The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Is Your Organization Full Steam Ahead or Pumping the Brakes?

Fourth Industrial Revolution

On the heels of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos last month, industry is abuzz with talk of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: what exactly is it, what do we need to know about it, and what are the potential impacts to businesses, governments, and society as a whole.

Coined by WEF Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab in 2016, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) refers to a technological revolution that is “blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres”[i]—in other words, emerging technology breakthroughs like artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, and the internet of things that are merging with humans’ physical lives[ii] and “even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.”[iii]

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Like the three prior industrial revolutions, 4IR is marked by step-change technological development and a high potential for disruption. Unlike any of its predecessors, however, is the unprecedented speed at which 4IR is “disrupting almost every industry in every country and creating massive change in a non-linear way,”[iv] author and futurist Bernard Marr argues in Forbes.

WEF’s Schwab goes so far as to say “There has never been a time of greater promise, or one of greater potential peril” and notes that these changes “herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.”[v] On the positive side, the 4IR will drive long-term gains in efficiency and productivity, and Schwab also points out its potential to raise income levels and improve the quality of life for populations around the world. In a bleaker outlook, he also calls out the possibility of its disruption to labor markets, yielding greater inequality, and cites governments’ challenge to find ways to protect security and privacy.

One thing is certain, though: Talent, rather than capital, will be the most critical component moving forward. Indeed, it is talent — through strategic leadership — that wields the power to “shape the 4IR and direct it toward a future that reflects our common objectives and values.”[vi]

Organizations must put people first and proactively identify ways to empower them. It’s up to business leaders to shift their focus from the “crisis du jour” and instead to think strategically about how they can become smarter, more connected organizations. Now is the time to invest in technical infrastructure and business intelligence capabilities that enable data-driven decision making.

To borrow a phrase born from the first industrial revolution: It’s full steam ahead. The train has left the station and there’s no turning back: Are you ready? Are you on board? Let’s start a conversation.

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