January 13, 2017

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Decoding the Reality of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

I believe there are two predominant themes in this year's World Economic Forum at Davos: an underlying narrative around the "Fourth Industrial Revolution" (4IR as WEF calls it) and a more immediate call for action though "Responsive and Responsible Leadership".

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is all about driving convergence of technologies that blur the lines between physical, digital and biological systems and the second theme is about dealing with the frustration and discontent that is increasing in parts of the society that are not experiencing adequate social progress and economic development.

To delve a little bit further in 4IR, this is how WEF envisions the four industrial revolutions:

The argument for the 4IR being distinct from the previous three being that the velocity (exponential instead of liner), scope (touches all industries globally), and systems impact (touches society at all levels) are unprecedented and do not have any parallel in history. There is a lively debate amongst academics whether 4IR is distinct by itself or just a continuation of the third one. Academic discussions aside, for mere mortals like us in business, it is sufficient to acknowledge the fact that the amount of change that technology innovations like digital, cloud, IoT, etc. are real and cycle times between disruptive change are rapidly shrinking.

To illustrate the point with the poster child and easily comprehensible example; Uber - we all know how easy hailing a cab has become and also the impact it's had/ is having for the traditional cab companies. The cost of a medallion required to operate a yellow cab in NYC has gone down from $1.3 Mn in 2014 to a less than $250 K in 2016 and falling! Without investing a single cent in purchasing cars or hiring drivers, Uber has upended a heavily regulated industry in less than 5 years. In comparison electricity took about 100 years to replace steam as a source of energy and telephone took around 50 years to replace telegraph. While the comparisons might not be really equivalent, I am sure the tea leaves are there for all to read. If you were to extend the thought further and get into the "driverless" cars domain, then the possible disruptions are even more mind boggling. Auto companies would have to shift core competency from transmission trains to integrating complex navigation hardware and software, Insurance companies would have to figure out how to insure drivers / cars where accidents happen because of software glitches and not human error and governments would have to think about how to provide safety cushion caused by the social impact because of drivers that need to be re-deployed / re-skilled.

This one example itself is sufficient to convince me about the reality of 4IR and the rate at which it is approaching us. In short, the possibilities are limitless and it's an interesting topic for all of us to consider and learn more about because it touches a lot of what we at HCL are involved in, either through helping our customers transform their legacy IT environment to an agile, lean business model or by developing platforms that enrich customer experience and discovering possibilities where there were none.

To listen, absorb, discuss these ideas and more, I’m excited to attend the 5-day extravaganza that the WEF is. I go with a curious mind to learn and a passion to represent HCL to the best of my abilities. I will be sharing my thoughts and learnings on Social Media, you can follow me on @shetty_s. Stay tuned!