SUSTAINABILITY

Opportunities in Industry 4.0

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Trends Magazine to highlight the opportunities associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Please read the interview here:

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is on us already, but are we ready to face the various risks it poses? 

I think it is important to take a step back and acknowledge that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is universal in its impact, much more than the other industrial leaps that have changed the world in the past.

While we know that there are a number of risks associated with it – social, economic, political and environmental implications – I subscribe to the larger picture, of the opportunity Industry 4.0 provides to create a world that is more connected, efficient and regenerative. In reality, the risks we face with the Fourth Industrial Revolution are only as negatively skewed as the extent of our willingness to formulate counter-intuitive policies. Countries that embolden themselves to understand and adapt to new technologies, from Blockchain to driverless cars, are essentially shielding themselves from the ‘risk’ of not trying at all. As T. S. Eliot aptly stated, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.”

If you look beyond the hurdles of policy and acceptance, the law of the land, especially in emerging markets, points to tangible indicators of their readiness to accept disruptive technology. Research shows that emerging economies have the most to gain from industrial digitization, with Asia-Pacific and EMEA economies poised to see better efficiency gains, compared to developed regions such as the Americas.

Science may or may not be able to quantify the risks, but even if we have risk estimates, discerning how much risk we should take, if any, is not something science alone can answer. It is a moral assessment we need to make collectively. Ultimately, it is easy to see that the real winners of this revolution are the early adopters and risk takers.

As business and political leaders seem to be coming to grips with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, they are echoing many concerns about the risks of digitization. Do you think those concerns are justified? If yes, how best do they deal with them? Disruption in any form is a cause for concern. We all remember the Y2K bug that Time magazine called one of the top 10 end-of-days prophecies the world has seen. It had governments and businesses shrouded in the fear of an impending calamity. Nevertheless, they were prepared for it, and that made all the difference.

To prepare for this revolution, we need to improve connectivity, efficiency, collaboration, and most importantly, investment. Germany, for example, is investing in excess of €200m to enhance technological disruption among the government, private businesses as well as academia. In the US, the Industrial Internet Consortium combines the expertise of global technology companies to enhance the connectedness and interoperability of machines. We see the same ‘leap of faith’ being taken in China, where estimates show that industrial digitization is growing at an incredible pace contributing to increased digital revenues through to 2020.

Alongside these advancements, we also need to be mindful of the policy implications new technology brings. The recently launched Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution symbolizes the urgency for a relook at existing regulations, especially considering that the rules of engagement surrounding advances such as Artificial Intelligence or blockchain are still in the gray.

We’re seeing these technologies enter the Middle East Region in a big way, although the lack of proper governance measures leaves us exposed to more harm than good. The Pearl Initiative, through its work on promoting transparency and accountability among Gulf businesses plays an important role in mitigating these risks.

With a majority of businesses in the region being family-owned and trillions of assets set to pass on from one generation to the next, we need to put in place the right checks and balances through sustainable governance.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is likely to cause widespread disruption not only to business models but also to labour markets. What changes in skill sets, according to you, are most essential to thrive in the new landscape?
Seven million is a large number, and it should serve as a wake-up call to turn our attention to the new jobs and the host of new opportunities that will be presented to future generations. The fact is more than a third of the skills that are deemed important today, will no longer be so in five years from now, with strong analytical capabilities, critical thinking, creativity and social skills taking precedence.  World economies need to see this as an opportunity to upskill the existing workforce, while also putting resources towards the development of new talent.  The fact that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is stalled by the lack of skills in the market, just goes to show that we cannot have one without the other – successful technological transformation is impossible without due investments in people.

These interventions need to start even at the school level, with a greater push towards STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education, as well as applied art and design.

Take for example the schools in England, where coding is a compulsory subject in the school curriculum, with children as young as five years old being taught to code.

It is a huge shift from what we know and understand, which is why governments, businesses and academia alike need to foster creativity and innovation that gives people the ability to progress.

Job creation has become a prime concern for government leaders, while technology is replacing human beings at work. How do you see the future of the human race, when most governments are facing the challenge of growing unemployment?
I am optimistic. Today we have access to more technologies, and more tools, than we had any time before. The unparalleled and accelerating technological advancements are redefining industries, transforming the job market and nature of work as we know it –increasing the urgency of issues such as unemployment. On the other hand, they are creating new opportunities and job categories that did not exist before.

In the past, industrial revolutions have not been evenly distributed over time. There are parts of the world that have not yet made use of the benefits associated with the Industrial Revolution.

Approximately 1.2 billion people don’t have reliable access to energy. Another 2.3 billion don’t have clean water and sanitation. More than four billion don’t have access to the Internet. Technological advancements to eradicate diseases, or to light up the whole planet, exist today.

Countries, businesses, institutions and civil society leaders must make cohesive effort and take swift action, to make this to happen on a global scale, and to make sure the rise of such technologies is responsibly directed for the greater good. We need a prosperous future that is inclusive and doesn’t leave anyone behind. We also need to live within our planetary means without posing more pressure on our resources.

