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Accelerating success in the 4th industrial revolution

The 4th industrial revolution is here. What do enterprises need to know?

By William Genovese

Today, we’re witnessing the fastest pace of change the world has ever seen. The global economy is being transformed and this change can be daunting to all enterprises and industries. 

But this is also a moment of great opportunity to thrive as the world enters the digital age. ICT Infrastructure, especially connectivity, plays an increasingly critical role in driving sustainable growth and prosperity.  

Hyper connectivity is here

The explosion of connectivity is staggering and the world is entering a new period of hyper connectivity. For example, by 2025, the number of connections will top 100 billion, five times higher than the number of connections in 2015. By 2025, 75 percent of global homes will have access to broadband. Throughout this hyper growth cycle, the Internet is bridging communities in places that have limited infrastructure and communications to the outside world at an incredible pace. This growth in connectivity is providing dramatically improved access to information and resources for those who did not have them before. 

Connectivity is enabling the betterment of people’s lives. Through hyper connectivity comes the need for countries, government, corporations, enterprises, and communities to digitally transform and accelerate access to new information and accelerate and produce the best outcomes for their businesses. Entities need to digitally transform as individuals are expecting better, easier lives. Better business is demanded from enterprises through the connection of ecosystems. This results in a better society for all where divisions are now bridged and everyone benefits from the interconnected ecosystem that is more relevant to our lives. 

Thanks to the prevalence of improved semiconductors, graphene-carbon nanotube capacitors, cell-free networks of service antenna and 5G technology, wireless communications will dominate everything, everywhere.

So what just is this digital enterprise we all discuss and hear so much about? The biggest difference between the enterprises in the past and digital enterprise now and in the future in all industries is the need to meet the new demands of the new customer – wanting it all, wanting it now, and wanting it everywhere. To become a digital enterprise, a company needs to build ubiquitous connections spanning its people and things, and at the same time, link its employees, customers, partners, and suppliers together. Just having accelerated access to information is not enough. A company’s operations should be based on big data and artificial intelligence (AI), to add a more tailored context, purpose, and value for customers. On top of that, companies need to automate business processes with built-in, real-time decision-making so as to realize simple, efficient, and intelligent operations.

A key goal of this digital transformation is to provide a ROADS experience — Real-time, On-demand, All-online, DIY, and Social — for customers, partners, and employees. A ROADS experience is the most difficult part of the journey, but it’s a must as both enterprise customers and consumers will be expecting a ROADS experience when they buy or use products and services from providers.

Velocity, scope and impact

As we look back at history, previous industrial revolutions were defined by certain characteristics. 

The first industrial revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The second industrial revolution used electric power to create mass production.  The third industrial revolution used electronics and IT advancements in computing and networking, with artificial intelligence to automate production.  Globally, the planet is not only now entering and rapidly advancing through the third industrial revolution, but we are moving beyond this and starting to experience both a confluence and convergence of emerging technologies, as we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This fourth industrial revolution is now building on the third – the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century.  It’s characterized by a confluence, convergence, and fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.

There are three reasons why today’s transformations do not merely represent an extension of the third industrial revolution, but the arrival of a distinct one: velocity, scope (breadth and depth), and systems impact.  

Velocity: This revolution is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace,

Scope - Breath and depth: It leads to unprecedented paradigm shifts in economy, business, society and individually. It’s changing the “what” and the “how” of doing things, and also “who” we are.

System impact: It involves the transformation of entire systems across (and within) countries, companies and society as a whole.

The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent.  When compared with the previous industrial revolutions, the fourth is evolving at an exponential, rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country.  And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management and governance.

The time of mobile and social

The possibility of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented computing power, is being accelerated by edge computing. The Internet has provided a shift to decentralized and distributed computing from the centralized computing model that started in the third industrial revolution.  Unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge, are unlimited; often at an individual’s fingertips through their device. On the social front a paradigm shift is underway in how we work and communicate, as well as how we express, inform, and entertain our selves.  Our devices will become an increasing part of our personal ecosystem, listening to us, anticipating our needs and helping us when required, even if not asked. Over the next 30 years, we will be entering an intelligent world, where things will be intelligent and able to sense and connect. These advances will be powered by leading ICT technology. Devices will be the sensing organs of the intelligent world; networks will connect them together; clouds will be its digital brain, a source of intelligence. 

