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Logistics & Manufacturing

18 april 2016

cxo magazine

Door cxo magazine

The fourth Industrial Revolution

For the world’s most senior executives, the future of global production systems has reached the top of the agenda, says John Moavenzadeh of The World Economic Forum.

4th industrial revolution.jpg If you want to know what’s on the mind of the most influential people in the global economy, there’s only one place to be every January: The World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Since the 1970s, this meeting has brought together senior leaders from business, government, academia and charities to discuss the most pressing topics of the time.

The role of the WEF, says John Moavenzadeh, Head of Mobility Industries at the organization, is to advance the kinds of complex, global, multi-stakeholder issues that can’t be addressed by individual business or governments working alone. Recent mobility topics, chosen after consultation with business leaders around the world, have included the impact of technology, the future of global trade and overcoming sustainability challenges. The principal theme of the 2016 meeting was “mastering the fourth industrial revolution.”

First, some definitions: what is the fourth industrial revolution? The world has undergone three previous transformations in its technologies of production, says Moavenzadeh. First there was mechanization, driven by the introduction of steam power in the 18th century. Then came electrical power, a key enabler for the growth of mass production in the early 20th century. The third industrial revolution was brought about by the development of electronics and information technology, enabling the widespread use of automation. And the fourth? That’s a little more complicated, Moavenzadeh admits, but it builds on the digital transformation initiated by the third revolution. The term refers to the impact of a convergence of disparate emerging technologies, from large scale digital platforms and smart sensors to 3D printing and synthetic biology to nanotechnology and advanced robotics.
Poised for transformation

That these technologies are poised for revolutionary effect today is the result of a number of critical factors. For a start, there’s the unprecedented combination of low cost and wide availability. “Digital platforms have now become ubiquitous,” says Moavenzadeh. And Moore’s law, which describes the exponential rise of computing power over time, is playing out in similar ways across other sectors, he adds. “Less than a decade ago it cost $250,000 to decode a complete human genome. You can do that for less than $1,000 dollars today.”

Changing consumer attitudes matter, too. The first generation of children to grow up in a world full of computers, digital communications and the Internet is coming of age right now. They are bringing with them “different consumption habits and different ideas about the purchase and use of products and services.” Finally, there is the emergence of a new generation of disruptive companies, willing to invent entirely new industries for themselves or to take radically different approaches in established areas.

In fact, it is precisely the lack of a single enabling technology that makes the latest revolution so different and so much more complex than its predecessors. Moavenzadeh highlights three characteristics that will set the fourth industrial revolution apart from its predecessors: speed, as entire industries are created or transformed in years rather than decades; scope, since “nobody is going to be left untouched” by the coming changes; and, perhaps most significantly, the need to take a systems approach, as the changes will be far broader and deeper than those of the past.

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Source: DHL