The Future is much closer than you think. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is already transforming our world beyond recognition. What makes it different from all previous industrial revolutions – is not only the scale and the scope of changes but also the unprecedented rapid rate at which they are entering our reality. Today we have a special guest who will share with us his insights into the grand opportunities and the inevitable risks of this global phenomenon, also referred to as Industry 4.0. Please meet Daniel Zrymiak, who has more than 25 years of professional experience in quality management, software testing, and web commerce solutions. Daniel has managed projects internationally and currently teaches at local universities in BC. He is an ASQ Fellow with multiple awards and certifications.
Is the Fourth Industrial Revolution already here and why do we need to care about it?
- Based on the current technological capabilities, the Industry 4.0 phase is here and has been here for the last 3-4 years. Prior to this, automation and technology supplemented core work which was primarily done by humans. Now human effort supports technology in the delivery of solutions or services. This obligates people to adopt and incorporate some form of hands-on technology into their regular work. We need to care about it because the dynamic is to further reduce the delays and expenses from human intervention with the efficiencies and predictability of technology and automation.
Do you believe this revolution will affect every one of us, regardless of our demographic, geographical location and occupation?
- Yes, as we are ultimately all suppliers, providers, and consumers. Consider a hands-on trade. Booking and scheduling the tradesperson can be done with an automated app. Their work will apply a combination of skill and automated tools. Their billing and confirmation of work completed will be finalized with an automated invoice or credit. If the work can be done remotely, this will be performed using technology to avoid travel and logistics costs.
- Another example is selecting and reserving a restaurant. In the past, this was done by phone, and you had to take your chances on the outcomes. You were also limited in takeout or delivery options by the operations of the individual restaurant. Now, using online resources, most restaurants post their menu and specials online. Customer reviews are also available so that expectations are set prior to arrival. Reservations can be made and updated online. Ordering takeout has even more options, being available directly from the restaurant or through an intermediary like Skip the Dishes.
What are the biggest benefits of Industry 4.0 that we can expect?
- Increases in selection and flexibility of relevant information and testimonials for more informed decisions on future purchases. The status of transactions and services from start to finish is also more visible. For example, a garment ordered from a department store can be tracked from its point of origin, through its transportation checkpoints, to its final destination. This will increase satisfaction and strategic sourcing, creating a partnership between companies and their frequent customers or clients.
Who will be the main beneficiaries of these changes?
- Those who are sufficiently quick and adaptable to respond to demands, and customize their offerings to fit the preferences of their target market or business environment. This “standardized flexibility” will allow for various needs and clients to be rapidly serviced, without requiring large-scale modifications. This will also have social benefits as companies will not hold wasteful levels of unsold inventory. Products that do not meet a particular demand can be rapidly repurposed or globally marketed elsewhere.
Do you believe there will be a downside to Industry 4.0 such as furthering the inequality in our society?
- Yes, unfortunately, the entry criteria for this phase is to have the necessary phone or internet connections and devices that can enable participation. An example is from a US airline which arrived at its location late. As an alternative to long lineups, the airline suggested that people with the airline’s app on their smartphone make the arrangements for modifying their connecting flights. This opportunity by default excluded those not equipped with the proper tools.
In regards to the potential for massive job losses due to the full automation and digitization of the economy, are you an optimist or a pessimist? Why?
- I have observed this first-hand in software testing. 20 years ago, companies had to staff dozens or hundreds of employees and procure expensive software licenses and infrastructure systems for their software development projects. In the Industry 4.0 phase, many of these roles have been migrated into automated solutions. The infrastructure is not located “on-premise”, but is subscribed to “The Cloud”. This really means that the company does not need to own or maintain the software and infrastructure resources used. Employment that was dependent on redundant and repetitive work, or locally owned and maintained equipment, is very much at risk. Through automation and large-scale centralization of these roles, jobs have been affected and will not return. Those individuals affected by such work changes will have to revisit their skill set and potentially change industries or enhance their own skill set with new and updated capabilities.
What I find most fascinating about Industry 4.0 is that, unlike previous industrial revolutions, it’s about the fusion of the physical, digital and biological worlds. How do you believe the results of this fusion will manifest themselves?
- The way the question is phrased, it seems to suggest a future of cyborgs and bionic creatures. With the advent of wearable technology like eyeglasses and wristwatches, this is a very feasible portion of future.
The manifestation will arise when the normal expectation is to augment or complement human actions and interactions with some form of technology. For example, I currently wear eyeglasses and would not be able to function without corrective lenses. As Industry 4.0 emerges, there will be such a dependency on devices that we will seem “naked” without our personal array of wearable technology items.
Will the future be about humans competing with robots or will it be about complementing each other and working in an effective collaborative manner?
- As robots and automated devices increase in sophistication and decrease in cost, they will present superior alternatives to roles currently performed by humans. People will have to adapt their skill set to work with new technology offerings, which will result in a blended, hybrid approach combining the best advantages and capabilities of people and technology. People will still find a way to make their personal mark and take credit for their great work. This will extend beyond business and commerce to include art and culture. This enhances the human creativity to make a superior finished product.
What is one last recommendation you can give to our readers for better preparedness for this new era?
- Don’t lose the lessons of the artisan ethic or craftsmanship. Pride of workmanship and individual impact should still be pursued, even when automation and technology are applied.
If you would like to hear more from Dan Zrymiak, check out his Influential Voices blog or watch his presentation “New Tricks for “Old Dogs” which helps people in a career transition build their portfolios with ASQ certifications.
Do you have any of your own stories of being affected by the automation and digitization of the economy? And what are you planning to do about it? Please share in the comments section. We would love to hear from you.