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4IR and what you need to know

4IRThe 4th Industrial Revolution is not new.

Did you know that this concept was formalised by Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum and author of a book ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’ and that was back in 2016! Are we any more comfortable with this idea in 2020?

Back to Basics

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a way of describing the blurring of boundaries between the physical, digital, and biological worlds1. It’s a fusion of advances in:

  • artificial intelligence (AI): computers which can think like humans. Blockchain applications, for example, have resulted in a secure, decentralised and transparent way of recording and sharing data (without the need of third-party intermediaries). The best-known example of this is Bitcoin (is it on your investment portfolio yet?).
  • robotics: the design, manufacture and use of robots for commercial and private processes - think of vehicle manufacturing factories.
  • the Internet of Things (IoT): everyday items which connect to the internet. Just think about your smart watch, fitness band and tracking devices, all of which take data and allow it either to be shared to the internet or else to connect with other applications on the web.
  • 3D printing: businesses can ‘print’ their own parts or tools at a lower cost and a better fit – visit my dentist who can measure you up, create and fit a dental crown in a matter of hours!
  • genetic engineering: biotechnology leverages cellular and biomolecular processes to create new technologies and products, mostly used in pharmaceuticals and industrial manufacturing.
  • quantum computing and other technologies: computers are becoming faster, smaller and can process vast amounts of data quicker than ever before. If you’ve watched the excellent movie “Hidden Figures” you’ll discover an entertaining insight into what went before.

We could spend days investigating the first item and not get done with all the aspects of 4IR, but this overview will highlight what’s happening “out there” and how “we humans” can respond to this all-digital world in which we now live.

If nothing else, the lockdown we experienced as a result of the Corona virus pandemic should have given us a bit more insight. In addition, we should be aware that the changes in the present and the future are transforming the way we live and will continue to disrupt almost every business sector at an alarmingly steady pace.

What were the other Revolutions?

In case you’re wondering, each industrial revolution built on the one before.

  1. The first occurred in the 18th Century with the advent of the steam engine, which allowed processes to be mechanised and drew larger segments of the population into the urban areas.
  2. The second was thanks to the discovery of electricity and other advancements which paved the way to mass production.
  3. The third was one some of us may remember – the emergence of computers and digital technology in the 1950s, but which took several decades to become more common place. Industry experienced automation of manufacturing, whilst banking and communications surged forward with new developments.

What are some of the implications of 4IR?

Looking back, many of us would agree that there have only been positive effects of the digital age, but of course faster responses, being always-on and technological prowess may well have surreptitiously disrupted labour markets into two segments – low skilled/low paid workers and highly skilled/highly paid employees or consultants.

This segregation has not only added more fuel to the fire of existing social tensions, but contributed to the rise of stress-related health issues, which is attested to globally. As we may wish for ‘more’, more is actually demanded of each of us.

In the workplace, increased automation has seen many types of jobs disappear. At the same time, entirely new categories of jobs have also emerged (I’d never heard of a blockchain architect until recently). This means that business must prepare their people for an ever-changing internal and external work environment, with an increased focus on continual learning. Employees will, more than likely, need to update their skills, not just once but many times throughout their careers.2

As the various technologies daily change life as we know it, it’s not only business which is enabled a more accurate perspective on how customers use their products or services and tailor the marketing as a result.3 It is the customers themselves whose expectations are being transformed when interacting with brands and companies. There needs to be greater personalisation, a better experience across all touchpoints eg online and in a store and previous engagements need to have been taken into account.1 For example, if I’ve entered online for a road race, don’t send me any sales blurb about that same race, unless pertinent details have changed.

And of course, privacy and security must be a given. The recent GDPR and PoPI data privacy legislation speaks to this requirement. Businesses need to be trustworthy and able to demonstrate how they value and use the consumer’s personal details.

So, on the one hand technology is re-shaping our professional, economic, social and personal lives. And on the other, the response is becoming more about emotional intelligence, creativity and critical thinking among others. Thus, 4IR presents us with both opportunities and challenges, which drive innovation and disruption across the spectrum.


This article was submitted by Irene Pilavachi of Kingsway Marketing.

1 Salesforce Research Global Survey 2019 salesforce.com

2 Consider engaging with one of The Change Collective’s Skills Development professionals here, or for those at Board level here.

3 If the digital era seems overwhelming, chat to someone who can make sense of what’s best for your business.

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