Over the past few years, the align.me team has been regularly holding events for leaders (both our clients and their guests) to share and collaboratively workshop growth insights. Our objective is to create new networks, refine best practice in B2B marketing and sales, and give a little thank you to those who have entrusted us with referrals over many years.
When we brought this group together late in 2020, the global economy was climbing out from the depths to which it had plummeted. And, locally, we were dealing with the aftermath of the early lockdowns. At the time, there was a great deal of uncertainty about where we might collectively land and how the Australian economy might recover.
While 2021 has not been without its challenges, the general mood of the group had changed when we reconvened for our most recent event; cautious optimism that we had survived the storm. However, there was also recognition that some things had fundamentally changed. The backdrop for an engaging dialogue about the impact of Covid 19 in the context of changes already occurring as we move through the Industrial Revolution 4.0 (IR 4.0).
In this article, I’ll cover some of the insights we drew from our event discussions, as well as define the Industrial Revolution 4.0, the impact of Covid 19 accelerating these changes, how these will impact your business, and what you might do to better position yourself to ride the IR 4.0 curve.
IR 4.0 and the compounding impact of Covid-19
Covid-19 has triggered a period of punctured equilibrium, an evolutionary burst of activity that only occurs in nature and human interactions in high-stress times. This acceleration was never more evident than in:
- how we meet (Zoom meetings jumped from 5 million/day in 2019 to 300 million/day in 2020);
- how we do business (Australia’s office vacancy rate has hit its highest level in more than 20 years, increasing over the past six months to 11.7 per cent); and
- how we consume services (Telehealth use by GP’s went from 15% in 2019 to 97% in 2020).
The changes brought on by Covid-19 have accelerated what is referred to as the Industrial Revolution 4.0. “The Fourth Industrial Revolution (or IR 4.0) is the ongoing automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices, using modern smart technologies that are integrated to increased automation, improved communication. In an IR 4.0 world, we transition to the use of smart machines that analyse and diagnose issues without the need for human intervention.” (Source: Deloitte Touche Review 2019).
The steam engine was the catalyst for the first industrial revolution; manufacturing brought about the second, and computers the third. Now the fourth industrial revolution, accelerated by Covid-19, is upon us, and the changes will be profound. And, like the revolutions before, there will be winners and losers.
It is within this backdrop, those of us at our latest Leaders Event considered IR 4.0 in the areas of:
- Technology impact
- People impact
- Supply chain disruption
Here is some insight into what was discussed and the opinions formed.
While some in the group disputed the order of the big 4 technology impacts (particularly, adoption of IoT was seen to be further along than the Deloitte data suggested), the consensus was that business, including Australian SMEs, were already on the IR 4.0 technology journey.
The movement of systems to the cloud was accelerating regardless of size (Enterprise and SME). Organisations were dipping their toe in the water with things like ChatBots and AI-driven response systems. While Big Data offered new insights, AI and Machine learning were viewed as enablers of change, with Cloud Computing as an enabler and/or accelerator of change.
“Industry 4.0 differs from all predecessors, demanding well-educated, skilled, and cooperative workforces, with a sharp focus on research and collaboration across industry, government, academia and geographies.” (Source: Smart Company 2020)
While we might argue the timing or the percentages, all agreed that the speed upon which human processes are being automated is accelerating. Despite the shift, these changes will make management of our workforce even more important. HR professionals were seen as being even more important moving forward, with competition for skilled talent crucial for success. The team agreed that a new approach to recruiting, onboarding, incentivising, and keeping our next generation of talent is needed.
Also critical for to compete for talent in an IR 4.0 world will be:
- A more flexible approach to workplace culture;
- providing incentives that go beyond income (but also include ways to support social and environmental programs);
- managing gender and cultural diversity; and
- providing ongoing investment in skills development (with an emphasis on digital uplift).
Whether hiring more experienced talent or recruiting graduates and investing in upskilling them much faster, all agree those that struggle with technology will be left behind.
“As the costs of deploying technology continues to fall, international differentials in labour costs will no longer be a decisive factor in choosing the location of production, flexibility brought about by technology will bring locations of production and sale closer together.”
(Source: World Economic Forum).
Geopolitical instability and Covid-19 driven disruption, combined with IR 4.0 technology-driven changes, are forcing all businesses to reassess the efficiency, effectiveness, and security of their supply chain. Most of the group were already advanced in implanting technologies like E-Finance, Knowledge Sharing, and many elements of Digital Customer and Channel Management. The Digital – or digitally-enabled – factory was still beyond the planning horizon for those present, with the recent experiences of Amazon in the US generating healthy conversation.
Will we see the re-emergence of Trade Unionism in response to supply chain disruption in much the same way as it occurred in IR 2.0 and 3.0, or is the recent experience of Amazon in the US an isolated instance?
These insights present an opportunity to review your business roadmap
As we close out financial year 2021 and think about our plans for 21/22, this is an opportunity to reassess what sort of company you want to be as you transition to the other side of COVID and deal with challenge and opportunity associated with IR 4.0.
From the align.me team, we recommend you reflect on these things:
1. Assess the impact of IR 4.0 on your target buyers. What new challenges and or problems do they face that you solve? Bring these challenges to the fore as you reset your Sales and Marketing Plan for 2021 and beyond
2. Critically review your own readiness. Does your team possess the necessary IR 4.0 skills you need, and in the context of B2B Marketing, are they digitally savvy?
3. Reconsider and then map your entire customer journey, from first contact to satisfied user. Identify supply efficiencies and update your technology roadmap to take advantage of the innovations available in an IR 4.0 world.
While we live in interesting, even uncertain times, we all benefit from sharing ideas and finding ways to support each other. So, as you think through the implication of these changes and you would like a little help, please holler.
Further information can be found at:
- IMF Report: https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WEO/Issues/2020/09/30/world-economic-outlook-october-2020
- Preparing yourself for IR 4.0: https://www.smartcompany.com.au/industries/manufacturing/smes-fourth-industrial-revolution-education-system/
- Preparing your team for IR 4.0: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/About-Deloitte/gx-preparing-tomorrow-workforce-for-4IR.pdf