Article: Is Industry 4.0 a passé?

#Innovation

Is Industry 4.0 a passé?

It is likely that the fourth industrial revolution could become a passé or entirely missed in India before it is fully recognized or written about or understood.
Is Industry 4.0 a passé?

21st Century will witness the convergence of cyber-physical-biological systems, the emergence of human capital, dominance of techno-society, reliance on collaborative framework and financialization fueling these trends. The immediate term effects will be seen on firming up of “collective awareness and response system”, shrinking of organizational size, and increasing dependence on localized outsourcing. 

On the one hand large corporate like structures will face four challenges – growth, profit, asset preservation and world of work  – and on the other hand digital platforms will formalize informal economy by facilitating access to technology, thereby improving viability of local economic eco-system. It is no longer size of the company, it is the customer base their technology helps them acquire, service and retain. 

 It is likely 4IR (Fourth Industrial Revolution) could become a passe or entirely missed in India, before it is fully recognized or written about or understood or higher education reconfigures for imparting relevant skills and experience, not just the information/knowledge. Inertia, lag, supply-driven business educational system and apathy from industry will limit scope for responding to emerging trends. This may negatively impact preparedness of managers in driving innovation, adopting newer technology/business models, being nimble and flexible for change/transformation. 

The next level of transformations is taking roots, primarily driven by the convergence of cyber, physical, biological and climatic conditions that shall focus on transient solutions. Market, society and cultures will adapt to this new possibility, profoundly altering the purpose, values and interactions of human beings.  What we are trying to understand, prepare and adopt has a narrow window and characterized by multiple viewpoints, suggesting a possibility that before this divergence phase ends, Industry 5.0, would have begun

 Emerging tech entrepreneurs 

A grounding in technology and prior industry experience are distinctively visible in tech entrepreneurship landscape. Angel investors and private equity investors continue to bet on young tech wizards; being a drop out works to an advantage for these starry-eyed youths. Compared to this, large corporation continues to rely on experience, process, structure, conservative financing and less destructive creations. Both are essential to utilize and balance dynamic disequilibrium created by technology, capitalism and resource limitations.  

In this sense, new breed of tech entrepreneurs will create fast-track large ventures that require trained managers to various functions. Both existing large firms and emerging large entities will flock management institutions looking for professionals that have skills to fit in a large firms managing complex process for optimum utilization of resources driving growth for an attractive profit. The disruption may come in the form of how technical workers are hired, retained, retrained and move about in an organization.  

 The key challenge is underdeveloped or non-existing ecosystem for entrepreneurship in business schools or elsewhere, be it knowledge, pedagogy, research, tools, experiencing or research. Confusion persists on advantage of entrepreneurial skills for employment in large firms. 

Entrepreneurship is always viewed as individual traits, often acquired as one grows up from their parents and made possible through family or ethnic affiliation. Business schools conventionally prepares students for placement, and students are inclined towards gaining better ROI and good professional experience in a good corporation.

The lack of demand from society or businesses or industries to train entrepreneurs has left a void. Entrepreneurship training programme or infrastructure are conspicuously absent in higher educational institutions, in businesses or in societies. 

Even to this day entrepreneurship is viewed as relevant for micro, small or medium entrepreneurs, who are skilled or semi-skilled individuals with no management education or experience. Almost all entrepreneurship development institutes are located in government industrial estates, often in small-scale industry clusters. It is the success of tech entrepreneurs’ uplifted status of entrepreneurship, both in an economy and a society.    

Lack of innovation is another major challenge. Typically, business schools do not boost of creating new innovative products, services or business models. Even in other countries, it is technology institutions that have driven research and of late innovation with specific eco-system.  

A grounding in technology, specifically from a few IITs, appears to aid in setting up successful tech ventures, specifically in e-commerce segment. Except a few, most of the known tech entrepreneurs in India studied in IITs or prominent technology/engineering institutions. A few set up by management graduates studied abroad and set up finance or investment related ventures. 

Inertia, lag, and supply-driven educational system have very little incentive to adapt quickly to changing times. The lag between emerging trends and skills/knowledge imparted or tools taught, has affected visualisation of entrepreneurship in management courses. In the immediate term it might affect preparedness of managers in driving innovation, adopting newer technology/business models, being nimble and flexible for change/transformation. 

