How the 4th industrial revolution will transform UK businesses

We look into Industry 4.0 and the impact it will have on UK businesses

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The fourth industrial revolution, otherwise known as Industry 4.0, represents the convergence of emerging technologies like the Internet of Things, AI, machine learning, 3D printing, virtual and augmented reality into a revolution that could fundamentally change industries.

In short, it's the development of technologies that pave the way to make 'dumb' objects smart, driving reams of data to assist in the transformation of business and our daily lives.

"The fourth industrial revolution is by design changing everything in your life, in your business life, economy and how you interact with everything in the industry," said Henrik von Scheel at the 2018 Smart IoT Show in London. "This is not a small change, it is a major change and it's happening faster than before.”

Von Scheel sits on the Industry 4.0 council, and is recognised as the originator of the term itself. He is also one of the founding fathers of Europe’s Digital Agenda 2020, the EU-wide strategy established in 2010 to drive economic growth across the region.

"Industry 4.0 is not about technology," he said. "It's about people, how people connect and how they work together. It's about helping each other to be successful.

"Of course, that means innovation, that's transformation and productivity, automation and all those aspects but at the core, it's about human beings and how we interact with each other."

Previous chancellor Philip Hammond and his predecessor George Osborne both elevated the role technology and R&D can play as a part of Britain's economy – setting out plans for driverless car trials, better broadband, 5G, and various innovation funds. Whether they are delivering on this is a topic for debate.

But the government has long been keen to tie technological growth to industrial strategy, and released a paper late 2017 called Industrial Strategy: building a Britain fit for the future.

Read next: How industry 4.0 could 're-shore' manufacturing closer to home 

The Industrial Strategy

As part of the industrial strategy, the government hopes to put the UK in the lead of the global technology revolution.

According to the UK government, the country currently ranks in the top five of the Global Innovation Index and the adminstration is keen to boast that Britain's thriving startup environment attracts some of the top talent in the world.

Von Scheel noted that Britain has the opportunity to capture the market as long as it's "smart about it". This means realising that Industry 4.0 is about the "interconnection of things".

"These are pillars that are very strong, and each pillar interconnects all industries to support each other, so for example AI is entering in the lead companies, and other companies are going into architecture, but this is the key differentiator – algorithms and how we manage it,” he said.

"AI is entering the business world really fast. When you look at blockchain, most people will think it's focusing on cryptocurrency – but it's not. Blockchain holds the promise for smart contracts for all industries, it will change the way you trade."

Industry 4.0 is about embracing the strengths of industries to develop and deploy ideas, and this could spur on the UK along to be one of the world’s most innovative economies.

Innovation at the core

According to von Scheel, there is room for progress if organisations look towards developing their use of digital technologies across all aspects of their organisations.

Cybersecurity remains a pitfall and it is unlikely to get any better if organisations fail to take notice. The fast pace of emerging technologies and cybersecurity means it's something of a balancing act.

"Of all elements, the weakest link of all is cybersecurity because it's catching up on what is already there but you constantly have to be one step ahead," von Scheel said.

There are six critical trends which von Scheel expects to cause disruption in the UK over the next two years.

These are unparalleled growth, algorithmic control of the future, new service and business models, automation productivity and workflow, as well as the rise of machine to machine/machine to human productivity and redefining security and trade.

"If you look in manufacturing, logistics and all these aspects where the UK is competing head to head, either you go one step ahead of the promise of Industry 4.0 or follow the aspects which say you can connect things together," added von Scheel.

How it will impact UK businesses

As technologies become smarter, customer expectations of how they interact with businesses will also increase.

The rise of AI and IoT means that personalised experiences will hold more importance. Therefore, organisations should do what they can to offer customers the best experience, in terms of security, data handling and privacy.

Already, 62 percent of people are more afraid of their data being compromised now than they were two years ago, research from Salesforce found. Organisations should take more care with customer data now more than ever to avoid potential risks of data leaks, which are more likely with technologies such as AI and IoT because of the amount of data they require to function and the data that they generate.

“Deploying AI will require a kind of reboot in the way companies think about privacy and security,” Marc Benioff, chairman and co-CEO at Salesforce said in a blog post.

“AI is fuelled by data. The more the machine learns about you, the better it can predict your needs and act on your behalf but as data becomes the currency of our digital lives, companies must ensure the privacy and security of customer information.”

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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