, sustainability and growth don’t have to be mutually exclusive. AI is an important part of that,” says the digitisation expert when answering the question of how sustainability and expansion can go hand-in-hand in today’s world. Google’s AI and cloud solutions help to reduce CO2 emissions. One simple example of this is the transport of parcels. If AI helps load a delivery truck more efficiently and with more parcels, that reduces the CO2 emissions per parcel, and if AI calculates shorter and therefore more climate-friendly routes for delivery, emissions decline even further. She describes another example: “A large retailer was recently able to use Google Cloud and AI to improve its demand forecast for fresh food by 43% and reduce food waste accordingly. As a result of this the company now needs to throw away much less fresh food, and is even cutting costs.” Emme continues to enthusiastically sum up the situation by saying that “AI offers a great deal of opportunities to make the economy more sustainable and companies more efficient. There’s also potential in the areas of mobility, energy and agriculture, where AI can be used to reduce a company’s environmental impact while also scaling it.”

Switzerland is still in its infancy when it comes to digitalisation 

Before joining Google Cloud, Sandra Emme studied in Bremen in her native Germany as well as Marseille and worked as a serial entrepreneur in the IT industry. She also joined forces with a fellow student to found several start-ups in France and the USA, including the PC hardware manufacturer AS Media and later the software company SoftThinks.   She has been working in Switzerland since 2008 and at Google Cloud since 2011. In Switzerland she appreciates the close proximity to large universities like ETH, Swiss precision, quality and the spirit of innovation. However, she also notes that “Switzerland still has potential when it comes to digitisation.”

Google and education 

Google has been investing in digital education in schools, companies and private individuals for years. Google has launched a corresponding programme – the ‘Google Atelier Digital’ – which is a free education programme aimed at private individuals and companies. People can use this programme to attend live webinars and online courses on topics ranging from digital marketing and e-commerce, machine learning and AI to certificates in IT support, project management and UX design.

“For us, digital education isn’t just about our own growth but also about sustainably strengthening the entire Swiss economic system.”

Given that digital media has become a central part of our everyday lives and that professions of the future will become even more digital, Sandra Emme considers digital education at school to be of vital importance. Training the next generation in computer science and software development is fundamental for counteracting the shortage of skilled workers, especially in the IT sector. According to Emme, “For us, digital education is about sustainably strengthening the entire Swiss economic system. The next generation needs to be able to help shape the future.” To achieve this, Google offers schoolteachers free tools for computer science lessons and helps them with programming courses via a scheme called ‘CS-First’, for example.

Emme thinks it’s important for people at all levels in a company to have digital skills, especially at management level and on the board of directors, and that these skills are updated on an ongoing basis. She’s convinced that a lack of digital know-how prevents companies from reaching their full potential. All areas of a company are becoming increasingly digitalised, including the entire value chain. This means that instead of being viewed as a pure service provider like in the past, IT must be included in decision-making processes as a strategic business partner. Furthermore, IT must proactively address potential risks, including cybersecurity, data protection and business continuity. But Sandra Emme isn’t just known for her digital expertise – people say that she also exemplifies a good feedback culture in her team. She’s a doer, communicates transparently and creates trust in the process.

“With the right technologies and innovations, sustainability and growth don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”

What advice would she give to young people aspiring to pursue a career similar to hers?

Emme says, “Be brave and step out of your comfort zone. It’s worth it – both for your personal and entrepreneurial growth.” She also has another tip specifically for women: “If you want a partner by your side, make sure you’re a team, that you are equals and can help each other. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my partner.”

And just like she welcomes visitors in person at the entrance, she escorts them out of the building personally again with a firm handshake. “Now I have to get back behind the monitor,” she says with a wink. “That’s where I feel most comfortable.”

“For me, personal growth always has positive connotations. It doesn’t just happen of its own accord, but rather it’s planned.”

Google Cloud accelerates the ability of every organisation to digitally transform their business and industry. Google Cloud delivers solutions for businesses using Google’s cutting-edge technology and tools that help developers work more sustainably. Customers in more than 200 countries and regions rely on Google Cloud as a partner to generate growth and solve their most critical business problems.

Since 2011 Sandra Emme has been working at Google, Zurich, where she has held various functions in Global Business Development ranging from Industry Head Luxury and Finance to Industry Leader Automotive. In 2019, as Industry Leader Cloud Enterprise she took over the Platforms, IT Infrastructure, Machine Learning and Cloud unit for global corporations in the manufacturing industry. She holds a master’s degree from Bremen University of Applied Sciences and Arts and the Ecole Supérieure de Commerce in Marseille, as well as degrees from IMD Business School and the Swiss Board School at the University of St. Gallen.