8min read

Organisations are pondering their level of participation in the 4th industrial revolution by looking into the technologies and opportunities that these can bring.  But what if you don’t participate?

We note 6 outcomes that will compromise or even close your business.

A client recently asked me the following question: What if we don’t “do” 4IR? 

After thinking for a moment, realising that I can be brief or answer for an hour, my response was more or less the following: “To go forward, we need to look back at the past. This is not the first industrial revolution.  We learned that each revolution is about closing a gap. The previous industrial revolution (the one where we got computers and access to the internet) reduced the distance gap.  Suddenly the world got smaller and we could experience the most remote of places.  Before that, we closed the power gap. By using machines, people could produce more effectively and with access to transport they finally dropped the shackles of living under feudalistic rule. They could move, engage in trade with others and were no longer dependant on their landlord for provisions and services.  Following the first, we had access to information. Consider the printing press giving access to information in the 1400s. The 4th is about trust. We are reducing the trust gap.  Technologies such as blockchain and AI will cause systems to be build where we can trust and transactions will flow more efficiently, without middlemen.  Factors of production will be connected and operate collaboratively to produce the most efficient of output. But there is a first step. That step is data. Without well organised harvesting and structuring of data, it will not turn into information.  Without information, we will not be able to trust.  The 4th industrial revolution is about having access to information, within your business and that what is coming in and going out. By not participating in this generation and exchange of information, your organisation will not be trusted and you will lose”.

Afterwards, I thought of a more practical response rather than my philosophical response. These are my thoughts:

1. Dropping out of the customer journey

Should you choose to not participate in the 4th industrial revolution, you are likely to be dropped from your customer’s journey into 4IR.  You see, they are taking the opportunity. If you are not available to participate with access to information, more efficient operating models and participating in a healthy ecosystem, well? You will be replaced.

2. Missing out on operational benefits

Noted already, but can you really afford missing out on more efficient operating models? Will you maintain your production process in its slow and inefficient form? Will your people do the same mundane repetitive tasks? Will you continue to drown under administrative load? 4IR gives us access to the phenomenal opportunity to augment human strengths (creativity, organisation and conversation) with tools to produce more efficiently (think AI, robotics, RPA and VR/AR) while replacing the burdens of the mundain (repetitive work, non-value adding administration, etc).

3. Missing out on scalability

Perhaps your mission is not to grow your business. OK. But can we agree that shrinking is also not an option? Yet 4IR gives the opportunity to scale.  Combining the efficiency from operational benefits, improved access to market and enhanced delivery into the customer journey, we can also benefit from real time access to information that further enhance our ability to respond to growth opportunities.  Participation will make you better, non-participation makes businesses worse or even worse: irrelevant.

4. Losing key skills to the competition

You have good people on your team. Yes you do. It might be relative to someone else, but you do have people whom have found motivation to help you grow your business to what it is today.  Can you afford to see them go? What if you need to cut costs following your key customer having a more cost effective alternative? Or what if you simply don’t offer the stimulation and engagement that comes with deploying new technology and making positive change in your business? Can you afford having your best people leave and help someone else? Doubly whammy. They win, you lose.

5. Falling behind the curve (will require massive investment to get back)

By now, I’m sure some will say: “Yes, sure. It sounds exciting and probably worth getting into. But we’ll wait and let others mess around and then we’ll learn from their mistakes”. Well I cannot argue against the latter principle.  Others will make mistakes and you will be able to learn. However, many will succeed! They will make significant strides towards improved operations, better customer experiences and engaged workforces. You will be left behind. To catch-up, you will need to buy solutions in high demand, pay premium for access to resources and go through change that will be unprecedented and perhaps too daunting to deal with considering your historic thinking. You will be replaced or worse: your business might be replaced.

6. You face disruption

Yes, we’ve said it. You risk being disrupted. KODAK, Blockbuster and Musica can all tell you about being disrupted. Perhaps they fell behind the curve, perhaps too arrogant to believe they could not fail. Maybe they thought they’ll check out how others fail and then act.  They ended being the experimental reference case in their industries. Only one could act quick enough, divest, invest and repurpose to demonstrate some kind of continuation. It came with pain.

The 4th industrial revolution offers immense opportunities for business and society. Let’s work at thinking that embraces these opportunities and actively channel our resources towards adoption and refinement. Else we (as individuals or businesses) risk becoming irrelevant and unfortunate relics following a period of change.   This has been proven unavoidable during each of the previous three revolutions.

What to do?

Do you have the required skill and knowledge to benefit from 4IR? Have you engaged an ecosystem of solution providers that can help you on your transformation journey? Perhaps you are concerned about your supply chain and wish to channel help their way? You need a partner to assess your 4IR maturity and help strategise how you will achieve the necessary culture change to maximise your potential.  If you have not planned your strategy and organisation, get help. The journey is arduous and can be so much more satisfying if you have a clear plan and the organisation to deliver.

Johan Louw is the founder of Aguru Business Solutions.  He helps companies to get ready for automation and digitalisation.

Aguru Business Solutions



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