Understanding the fourth industrial revolution

The Committee for Economic Development recently held a business lunch in Sydney that addressed the theme of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Presented in partnership with the University of Sydney Business School as part of the 2017 Innovation and Disruption Series, the event was chaired by Dr John Shields with an expert panel of speakers representing banking and finance, technology and business consulting.

Klaus Schwab, the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, has described the Fourth Industrial Revolution as a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another.

“In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society,” he said.

In introducing the guest speakers, Dr Shields echoed this description as he spoke of forces that are relentless, ever-changing, disruptive and uncertain.

“How are we to not just survive, but thrive in this volatile wave of change?” he asked.

Ms Emma Grey, the Chief Data Officer from ANZ banking group described herself as a business analyst rather than a scientist, and someone who is fascinated by the power of data to leverage better outcomes for both business and customers.

“This is an exciting time to be a banker,” she said, describing a series of spectacular failures when international brands tried to create of “walled gardens” at the expense of improving and evolving their services.

Attempts to constrain and restrict customers do not work in today’s world. Instead, companies that join forces, put the customer first and act as distribution platforms thrive the most. Ms Grey spoke of the use and protection of personal information as the key issue underpinning the Fourth Industrial Revolution, followed by the rise of artificial intelligence and robotics.

“When you consider that 40-60% of work functions will be automated in the coming decade, we will soon experience a wave of supply side miracles,” she said.

Automation will not only reduce cost; Ms Grey predicted it will also enhance customer experience through reduced error, better service improved function. She said that capability shifts will require massive cultural shifts that position customers at the centre of all business transactions.

“Customers will no longer stay in walled gardens,” she said. “If large businesses are too risk adverse, they will be bumped by startups that put customers first.”

She also spoke of the need for organisations to become more agile, with budgets and decision making capability assigned to roles and the value a worker brings to a project rather than to more traditional, structural hierarchies.

Dr Ian Oppermann, the Chief Data Scientist at the NSW Data Analytics Centre, spoke extensively of the unique insights data can bring to all aspects of life, from healthcare and case management through to business and finance. He spoke of how more manufacturers across Australia are beginning to rely on customised production and how the Internet of Things (IoT) is growing at such a rapid rate that researchers are predicting a future dominated by autonomous production and logistics. Factory floors will be “unrecognisable” within a decade and automation is set to vastly change the manufacturing landscape.

Dr Oppermann gave many examples of how government service providers now use data to predict risks, particularly in the area of child protection. His descriptions of a family’s journey seen through different data sets demonstrated a depth of useful insights and provided a compelling case for better use of data in public policy settings.

“We can get data from everything; insects, plants, banking interactions and calls to government services. Looking at this data in real time can help us make better policy decisions, generate solutions and address wicked problems.”

The panel discussion concluded with a presentation from Mr Steve Davies, the Client Innovation Centre Lead at IBM, who discussed a regional work ready program delivered in Geelong.

This was the first in the 2017 Innovation and Disruption Series of discussions presented by The Committee for Economic Development in partnership with the University of Sydney Business School. For information about upcoming events visit www.ceda.com.au