How the Fourth Industrial Revolution will disrupt data management

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Robotics, artificial intelligence, 3D printing ... These technologies are all helping to fuel the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the impact of which will create a seismic shift in how businesses compete and succeed.

Consider: Analysts predict that the Fourth Industrial Revolution (or 4IR for short) will redefine entire sectors and industries and have incredible impact on the way businesses run, including:

  • Increased power of corporations at the expensive of government
  • Lower consumer loyalty toward brands
  • Outsized market power for leading companies

Mohamed Kande, vice chairman and U.S. advisory leader at PwC (Pricewaterhouse Coopers), has been on the front lines during this time of unprecedented change, advising global businesses on the strategies they must adopt in order to survive and thrive in this new world. Information Management spoke with Kande about what organizations can expect during these disruptive times, and how they must adapt to compete in the new environment.

Information Management: How do you define the fourth industrial revolution?

Mohamed Kande: The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) represents a collision of two worlds. It’s the collision of time and technology -- the wall of physical assets colliding with a digital wall to create a massive amount of value.

What this means is that businesses cannot build new products without also understanding the applications of these new technologies and customer impact. Additionally, companies now have to think about the collision of the physical and digital elements of a business—how do they think about the next generation of products and services; how do they build them in a very different way? That value chain has to be updated to take advantage of all the new tools that are coming out of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

IM: It’s no secret that technology will play a huge role in 4IR. How can organizations best prepare for the fourth industrial revolution? Does it start with data, technology, people?

Kande: The best leaders will prepare for this new revolution by starting with both people and technology. If they focus only on the technology side, they’re missing a critical portion of preparation. That’s why a lot of big technology transformations have failed. It is no longer about execution; it is also about the adoption of technology by people. You need both. If you go with next-generation technology, you also need to make sure that the people who are interacting with that technology have the right skills or else it will not work.

IM: What role does data play in the fourth industrial revolution?

Kande: The 4IR represents a revolution for businesses, and that revolution runs on data. The 4IR will result in a major increase of data generation given the heightened connectivity across technologies. This will not only impact current companies and industries, but also open up entirely new business models as more data transitions from the physical to the digital world.

Generated on an unprecedented scale by an ever-increasing array of connected devices, data is the lifeblood of the modern economy. But it isn’t free. Customers’ willingness to entrust companies with sensitive information about their lives and businesses hinges on the quality of experience offered to them.

If a product or service automates a tedious task, saves time or simply makes life better, it provides convenience and engenders trust. But greater customer experience now includes superior data stewardship: it means not leaving customer and business data exposed to theft or using it irresponsibly. Companies need to understand this new digital social contract.

This puts data front and center in terms of how companies can take advantage of the opportunities presented with 4IR, and makes trust 4IR’s oxygen.

IM: What emerging technology (AI, machine learning, robotics, etc.) do you think has the biggest impact on 4IR?

Kande: Adoption of the technologies that power 4IR has been on the rise for some time. About six in ten companies globally plan to make significant investments in both AI and IoT. While it’s easy to make them the stars of the show, it’s a mistake to do so. Essentially, the technologies themselves aren’t 4IR—they merely enable it.

4IR solutions are ready to move beyond prototypes and deliver results, but only if businesses are prepared to harness their potential. Blending these disparate technologies to advance strategic goals is one of the key challenges of companies being “4IReady”. Quite simply, there is no off-the-shelf “4IR kit,” and each adopter has unique needs when it comes to technology and other factors, defying one-size-fits-all solutions.

IM: What role does the C-Suite play in preparing its company and employees for this new revolution?

Kande: The C-Suite plays an integral role in preparing its company for the new revolution. However, before leaders can create their organization of the future, they must also be able to create their workforce of the future.

This starts with familiarity with and education around 4IR technologies at the top of the organization. Leaders need to increase their own digital fitness before before they can instill these capabilities into the rest of their workforce. Here are three things business leaders need to understand and keep in mind when preparing and thinking about 4IR:

  • Understand the technologies available and how they will impact your operations.
  • Understand the types of information that will be created by these technologies, in particular, the massive amount of data that is going to be generated.
  • Understand how to put that data to use by analyzing it and creating actual, tangible insights.

After re-evaluating the above, it’ll be important for business leaders to look at their existing technology and applications, and make their business plans more fluid and adaptable to technological disruption across industries.

IM: What are the challenges that the C-Suite faces and must account for when preparing its employees and organization?

Kande: Business leaders today have a responsibility to build a corporate culture and business model that can endure these inevitable and possibly seismic changes. Simply put, typical product innovation will no longer be enough.

Leaders will need to balance product innovation with a more radical approach: business model innovation. This puts a premium on identifying new ways to serve the market, and being the first to act as the first mover advantage for companies will be important.

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