What's behind Industry 4.0?
Jason Chester, Director of Global Channel Programs at InfinityQS shares his insight into the wave of digital innovations spreading across the manufacturing industry.
“If you build it, they will come.” This misquoted line from the 1989 Kevin Costner film, Field of Dreams (in which Costner actually said “if you build it, he will come”) has become somewhat of an axiom within the technology industry. The industry has become indoctrinated in the idea that if you build great technology, then customers will buy it in droves. Ask any struggling technology start-up and they will tell you that this is a fallacy .
A substantial part of the problem is our obsession with selling technology rather than capability, as the industry focuses on selling and promoting technology, features and functionality. Even the term ‘solution’ has become a distorted, collective term for what technology does, rather than the technological capability that serves an organisation’s requirement.
In reality, the value of technology does not reside in its features or functionality, but almost entirely in the capability it can provide customers. When an organisation develops a new piece of technology, it often wants to make it more innovative than its competitors, but if that does not help customers to address their real-world business challenges and leverage new opportunities, then the technology is arguably worthless.
So, what is behind the rapid ascent of Industry 4.0? The term was originally coined as a way to describe the fundamental shift taking place across industrial sectors from isolated electro-mechanical environments to an integrated and information-centric environment. Industry 4.0 has since become synonymous with a number of emerging and maturing technologies such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Big Data, 3D printing, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR), Robotics, Advanced Analytics and Human-machine Interfaces, to name just a few.
By hijacking the term, the technology industry is creating greater frustration and disillusionment across most sectors. Many industry leaders regard Industry 4.0 as a technical wave that may end up bursting like a bubble, as many previous waves have turned out. Is it yet another genre of technologies looking for a problem to solve? From a manufacturing industry perspective, we’ve somehow lost the empirical meaning of the term.
The stark reality is that the nature of manufacturing is fundamentally changing, and this shift is being driven by the changing environments in which manufacturers operate in particular the consumer markets they serve:
The Digital Consumer is increasingly using digital platforms to search, research and buy, opening up globally competitive markets.
The Promiscuous Consumer focuses less on brand loyalty and more on price, features and availability.
The Ethical Consumer is sensitive to the conduct of the companies that make the goods they consume, such as sustainability and waste, and are increasingly likely to upcycle and recycle many category of product.
The Social Consumer readily seeks our peer feedback and reviews on products and brands and is increasingly likely to be influenced by good and bad manufacturing practices and product performance.
The Demanding Consumer is increasingly seeking better, faster and cheaper option.
The Unique Consumer is increasingly looking for customisation and personalisation.
Manufacturers are realising that the current traditional manufacturing models are incompatible with addressing these fundamental changes in consumer markets. Instead, the need to re-engineer manufacturing processes, supply chains and even entire manufacturing operations is becoming increasingly critical. This goes beyond continuous incremental improvements, as manufacturers have been engaged in the process for decades and as a result, these initiatives continue to deliver ever decreasing returns.
What is required is a fundamental baseline shift in the manufacturing cost base, agility, efficiency, productivity, quality, time-to-market and product innovation. This is why we are seeing manufacturers increasingly looking towards innovative digital transformation programs as a central pillar within their operational and strategic planning. However, these digital transformation opportunities are predicated on emerging and maturing technologies, which are converging to make digital transformations a reality.
If manufacturing leaders can put aside the buzzwords and hype, and instead concentrate on how the capabilities that these technologies provide can help to transform their manufacturing operations, they may discover how to effectively address their consumer markets in the 21st century. Perhaps that Kevin Costner quote may eventually become: “If you build it, we will come.”
Jason Chester is responsible for the implementation, management, and overall success of the InfinityQS global channel partner programs. With over 25 years of experience working directly within the Enterprise IT industry, Jason has gained a deep understanding of how information technology capabilities can deliver significant and sustainable business value to end-user organisations.
SAS: Improving the British Army’s decision making with data
SAS’ long-standing relationship with the British Army is built on mutual respect and grounded by a reciprocal understanding of each others’ capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM for SAS UKI, states that the company’s thorough grasp of the defence sector makes it an ideal partner for the Army as it undergoes its own digital transformation.
“Major General Jon Cole told us that he wanted to enable better, faster decision-making in order to improve operational efficiency,” he explains. Therefore, SAS’ task was to help the British Army realise the “significant potential” of data through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks and conduct complex analysis.
In 2020, the Army invested in the SAS ‘Viya platform’ as an overture to embarking on its new digital roadmap. The goal was to deliver a new way of working that enabled agility, flexibility, faster deployment, and reduced risk and cost: “SAS put a commercial framework in place to free the Army of limits in terms of their access to our tech capabilities.”
Doing so was important not just in terms of facilitating faster innovation but also, in Crawford’s words, to “connect the unconnected.” This means structuring data in a simultaneously secure and accessible manner for all skill levels, from analysts to data engineers and military commanders. The result is that analytics and decision-making that drives innovation and increases collaboration.
Crawford also highlights the importance of the SAS platform’s open nature, “General Cole was very clear that the Army wanted a way to work with other data and analytics tools such as Python. We allow them to do that, but with improved governance and faster delivery capabilities.”
SAS realises that collaboration is at the heart of a strong partnership and has been closely developing a long-term roadmap with the Army. “Although we're separate organisations, we come together to work effectively as one,” says Crawford. “Companies usually find it very easy to partner with SAS because we're a very open, honest, and people-based business by nature.”
With digital technology itself changing with great regularity, it’s safe to imagine that SAS’ own relationship with the Army will become even closer and more diverse. As SAS assists it in enhancing its operational readiness and providing its commanders with a secure view of key data points, Crawford is certain that the company will have a continually valuable role to play.
“As warfare moves into what we might call ‘the grey-zone’, the need to understand, decide, and act on complex information streams and diverse sources has never been more important. AI, computer vision and natural language processing are technologies that we hope to exploit over the next three to five years in conjunction with the Army.”
Fundamentally, data analytics is a tool for gaining valuable insights and expediting the delivery of outcomes. The goal of the two parties’ partnership, concludes Crawford, will be to reach the point where both access to data and decision-making can be performed qualitatively and in real-time.
“SAS is absolutely delighted to have this relationship with the British Army, and across the MOD. It’s a great privilege to be part of the armed forces covenant.”