Industry 4.0: Tips for building your digital enterprise

Industrial revolutions are huge, significant events, and many observers believe we've gone through four of them.

Laser cutting a nuclear industry component at Paul Fabrications, the 100th company to complete Fit For Nuclear – image courtesy of F4N.

The first was initiated by the introduction of the commercial steam engine and the birth of the textile industry.

The second was sparked by electricity and mass production, and the third was triggered by the computer after the Second World War.

Professor Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, believes we’re well underway with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, (Industry 4.0).

It refers to major innovations in technology which are reaching maturity at the same time, such as the Internet of Things, Big Data, robotics, 3D printing and augmented reality.

A few years ago, business leaders in sectors like manufacturing may have considered Industry 4.0 as just another technology buzzword, but research from PwC shows that many business leaders are already putting down investment, and that organisations that didn’t were at risk of being left behind.

According to the independent UK industry-led Made Smarter Review, industrial digitisation could boost UK manufacturing by $455bn over the next ten years, increasing sector growth by 3% and creating a net gain of 175,000 jobs.

Tips on making the most of Industry 4.0

In a recent blog post, PwC Chief Technologist, Chris Curran offered five practices a business leader could start with in preparing for Industry 4.0:

  • Rethink the way you experiment – make sure that you evaluate technology through a business lens. This will allow you to experiment with technology that can differentiate your company, so that you can do things your competitors won’t be able to do.
  • Engage with your emerging technology ecosystem – identify the organisations and startups working with and researching the tech relevant to your industry, products, customers and markets. Establish working relationships where suitable, and keep an eye on all of them. For example, you could think about partnering up with a university or other suitable educational institution.
  • Build your own learning lab – if your enterprise is getting to a certain size, you should certainly start thinking about having an innovation team to get business value from ideas – perhaps through the creation of demos and prototypes.
  • Develop a maker’s mindset – Curran said that enterprises should develop thinking which allows them to draw connections across technology and solve real-world problems. He says that ‘makers’ are willing to try, test and fail, get their hands dirty, and share and build on other people’s discoveries.
  • Established a process to scale emerging technology – Curran believes that regular enterprise working processes, such as building a business case and planning projects with the financial benefits in mind, won’t work for tech-driven innovation. He suggests processes with shorter stages that includes advancing ideas, developing prototypes, market testing, and scaling.

It’s important to remember that the change being brought about by Industry 4.0 won’t be considered as ‘new’ and ‘cutting edge’ for very long. Because ideas can spread at such a rapid speed, we’ll soon see multiple companies come up with their own versions of the same business products and solutions.

Simply playing at innovation won’t be enough to separate your business from the competition – your organisation needs serious planning and strategy to avoid falling behind.