Emerging domains in the business environment  

Corporations will be under pressure to reinvent their business model with a tilt towards human capital. Customer centricity, experience as solution, end to end support, and collaborative eco-system will require hiring individuals (perhaps not just professionals/experts) with propensity for learning continuously.  An ILO report on future of work in India has predicted that “Production processes, business models, service delivery mechanisms along with employment relationships and social protection frameworks are likely to be reconfigured.” 

HR managers with multi-disciplinary exposure with trans-functionary experience would be an asset.  Liberal Arts could potentially emerge as meta qualification that will provide such perspective, across the functions in a lattice structure. Such perceptive changes in HR, which is common in giants like Amazon or e-commerce tech corporations, will be adopted rapidly across industry segments and optimize human capital, which is central to 21C organizations, whether, small or big or multi-national. 

Employee will explore functions laterally and organizations will encourage such options to keep the innovation going, nimble and flexible. Specialists boundaries will blur, connecting the dots with trans-functionary perspective will be preferred.  Conventional HR functions will be automated.  The focus for HR will shift to creating a culture of innovation, customer relationship, co-creation and working collaboratively.  

 Market conditions, challenges for entrepreneurs   

If China is pushing innovation envelope by investing 2.5 of its GDP, India’s meagre 1.1% of GDP in investment need to be increased substantially. MNCs are utilizing the talent, cost advantage and time difference to innovate in India.  Requirement is innovating for globally viable products in addition to meeting the specific consumer needs in India. 

Can business in India innovate to find a distributed solution to solve energy, health care, mobility, healthcare, entertainment, leisure, education, food, productive engagement of workers across the demographic, etc., adapted for a sharing, replacement, collaborative and prosperity framework, with human capital assuming central position?  

Such an approach will require automation, AI, IoT, machine learning, autonomous transportation, internet bandwidth, advancement in technologies that predicts, and systems for prevention, freeing humans from jobs involving drudgery, repetitive, discretionary decision or response management. This means innovating in parallel technology, machines, and assistive systems that will transform productions, operations, financing and ownership in a three years cycle upto 2050. Five such iterations will position human capital as a value Vis-a-vis financial or other resources.  

Human Capital is not a new concept: consulting or professional law firms rely on human capital and so is the reason their value is not divisible on monetary value, therefore sold to shareholders.  India should use the human capital to drive this with extraordinary investments to spur innovation.  Anything less India will be reduced to deep dependence and possibly a people with skills for trading, production, and repetitive work with no jobs or requirement.

Host of social, economic and environment concerns require innovative solutions, using rapid advancement in cyber, technical and biological systems, with a focus on including BoP consumers, which is substantial in sheer numbers.

Borrowing great case studies

Knoll Workplace Research used 21st Century Corporations to illustrate trends work and workplace.  As expected the case studies are of transnational corporations or organizations in other countries that are leveraging 4IR advantages. Presented below are a few interesting trends we should be watching out for in India.

  1. Continuing Distribution of Organizations: Results Only Work Environment localizes decision making at Best Buys and a European Quasi Governmental Research Organization goes global by acquisition and adopting distributed workgroup option.
  2. The Availability of Enabling Technologies and Social Collaboration Tools: IBM encouraging employee to use social media to make connections, professionally and personally, using social media.  This exponentially increased density of connections, intensity of engagement, strengthening of relationships, and creative outputs.  
  3. The Demand for More Work Flexibility: Netflix expects “Uber Performance”, while providing complete flexibility to employees in choosing work time, vacation and duration of vacation. Relies on motivating and retaining the highly talented people adopting this approach of “freedom and responsibility”
  4. More Sustainable Organisations and Workstyles: HP’s managers in Netherlands experimented with consolidating two work sites and adding in telecommuting as an option. This improved sustainability metrics of the organisation (CO2 reduction) and telecommuting reducing it further by another 30%.  Latter improved worker engagement and better work-life balance. 
  5. The Exploration of Multiple Skills in Lattice Organisation: Flexibility in career path, scheduling of work and contributing to innovation flips the conventional expectations from employees. Amazon uses this approach along with principle centred organisation to drive innovation, entrepreneurial approach and collaborative work culture.

Topics: Innovation, Diversity

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