The biggest challenge before the governments, businesses and educationists is to empower the younger generation, mostly millennials, with skills that will enable the workforce of the digital age to be relevant. What do you think needs to be done to fast-track things in this direction?

I believe the most important skills are soft skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, empathy, and human relations. Most governments’ and educationists also understand the importance of a STEM-focused education.

These are some of the future educational and learning possibilities to be considered in the decision-making process for better long-term educational policies and upskilling strategies. It is not only for millennials, but for all professionals who are navigating a transitioning business space, to evolve and adapt.

Where is the private sector heading?
The private sector is definitely headed toward greater competition, building on a digital agenda that can drive profitability and innovative thinking.  Globally, enterprises are creating room for Chief Information Officers (CIO) and Chief Digital Officers (CDO) to make way for this strategic evolution. In some cases, companies are hiring Chief Revolutionary Officers, as enablers of excellence in a highly disruptive market. Closer to home, both governments and the private sector are pushing the envelope with new technologies, with blockchain and 3D printing promising to be just a sample of what is to be expected in the near future.

What do you think private businesses should do to cope with the changing environment?
First and foremost, the private sector will have to step up its efforts in empowering its workforce, to adapt to new technologies, especially to avoid being redundant in a technologically advanced world. Secondly, businesses need to implement strong governance practices that can help address the challenges that are expected to accompany the new industrial revolution, turning to accountability and transparency to limit the adverse effects of technology.

To add to this, the private sector will also need to step out of its own confines, to find meaningful collaborations, especially with students and entrepreneurs that leverage the technological transformation. This not only provides companies with the revenue benefits of skilled talent and profitable ideas, but enables a wider move towards innovation that can benefit the larger economy.

Will the Fourth Industrial Revolution make us more happy or less?
I believe that overall, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will provide us with enhanced intelligence, unparalleled convenience, affordable quality products and services, and a healthier, longer life. While happiness is subjective and perceived differently across communities and cultures, the common denominator is generally the ability to live life to the best of one’s ability. For this we need an integrated global effort to direct the outcomes of this new industrial revolution to be inclusive in its impact on the people, planet and profits.

 

Moving forward, what should the GCC countries focus on, i.e., innovation, entrepreneurship, etc.?
I think the technological revolution gives the Gulf region a golden opportunity to assume a stronger position in the global economy. On one hand, the majority of the population in the GCC nations are young and quickly adapting to technological disruptions. To add to this, we are still in a state of development that allows us to directly graduate to the latest advancements, compared to developed economies that are faced with the challenge of retrofitting new technologies to an outdated infrastructure.

The region’s governments and businesses need to acknowledge the edge we hold in these respects, and invest in solutions that can accelerate the transformation. We need to create a start-up ecosystem that not only provides new opportunities for the youth, but helps us create products and brands that matter to the rest of the world. We need to improve the region’s investment appeal, through businesses that have creative capabilities and sustainable fundamentals, to grow and thrive in a challenging economy.

At Crescent Enterprises, for example, we have developed CE-Ventures, an internal business incubator, which develops socially-conscious, technologically-driven businesses that change the way the world views the Arab world.

Even across the Middle East and North Africa region, there are numerous opportunities to develop talent and innovation. A case in point is the Gaza Sky Geeks, a private sector-led accelerator that has not only produced ground-breaking ideas, but has provided the conflict-stricken community with hope through technology. Today, these innovations are being successfully adopted across borders, proving the point that technology can act as a great equalizer even in the most difficult environments.

How will the technological revolution transform the economy of the GCC? And how will it impact the growth?
In the midst of the region’s smart city transformation, governments are on a quest to establish state of the art infrastructure to enable the implementation of cutting edge technologies.

Smart government services in the UAE have led to faster and more efficient delivery of services. With regards to private services, we are seeing its adoption in how we order a cab or food or hotel accommodation to solutions that banks offer to consumers making it easier to pay our bills using mobiles or laptops, etc.

The interest in digital is not unfounded. A recent study by Accenture revealed that digital disruption could boost the UAE’s GDP by US$13.8 Billion by 2020, which is a 2.8% jump from current levels. In Saudi Arabia, this number touches US$31.4 Billion, a 4.2% boost in GDP, while Qatar is likely to see a 3.3% rise in GDP equating to US$7.8 billion.

However, in order to achieve this growth, these countries have to commit 50% to 80% of additional digital efforts towards the improved application of technology such as cloud and analytics, along with investments in digital skills and accelerators to create a better environment for digital enablement.

 

Are businesses in the region doing enough to equip the youth with the necessary skill sets to benefit from the revolution? And what are challenges involved in this direction?
While there is a general movement to upskill the youth in the GCC Region, there is definitely more that can be done. The key is to have targeted programs that address specific issues unique to the region, such as the lack of interest in private sector jobs among the national population, or the alarming disparity in opportunities for women.

This does not mean simply focusing on programs such as Emiratization. The solution has to be more tailor-made, and this is where the private sector can play an important role.

Published in Trends magazine in its November 2016 issue

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