Every so often, new technologies and innovations emerge that transform how industries operate and how goods are manufactured. In history books, such radical movements are referred to as “Industrial Revolutions”. To date, we have experienced three. And now, the world is in the middle of its fourth and beginning its fifth.
The first Industrial Revolution was ushered in by the mechanization of the textile industry and the advent of steam power. The second was sparked by the harnessing of electric power, which enabled the mass production of goods. More recently, the third saw breakthroughs like computers and automated technologies being integrated into the production process, enabling new efficiencies.
Now, the fourth Industrial Revolution, or “Industry 4.0”, is being spurred by the convergence of some of today’s leading internet-connected technologies:
- The Internet of Things (IoT)
- Cloud Computing
- Big Data
- Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
What’s the result of this convergence? Digital transformation.
Companies can now digitize once manual and paper-based processes, and realize a digital manufacturing enterprise which Deloitte defines as an enterprise that is, “not only interconnected, but also communicates, analyzes and uses information to drive further intelligent action back in the physical world”. These enterprises can easily automate, standardize and control their most critical business processes to drive quality improvement, regulatory compliance, agility and productivity.
However, the chief concern of such a digital and system-centric business model is the diminishing role of humans. Naturally, software and robotics have superseded humans on the assembly line because they can outpace them on repetitive tasks. But recent strides in AI and cognitive computing have also enabled systems to leverage data to complete more complex functions that were once thought to be reserved to the human mind, such as problem solving.
Does this mean one day machines will eventually outsmart and displace humans à la HBO’s Westworld?
While we will have to wait and see if a robot uprising occurs, we are in the beginning stages of Industry 5.0, which presents more collaboration between advanced technologies and humans. For instance, robots can complete the automated manufacturing of goods, and IoT devices along the manufacturing line can collect important production data. Business process management (BPM) software will monitor the data for anything out of the ordinary and, if something is wrong, trigger a process that alerts the appropriate personnel to act and decide what to do.
Through advanced data analysis and AI, the BPM software can present the person with several options to guide their decision on how to best proceed forward. So even though technology is the driving force behind these processes, humans are still in the center of decision-making and action. In this collaborative environment, processes run faster, better decisions are made and the business outcomes are far greater.
Industry 5.0 may still be in its infancy, but for companies that want to stay ahead of the curve and outpace their competition, it’s better to act sooner rather than later.