We live today amid the fourth industrial revolution. It is happening all around us and is reshaping how we live, work, and connect.
For manufacturers, the revolution requires new approaches to nearly every facet of their business. From internal processes to customer relations, this profound change is transforming companies. New business models can be imagined. Entire new profit centers are now possible.
To be a part of this revolution, manufacturers will need to be nimble and adapt to rapid technological change. Systems and assumptions will be challenged. Adaptability is the new normal.
The first three industrial revolutions were mechanization, electrification, and computerization. The fourth is the vast and increasing interconnectedness of everything. The so-called Industry 4.0 includes automation, data exchange, and manufacturing technologies. It involves the Internet of Things and the rise of cyber-physical systems. In early 2016, it was the focus of World Economic Forum.
Five factors are changing business
For companies, the revolution means dramatic change. Business models, products, processes, and workforces will continue to evolve in this new paradigm.
There are five core factors driving this fundamental shift. Hyperconnected products are the first. This “Internet of Things” consists of products and tools that include sensors, software and wireless connections. The products can “talk” with each other while they collect, store, and send data. Affordable and easily available wireless access lets people and devices connect to each other simply.
Supercomputing is the second driver. The growth of Big Data provides major analytics tools that store and interpret data. These programs provide predictive tools, wide access to information, and clear displays of large sets of data.
Cloud computing is another catalyst. Cloud-based platforms allow those large data sets to be collected and stored easily. The price of data storage continues to plummet.
The fourth factor is smart technology. Robotics, AI, and 3D printing are changing what had been science fiction into reality.
Cybersecurity is the final core driver. With so much information available, privacy concerns are front of mind for consumers. Protecting data from physical and virtual threats is critical.
Businesses need to consider new ways of doing business in this connected, digital world. For consumers, the ability for personalized experiences with brands and products has created the “segment of one.” Businesses need to leverage digital solutions to be responsive and customizable in their products and customer service.
What companies sell will also change. As devices become more connected, they provide firms with petabytes of data on performance, usage, and maintenance needs, Savvy firms can use that information to offer included or discrete service bundles, insights, and consulting to those same customers.
New collaborative partnerships are not only possible but encouraged. Often one company will not be able to provide all that consumers want. Strategic partnerships and digital connections offer a wider portfolio of offerings.
From R&D to customer relations, the way business is conducted is changing due to the 4th industrial revolution.
Networked platforms allow for a complete rethinking of the innovation cycle. By sharing data with suppliers, vendors, and customers, firms can gather more insights.
Sales and marketing efforts will need to shift as the focus shifts as well. Sales people will be touting not just the product, but the outcomes of that product and the available insights about the product you can provide.
Maintenance and repair work changes with smart, enabled products. Instead of being reactionary processes, smart devices will provide alerts, warnings, and data. In some cases, the devices will be able to solve issues themselves.
Finally, the customer relationship is forever changed. Customers expect a different relationship with configurable products they purchase. They are more interested in what the product does for them than its name or looks. Firms today have to meet customers where they are. All customer interactions will be subject to continuous service innovation.
Just as previous revolutions phased out jobs, so too will this one refine the jobs we do. This shift will involve some obvious changes, such as robotics advances that allow for “lights out factories” and increased automation.
It will also change the way work is done in subtler ways. Workers today are more likely than ever before to work remotely, either from home or the local coffee shop. This distributed workforce needs mobile applications and secure access to robust systems. These platforms need to be able to work on a mobile phone, a home computer or laptop.
This easily accessible data is powerful in another way. It allows firms to empower workers by providing easy access to data. Decision-making can be distributed deeper in the organization with transparency and access.
As products become nimble, so too do work forces. Artificial departmental or divisional lines are blurring. The importance of ad hoc task forces, work committees, and impromptu project teams are allowing employees to interact in new ways. This work provides a cross-functional deepening of skill sets, priorities, and needs of other departments throughout the organization.
The transformation of industry is happening at a startling rate. Advances in interconnected “things” and personalized consumer demand offer both challenges and opportunities. In this emerging digital economy, firms will need to consider the purpose of their business, the product line they offer, the way work is done, and the processes that guide that work. For firms that do it well, the results will be revolutionary.
For more information, please download the white paper Digital Manufacturing: Powering the Fourth Industrial Revolution.