Is your company ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Are you?
✅ No, what’s the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”? … Read my blog to find out.
✅ Yes… Great! Read my blog as a primer!
✅ I’m not sure… That’s OK, try reading my article while you figure it out.
The “Tech Company” Powder Keg
Every company wants to call itself a tech company. DoorDash delivers food, but it calls itself a tech company. Uber delivers passengers, but it calls itself a tech company. Why do companies do this? Because software scales easier than physical infrastructure. A company that makes and moves software can grow faster than a company that relies on making and moving stuff. Electrons move faster than croissants. This will remain true even if you get exceptionally good at delivering croissants.
But when these companies call themselves tech companies, they aren’t wrong! They do scale up far faster than traditional competitors. They use software to coordinate widely dispersed work. The spread of distributed software, tightly tied to distributed work in the physical world, is a powder keg on the verge of an explosive revolution.
The “Fourth Industrial Revolution”
The first industrial revolution used water and steam power. The second used electricity. The third used electronics and information technology. The fourth is a fusion of the physical and digital worlds. Maybe the fifth will be something with time travel because climate scientists are saying we could really use that.
Some definitions of the 4IR amount to shuffling Wikipedia’s List of emerging technologies page and throwing it at the reader. But the 4IR isn’t just a list of things people are trying to make, for the same reason the digital revolution wasn’t just a list of chip designs and software paradigms.
Other definitions of the 4IR rhapsodize about connecting people, machines, and their environment. That sounded “futuristic” when people promised the same thing in the 1970s. Retro futurism. Those promises happened. Getting a map by poking a picture of a map on your phone is the kind of effortless human-machine-environment interaction the “cyberneticists” of the 1950s-1970s dreamed about.
The term “Fourth Industrial Revolution” (4IR) sounds like it involves hoverboards, lasers, and lots more chrome. But basically, it amounts to “distributed computing.” If it doesn’t sound so futuristic, it shouldn’t. We’re in the 4IR now.
How to Embrace the 4IR
The 4IR builds on what the digital revolution gave us. It starts with widespread technology, and creates more decentralized nodes that communicate with each other and with central monitoring and control.
1) Be Edgy: Use the Edge Cloud
You probably know about cloud computing. For those who don’t — it’s not Heaven’s IT department. Cloud computing does its computing and its data storage on many distant distributed servers, instead of in-house. Cloud computing has been called a 4IR technology.
In some cases, edge cloud computing is as optimal as it is… edgy. Edge cloud architecture consists of some computing and storage closer to where it’s being used. It’s sort of like using the corner store when you need just one roll of toilet paper instead of flying all the way to Charmin headquarters. Sometimes, it’s better to be local.
Edge cloud computing is a way to optimize efficiency by distributing the right work locally and the right work on the cloud. This is especially useful in processes that are widely distributed, where the latency of sending data to and from the cloud matters. Many mobile applications and Internet of Things applications can benefit from edge cloud. Plus, it’s gaining traction. 43% of respondents to an Automation World Survey have already implemented edge computing.
2) Replace Things One at a Time
Every organization has tons of obsolete code, legacy processes, and superfluous infrastructure. A lot of it can and should be replaced.
Adopting new tech is like getting new clothes. It’s usually smart to replace a few things at a time, not your entire wardrobe. And it’s usually most cost-effective to buy it, not sew it yourself: Creating in-house software, for example, requires constant maintenance. Otherwise, you might end up with monitoring machines that haven’t downloaded a patch since JNCOS jeans were all the rage.
Have you ever fumbled for something in the back of your closet, and accidentally ripped a load-bearing column right out of the wall? No, you have not. But when you’re replacing old legacy processes, it’s possible to take out something you can’t replace. Communicate with others to check what they do and don’t need to stay intact.
3) Labor Specialists: My Kingdom for an HR Manager
New technology makes it easier for people to swap in and out of tasks and roles. Imagine being chased by rabid dogs and all you have is a unicycle. Sometimes, you urgently need random expertise in something. just-in-time experts can be appropriate, especially outside your organization’s core areas of business. Sometimes you just need to quickly parachute in an expert who knows otherwise-irrelevant information.
With the right tools, discovering and calling in a specialist from outside or from another sector of your organization can be the quickest way to solve problems. This is especially true with services your team is unfamiliar with; for example, Azure if your team spends all day looking at AWS.
New Tech Is Something to Learn, Not a Terrifying Alien Monster
New technology is an opportunity, not a threat. Okay, sometimes it’s both — especially in the hands of unfamiliar users. But you can make it an opportunity.
Integrated unfamiliar tech is often daunting. It’s easy to stick to linearly improving familiar processes. Even if you’re prepared to make changes, everyday crises pull your attention away from plans that could stop those crises at the root.
But every one of us is shaping the future, with the choices we make each day. You have more control than you think you do.
Carve out time to explore new technologies. Or, delegate a few people to explore them for you. You’ll find new technology makes it easier to delegate tasks like researching new technology and implementing lessons from brilliant Medium articles.