We are living in the time of a new industrial revolution, the Industry 4.0. It is information, digitization, and optimization. But from our perspective as a solution provider for the industry, we also see it as a time of a profound transformation of our role, and the expectations towards industrial solutions.
Analytics and Big Data are just the beginning. This is the Internet of Things that we already have today. If we limit our vision to what we are already doing, what we were already beginning to do 10 years ago, we are still just going with the flow, but not looking ahead. The industry is notoriously slow and plodding to adapt and adopt innovations, but adapt and adopt it must. In the B2C market Big Data and sophisticated, automated analytics are not the future – they are already old news. And it is not just Google and Facebook that are incredibly efficient at mining data and gleaning information. In a much publicized case more than four years ago, the US supermarket chain Target figured out a young woman who regularly shopped there was pregnant, before she had told anyone about it. And while this case backfired, it aptly demonstrated how sophisticated and advanced consumer analytics have gotten, and how willing B2C retailers are to use the information they have to get every last Euro.
But that was four years ago already. In fact, data mining has been part of the B2C landscape for over a decade. And while big data is here to stay, it is almost old, boring news in the B2C market by now. I recently had the pleasure of listening to the keynote of Prof. Dr. Key Pousttchi at the MainDays conference in Berlin on the topic how Big Data, sensors and the smartphone will change the industry. And in it the professor made a really salient point – the industry is a laggard, following the consumer market. And in fact that is exactly what we see in the case of Big Data: It is old news in the consumer market, and the new engine of upheaval in the industry. The consumer market leads in adopting new trends, but the industry inevitably follows. Because this is how it works – once people get used to working a way in their private lives, once they get used to being able to do something a certain way, then they expect it to start happening in their work lives too. And the exciting new developments we hope tomorrow will bring us, as consumers – that is what the industry will likely be chasing five or ten years from now.
So, the consumer today is a savvy mobile user – one that can accomplish almost anything, almost anywhere. As the joke goes, “There is an app for that.” Except it is not a joke, but reality. Private users, as well as many business users today are empowered to an unprecedented degree by the wireless connectivity, interoperable technologies, and the rise of mobile devices. Every piece of information, every interface, every functionality, is nowadays not only online, but in an app, and available anywhere. And it is changing our lives at and outside the workplace in a fundamental way. In 2004, only 11% of businesses allowed their employees to work from home. Today, according to the 2013 Regus Global Economic Indicator 48% of business managers worldwide work remotely for at least half their working week. Many Fortune 1000 companies around the world are revamping their workplaces entirely to accommodate telecommuting, because their employees are already mobile. Statistics show employees are not even at their desks 50-60% of the time. 3 Work is no longer something to be done exclusively in an office – today the workplace is anyplace. Any industrial tool that hopes to be able to satisfy the industrial consumer of tomorrow should look at the private and business user of today, and build for them. In the world of Industry 4.0, we need tools that are networked, insightful, and mobile.
But that is still not sufficient. Consumers today have also become savvy and critical. The glut of providers and offerings, and the increasing sophistication of the technologies, means today’s consumer, business or private, has little patience for failure. They expect their tools to not only fulfill their task, but to be fast and reliable. According to a recent survey by Compuware, 78% of mobile users expect apps to be faster than mobile websites. 79% would abandon an app that fails to work at the first attempt, 47% would do so if the experience of using the app was unsatisfactory. But, as Prof. Dr. Pousttchi pointed out in his enlightening keynote, above all consumers expect apps to be fun. Entertainment is not high on the priority list when it comes to work-related software in the industry. But while laughs might not be a goal to aim for, user-friendly, well-designed, and enjoyable apps are reasonable to expect, even in the industrial setting. And while the industrial customers have long tolerated slow, complicated, and hard to use solutions, because those were the only ones they had, times have changed. The industrial users of tomorrow will expect what the private users of today already have – all the information, all the networked interfaces and decision power, in their pocket, in an easy and pleasant to use app. They will expect a solution that makes their working lives easier, simpler, and more enjoyable. And any solution provider wanting to survive in the new climate better take note.
In the next post we will discuss turn to some current and future disruptors the manufacturing paradigm. We will then discuss some challenges facing Industry 4.0.