I’ve been promoting the progress of the fourth Industrial Revolution for a few years and I’m excited to see the momentum of the 4IR conversation in the market. However, it’s still an enigma for many organizations that need help to figure out where to start.
The 4IR isn’t just about technology. Although the 4IR does encompass different types of technology, including artificial intelligence, IoT and robotics, the non-tech arena is equally important. We must remember to keep the workforce, cybersecurity, resiliency, trust or distrust of technology and business model innovation top of mind. Marrying the tech and non-tech areas is key to success in the 4IR.
Success can take many forms — such as more efficient operations, better customer engagement, more productive employees and the creation of new businesses — but the primary goals are to solve business problems and generate new opportunities.
What differentiates this revolution from the rest
Like the three previous industrial revolutions — steam, electricity and digital — the 4IR represents a giant leap forward for business. Unlike the first three revolutions, during which people connected to machines, in the 4IR, machines connect to other machines and people. That’s a profound difference.
Why? Because all those machines that are connecting to other machines create vast amounts of data, far more than people can produce on their own, leading to a crucial 4IR challenge: trust.
With all the breaches that have taken place, distrust seems more prevalent than ever. Banks, retailers, social media platforms and organizations that routinely ask people to trust them to protect their data face a lot of skepticism these days. The 4IR goes way beyond that; it basically asks humans to trust millions of devices and machines and all the information they produce and distribute. This is a critical issue for organizations to address if they don’t want to lose out on the opportunities 4IR offers.
Consider the economic challenges and prepare a strategy
Despite the need to overcome the trust gap, several economic challenges reinforce that now is an ideal time to move forward with a 4IR initiative. Nearly 30% of the CEOs in PwC’s 22nd Annual Global CEO Survey forecast a decline in economic growth in 2019, up from just 5% who felt that way in the prior year. During the same period, optimism among North American CEOs dropped from 63% to 37%. That’s unsettling.
How should your organization deal with these tough business challenges? Enterprises that build a technological and cultural framework that supports the 4IR will be far better prepared to ride out any seismic changes that may unfold.
Start to scope out the 4IR world, but move at your own pace
As you begin considering your 4IR strategy, be sure that you develop an understanding of the essential eight technologies. In particular, pay attention to IoT, the glue that binds all connected tools, technologies and systems in a 4IR organization. These connected devices go beyond merely boosting efficiency and cutting costs; they can also disrupt an organization or an entire industry.
But there’s no need to start by tackling every 4IR technology at once. Instead, begin with a manageable use case and build up and out from there. For example, asset trackers can instantly identify the location of lost hospital equipment and can reduce the number of lost, stolen and misplaced devices and machines. Other types of sensors can identify and count valued customers, so they can be given an exceptional experience and reduce wait times. Hotel occupancy sensors can determine when people are physically present in a room, so the lighting and temperature can adjust automatically.
These modest implementations do more than increase productivity, efficiency and customer satisfaction. Organizations can join the 4IR at their own pace, by automating tasks and then scaling up from there.
Don’t underestimate the importance of culture
Since IoT and the 4IR are about more than just technology, you must think about cultural considerations that are part of a connected business model. A vital factor here involves upskilling the workforce, yet approximately 60% of organizations in PwC’s digital IQ survey reported that their employees lacked the digital skills needed to move their organization into the future.
To be successful with the 4IR organizations must establish partnerships that bring expertise and new ideas to the table, but must also bring employees on the journey. It’s about more than tech training and bringing in tech expertise; it’s about reshaping digital mindsets and creating a collaborative culture.
Consider the potential
All of this may seem like a big investment in time and resources, but the potential ROI makes it worthwhile. Wouldn’t you applaud an investment that resulted in better service to customers, enhanced employee productivity, the development of new products and services and the creation of new, innovative business models? I would and do. Already, the effects of the 4IR on business and industry are clear and we’re just getting started.
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