The Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterised by a convergence of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical and digital, and it’ll transform the way we live, work, and engage with one another. Companies, countries and people across the planet are already experiencing the increasing effects of this new dawn.
From multi-national companies to independent professionals, staying ahead of the curve is becoming more important, and a defining factor of whether they will survive and thrive, or fade away into the history books – with the epitaph, “once great” beneath their name. All businesses of all sizes need to act now and adopt digital technologies in innovative ways, if they hope to capture a slice of this growing market – whether they consist of 100,000 employees or a single independent professional.
With the inevitable introduction of digital technologies into many companies, new types of leadership, governance, and behaviours are needed. Those that aren’t prepared to adapt will find themselves removed from by CEOs that are committed to changing they way their companies live and breath. Those that utter the words “that’s how we’ve always done it here” are prime candidates to be axed from their company’s payroll and deemed not fit for purpose in the fourth industrial revolution. Decades of industry experience alone won’t cut it any longer in the new digital economy.
All leaders need to embrace the need to innovate continuously and scale rapidly to avoid displacement. But the increasing demand for digital products and services by consumers is largely being met by a relatively small number of companies. These are the businesses with CEOs who adopt a digital mindset, who know they need to act with a sense of urgency and blend innovation with digital technologies to capture markets as the fourth industrial revolution engulfs us all. Those unprepared to find new ways to produce and deliver new products and services will experience the darker side of this new era – which is still at its dawn. Business agility, technology adoption, and innovation are three pillars that no company can afford to compromise on, in order to thrive.
Acknowledging the concept of a new digital economy is a popular pastime and discussing the progress we see among true innovators is one thing, but far less people are responding to this new dawn with new business models for goods and services. Most take the safe seat by digitising operations and marketing and existing ways of working. Either they fail to recognise the difference between transformation and change, or they don’t have the courage to transform their business model. Only the minority get bold and create new business models. Then there are those that will find themselves too slow to adopt new technologies and ways of thinking, and attempt to compete with insufficient innovation, digital and business transformation capabilities. Their aspirations to thrive in the digital economy will be crushed by the inefficiencies they inflict upon themselves and their own inability to orchestrate the transformation they so badly want to bring about. They have the money and the will, but they fail to recognise the new capabilities required to transform strategy into reality. Allowing those that do to get one step ahead and capture markets.
WEF The Global Competitiveness Report 2016–2017
The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2016 – 2017 points readers towards tremendous promise for higher economic growth and societal progress during the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It suggests that breakthroughs in technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, biotechnology, the Internet of Things, 3D printing, and more, will provide new avenues for growth and development in the future but could also give rise to significant social challenges.
It also suggests that a hallmark of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is the way in which it converges with, relies on, and employs digital technologies and business models in order to create, exchange, and distribute value, requiring digital infrastructure and network availability in addition to business sophistication.
It reminds us that since Robert Solow identified technology as a driver of growth in the 1950s, productivity has been developing hand in hand with innovation. But that while innovations such as big data, FinTech, the sharing economy, and artificial intelligence, etc, productivity in the vast majority of global regions has slowed.
The authors of the report suggest that technology has yet to show its full impact on productivity and that we need time to re-invent our organisations, laws, and rules to fully leverage new technologies.
The important question that everyone leading a business of any size needs to ask themselves is; “if I haven’t woken up yet to the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, how much longer am I going to lay here sleeping while my competition is on course to thrive in the digital economy?”
World Economic Forum Global Information Technology Report 2016
While the WEF Global Competitiveness Report looks at the bigger picture, its Global Information Technology Report 2016, explores digital technology and innovation in detail and considers the wider efforts to address digital technology questions.
It reveals that countries looking to capitalise on economic gains of ICTs should promote not just access, but also adoption and use of digital networks. It highlights the fact that though innovation is clearly on executives’ minds, countries with very high rates of business ICT adoption and a top innovation environment, stand out in terms of their digital innovation performance.
The report also explores how the job market of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is transforming, and explains that digital technologies are already disrupting existing career paths, removing entire skill-sets, and creating the need for new ones. It points to platform technologies being increasingly used to match workers with jobs, leading to more and more freelance activity. This aligns well with the suggestion that by 2020, 40 percent of the American workforce will be freelance.
The report consists of two parts: 1. Innovating in the Digital Economy, and 2. Data Presentation, and highlights the ways in which the digital revolution is changing both the nature of innovation and the rising pressure for firms to innovate continuously. It presents four key findings:
1. The digital revolution changes the nature of innovation;
2. Firms will face increasing pressure to innovate continuously;
3. Businesses and governments are missing out on a rapidly growing digital population;
4. A new economy is shaping, requiring urgent innovations in governance and regulation.
Part 2 of the report also provides very detailed insights to countries and how they stack up in the The Networked Readiness Index (NRI). Europe remains at the technology frontier with seven out of the top 10 NRI countries being European.
Top 10 NRI Performers
5. The United States
6. The Netherlands
8. The United Kingdom