In addition, these possibilities are multiplied by breakthrough emerging technologies that are converging, and can also be viewed as digital transformation accelerators.  Examples of these breakthroughs are artificial intelligence and cognitive computing, robotics, IoT, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, digital currencies, blockchain and distributed ledger technology, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.  

Digital fabrication technologies are interacting with the world on a daily basis. Engineers, designers, and architects, are combining computational design, additive manufacturing, materials engineering, and synthetic biology to pioneer a symbiosis between microorganisms, our bodies, the products we consume, and even the buildings we inhabit. Industry digitalization cannot be achieved with a single technology: It will require the synergy of cloud, network infrastructure (pipes), and devices. For enterprises, their ICT systems are shifting from siloed architecture to one that features cloud-pipe-device synergy. The new ICT is the combination of these foundational, enabling and digital transformation accelerators ─ cloud, big data, SDN, 5G, and IoT.


The challenges created by the fourth industrial revolution appear to be mostly on the supply side, in the world of work and production. As a result, the great beneficiaries are the providers of intellectual or physical capital, the innovators of intellectual or physical capital.  These are the innovators, the investors and the shareholders, which explains the rising gap in wealth between those who depend on their labor and those who own capital. The concentration of benefits and value in just a small percentage of people is also exacerbated by the so called platform effect, in which digitally driven organizations create networks that match buyers and sellers through a marketplace comprising a wide variety of products and services, and thereby enjoy increasing returns to scale.  The consequence of the platform effect is a concentration of a few powerful platforms that dominate their markets.

Looking at financial services as an example of the impact of these platform companies, these new strategies adopted and deployed by the aforementioned platform companies are even more challenging for incumbent banks. By creating a unified customer-centric value proposition that extends beyond “the walls” of what users could previously obtain, digital pioneers are bridging and merging the value chains of various industries to create vastly more scaled ecosystems that reduce customers’ costs, increase convenience, provide them with new experiences, and whet their appetites for more. This is compounded exponentially by the network effect.  Not only do they have exceptional data that they exploit with remarkable effectiveness but also, and more worrisome for banks, they are often more central in the customer journeys that include big financial decisions, while at the same time through leveraging the assets of the 2nd information age and the distributed, hyper-connected internet.

The platform paradigm in action

Consider Rakuten Ichiba, Japan’s single largest online retail marketplace. It provides loyalty points and e-money usable at hundreds of thousands of stores, virtual and real. It issues credit cards to tens of millions of members. It offers financial products and services that range from mortgages to securities brokerages. And the company runs one of Japan’s largest online travel portals—plus an instant-messaging app, Viber, which has some 800 million users worldwide. 

Likewise, Alibaba is not just an enormous e-commerce company; it’s also a large asset manager, lender, payments company, B2B service, and ride-hailing provider. 

Tencent is making similar advances from a chat-service base. And Amazon continues to confound rivals with moves into the cloud, logistics, media, consumer electronics domains, and even old-fashioned brick-and-mortar retailing—and lending and factoring for small and medium-size enterprises. 

Such companies are blurring traditional industry boundaries. With their superior customer experience, they can sell an ever-wider range of products to their loyal customers. The manufacturing end of many businesses is fading from view, as the platform companies increasingly dominate the distribution end of multiple businesses, providing a wide range of products and services from a single platform.

Those companies that can break down the walls to become more relevant to their customers lives by enabling and providing end-to-end and last-mile connectivity, combined with the platforms and integrated “glue” required to enable the convergence of the emerging technologies of the fourth industrial revolution, will be best positioned to scale and remain contextually relevant at the center of customers’ attention. This, in turn will continue to contribute to their exponential growth. 

These are the companies that are making our lives easier, every day resulting in economic gains for all, while also giving us enhanced and balanced livelihoods. It’s an exciting time to experience this transition to this new information age and the next step of progress in humanity.