The fourth industrial revolution (4IR) has become a watchword across every industry that exists today. Experts warn that unless organisations embrace 4IR, they will not be future-fit, and so most executives are grappling with how they will digitise their businesses or where they should be leveraging data, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Employees, on the other hand, are worried about what automation will mean for their job security.
But what is 4IR, and what is its real and measurable impact on industries today, and not just in the future?
First, let’s review how we have reached Industry 4.0. Industry as we know it today began in 1794 with the widespread use of water and steam to power mechanised production. Suddenly, factories were a possibility, and the world moved away from cottage industries. It took just over 70 years for the introduction of electricity to shift production into mass production, otherwise known as Industry 2.0.
One hundred years later, in 1969, the use of IT and the Internet began to digitise production, distribution, and services, and that’s the world we are all familiar with today: Industry 3.0. Industry 4.0, on the other hand, is the application of AI, ubiquitous digital networks and cyber-physical systems, which is what is causing so many leadership teams sleepless nights – the scale, cost and change management associated with true digital transformation is daunting. Or is it?
Digitally adapting to new circumstances
The most obvious impact of Industry 4.0 isn’t automated processes and chatbots taking over from real people. In fact, it happened during the pandemic. Without ubiquitous digital networks and cyber-physical systems, the ability for knowledge workers to work from home (overnight) would not have been possible.
COVID-19 didn’t require businesses to fast-track their AI implementations. Instead, companies suddenly had to fast-track their digital strategies, resulting in major overhauls to existing IT systems, data security plans, and cloud and project management software. The question is – were their employees ready for the shift?
Unfortunately, in most cases, the answer is no. According to the Institute for Management Development (IMD), at the start of the pandemic, only 37% of South African businesses had a digital transformation strategy in place. Only 23.5% had a detailed strategy for remote working. It’s important to note that a digital transformation strategy is not the same thing as an operational plan for remote working, nor does it necessarily mean that agility and adaptability have been fostered in workforces – but the two do go hand-in-hand. It’s also critical to remember that it is people who drive digital transformation strategies, not technology. Technology is merely a tool.
As we’ve mentioned, in many organisations, 4IR has led to a focus on advanced engineering talent and how AI, machine learning and automated processes are changing how we work, engage and bring products to market. There was less of a focus on developing the skills to deal with the disruptive effects of new technologies in work environments – and yet this is exactly what most businesses have needed. Today, most executives are placing a keen focus on the critical importance of being digitally agile.
The future of work is now
Interestingly, the Future of Jobs report that was published in 2016 was right on the money in many respects. Most notably, creativity, which wasn’t important in 2015, was expected to be in the top three skills that workers would need in 2020. It’s an almost eerie prediction, given the levels of creativity that were required during lockdown to not only navigate new technologies but to develop new ways of working.
The skill that dropped off the top ten list was negotiation, as the expectation was that the ability to use masses of data would mean that machines could make business decisions for us. But where does this leave us?
Upskilling and reskilling
How agile our workforces are is largely dependent on how we prepare today. The reality is that upskilling – or in some cases, reskilling – will be essential to keeping up with the rate of change that we’ve not only already experienced but will continue to experience.
According to the World Economic Forum, 230 million jobs will require digital skills by 2030 in Africa, which means the continent faces a huge digital skills gap. This doesn’t only dilute economic opportunities and development. It impacts the ability of workforces to adapt to new circumstances as they arise, and the cornerstone of 4IR is that we should expect continuous change.
As the business landscape continues to shift around us, companies need to think strategically about employee development and the role they play in it.
This is why Torque IT doesn’t only specialise in providing vendor-authorised and instructor-led training, enablement and certification solutions for technology and software platforms, but we focus on change management and agile training as well.
If organisations want to remain agile in the face of disruption, they need to create engaged workforces that have the tools to drive innovation for the future.