Mastering the 4th Industrial Revolution at the World Economic Forum

As the World Economic Forum works through its four-day review of global challenges in Davos, there may be some who will wonder at the attendance of Taoiseach Enda Kenny at such a gathering and particularly this close to an election.

The theme of the 2016 meeting is “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

However, regardless of the theme the forum list reads like an Oscar function for business and political leaders.

IDA Ireland was also chaperoning the Taoiseach.

It knows Davos means business opportunities to influence most of the key global investors in Ireland, as well as impress some of those we would like to see investing here.

However, let us return to the main theme of the forum — the Fourth Industrial Revolution — and how to master it. We have had three industrial revolutions.

The invention of the steam- powered engine led to the first Industrial Revolution.

With the implementation of electrical power and assembly lines at the beginning of the 20th century, the second Industrial Revolution brought us mass production.

This was followed by the Digital Revolution, the use of electronics, IT, and robots to further automate production.

Technology is yet again entering a drastic change.

This Fourth Industrial Revolution is already under way and experts are talking about a fast and disruptive change for most industries.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution refers to the ongoing transformation of our society and economy, driven by advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology and other areas of science.

A key enabler of much of these new technologies is the internet where Ireland has been a leading development location for many key new disruptive leaders.

Some advantages of the new industrial revolution we are already taking for granted — watching a film, buying a flight, making a payment, — are all being done online from mobiles.

Only one thing is certain; many more changes will come and there is no going back.

It is projected that the physical environment will be seamlessly integrated with the information network, enabling remote drone deliveries to your home, robotic cars, on-the-spot 3D printing of components. However, will Davos give any new insights?

A theme in my talk with global CEOs and business executives is that the acceleration of innovation and the velocity of disruption are hard to comprehend or anticipate and that these drivers constitute a source of constant surprise, even for the best connected and most well informed.

Across all industries, there is clear evidence that the technologies that underpin the Fourth Industrial Revolution are having a major impact on businesses.

On the supply side, many industries are seeing the introduction of new technologies that create new ways of serving existing needs and significantly disrupt existing industry value chains.

Disruption is also flowing from agile competitors who, thanks to access to global digital platforms for research, development, marketing, sales, and distribution, can oust well-established incumbents faster than ever by improving the quality, speed, or price at which value is delivered.

A key trend is the development of technology- enabled platforms that combine demand and supply to disrupt existing industry structures, such as those we see within the ‘sharing or ‘on demand’ economy.

These technology platforms, rendered easy to use by the smartphone, convene people, assets, and data — thus creating entirely new ways of consuming goods and services in the process.

On the whole, there arefour main effects that theFourth Industrial Revolution has on business: customer expectations; product enhancement; collaborative innovation, and organisational forms.

And the emergence of global platforms and other new business models, finally, means that talent, culture, and organisational forms will have to be rethought — with or without Davos . 

John Whelan is a leading international trade consultant


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