How businesses can take advantage of Industry 4.0

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BY ROB SINFIELD

It’s no secret that ‘Industry 4.0 – also known as the fourth industrial revolution – is causing dramatic shifts in how businesses operate. What started as a marketing buzzword has now become one of the key drivers of change across a whole host of industries – particularly manufacturing.

Characterised by the development of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT), the rise of Industry 4.0 is continuing to gather pace. Indeed, a report from KPMG suggests that the component markets of Industry 4.0 will be worth a combined $4 trillion by 2020, highlighting just how much there is at stake.

Businesses are currently facing a frantic race to keep up and, with no-one wanting to be left behind, the pressure is well and truly on. So, here are five key factors for businesses to consider, which will help them take advantage of Industry 4.0 over the coming months and years.

Put data analysis front and centre – With IoT becoming more and more prominent in the workplace, collecting and analysing vast amounts of data will form the backbone of future business. From enabling predictive maintenance in manufacturing to providing added value for clients in professional services, being data-driven will be key.

Businesses are also being trusted with larger amounts of data than ever before, which means they have to be able to use it in the right way and stop it from falling into the wrong hands.

Arguably the biggest opportunity will come from the creation of ‘smart factories’ that use data from connected systems to optimise efficiency and minimise downtime. For example, manufacturers will be able to predict when failures are likely to occur by analysing historical trends, as well as using the insights generated to shape future product development operations.

Ultimately, the more data that is analysed the smarter the decisions. For businesses in all industries, prioritising data analysis and adopting a data-first mindset will therefore be essential to future success.

Break down silos – For traditional businesses, one of the biggest challenges of today’s disruption is successfully adapting to a new way of working. Key to realising the potential of Industry 4.0 will be finding ways to connect different business units and obtain a complete view of operations.

This is where Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions can play a major role, connecting day-to-day activities across the entire company and providing essential insight into operations.

For manufacturers specifically, all areas of the manufacturing process – from Materials and Inventory to Production, Operations and Accounting – can be integrated into one database. This gives manufacturers greater insight into increasingly complex supply chains, helping them manage supplier partnership and stay on top of key factors such as demand forecasting and production downtime.

Breaking down silos also makes it easier for employees to collaborate, both with each other and with external partners, all of which highlights why businesses can simply no longer afford to work in silos. Those that do will quickly find themselves falling behind their more connected, collaborative competitors.

Think globally – As well as being a huge disruptor, Industry 4.0 is also proving to be a great leveller across multiple industries. Not only are technologies such as cloud computing giving small businesses access to the computing power traditionally reserved for their larger competitors, increasing connectivity is also taking globalisation to a whole new level.

As such, businesses are now able to reach a wider audience than ever before – if they are prepared to think big. Nothing is out of reach and companies should be encouraged to adopt an international mindset.

This applies to even the smallest start-ups. From accounting and payroll to payments and expenses, powerful software is now available to help start-ups take control of the administrative side of business, enabling them to focus on growth and expansion.

Develop your workforce – It’s no secret that the growing prominence of automation, AI and robotics are forcing human employees to change how they work, and businesses must be prepared to support this development.

As a starting point, businesses should make sure their workforce has the required level of technical skills. This might involve running regular training programmes to help existing employees get up to speed with new technologies or recruiting people who already have the right expertise.

But the focus shouldn’t just be on technical skills. With software already starting to take over many of the more mundane, time-consuming tasks, ‘human’ skills such as creativity, critical thinking and communication will be key to the workplace of the future.

Adopt an agile mindset – My final piece of advice for businesses looking to take advantage of Industry 4.0 is to recognise the importance of agility and flexibility.

In order to stay competitive in today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world, being able to adapt to change has become more important than ever. As such, business culture must be geared towards productivity and agility, which can play an important role in improving the customer experience and driving revenue.

Although it may sound daunting, the good news is that there are many ways businesses can go about fostering an agile mindset, from experimenting with new technologies to focusing on customer needs and implementing a culture of collaboration.

So, what are you waiting for? The era of Industry 4.0 is already underway and, with the pace of innovation showing no sign of slowing, businesses have to act now if they want to take advantage of the huge potential that today’s connected world offers.

Writer is VP ERP, Sage