Since Klaus Schwab announced the arrival of the Fourth Industrial revolution (4IR), we have seen a lot of articles which have pointed out the many ways in which companies can come to terms with the immense changes that the 4IR is bringing?

There have been many suggestions regarding this. However, how many of these suggestions are worthwhile and how many are throwing water into a howling wind?

I suppose it depends on the company and what works for its business model. I have always been a firm believer in having strength in numbers. While beefing up on technology is a great way to adapt to the 4IR, more needs to be done.

Don’t face it alone

I recently read an article on forbes.com where the author (Joe McKendrick) presented his views on the matter of strength in numbers.

The article points out that we collaborate and monitor; we measure, we analyze, we audit, and we monitor some more – all digitally. We have instrumented and sensored just about every process across the organization.

Managers have feeds on sales data, production output, partner pricing, performance metrics, and employee output. There are a number of managers who say they can run their entire businesses from mobile phones. Everyone has bought into the notion that data and analytics will deliver the insights and answers we need.

The article urges caution at this juncture. Technology is great for many purposes – and the massive disruptions that are knocking down industry after industry would not be happening were it not for technology. But you can’t meet these challenges with technology alone.

“That’s the word from Tom Peters, who, in his latest work, The Excellence Dividend, renews his call for passionate, caring management as the path to success; even as technology tears up the norms we knew as business,” said McKendrick.

Deep understanding

The article adds that if you really want to know and deeply understand what’s going on in your organization, practice the art of managing by wandering around (MBWA ).

MBWA was the style and practice of HP’s David Packard in the 1940s, and Peters later adapted and adopted this mode of thinking in his groundbreaking book co-authored with Bob Waterman, In Search of Excellence.

“You can’t lead from your office or cubicle,” he states. “You lead on the office or shop floor, or for that matter, in the customer’s or vendor’s place of business. You lead, damn it, by staying in direct touch with the action that matters,” said Peters.

The McKendrick article adds that Peters, who has been agitating for excellence since the 1980s, shows no signs of letting up. There are far too many backward-facing dysfunctional organizations with calcified processes that cut off meaningful contact with customers. Nowadays, many organizations look to technology to solve their woes and open up more to customers. However, technology is only a tool, and not the panacea.

No guarantee of success

The McKendrick article points out that you can match the technology disruption wave by loading up with all the latest technology, but technology alone isn’t going to ensure success in today’s economy.

The article adds that success comes from caring about employees and customers. While Peters acknowledges that artificial intelligence (AI) and related technologies are capable of taking over many human tasks, technology cannot deliver business success itself.

There are human attributes that will, effectively deployed, “likely remain beyond the realm of artificial intelligence,” says Peters. “For example, the quality of fully engaged employees providing personalized service that makes you smile as it is delivered and creates fond memories that last. Or the design excellence that made Steve Jobs’ Apple products, more driven by his months sitting quietly in Japanese gardens than by computer coding skills, worthy of the head-shaking amazement of hundreds of millions of customers.”

Peters’ advice: when not practicing MBWA, read, read, read. Listen and learn as many viewpoints as possible. And remember the goal for everything you do within an organization: “Excellent customer experiences depend entirely on excellent employee experiences. If you want to ‘wow’ your customers, first you must wow those who wow the customers.”

Natural progression

A natural progression towards this way of thinking is to empower your staff to act as if they were the clients. Walk a mile in your client’s shoes and you will know them intimately.

This was the bases of an article I read on customerthink.com.

The article points out that ,as consumers, we can now be targeted with offers so specific to our needs that we wonder if Google and Facebook can read our minds.

Customization is no longer a perk, but a must-have, and consumers today are empowered to find the right products at the right prices as never before. Over 60% of Americans say they spend quite a lot of time researching brands before making a major purchase, thanks to real-time access to product information.

The article adds that AI and robotics will continue to streamline the processes that deliver speed and value to consumers. Further, these processes put growing pressure on traditional retailers to compete on price, convenience, and customer service. This may mean that there will be fewer of the retail jobs we already know, but also potentially a variety of opportunities that we cannot yet imagine.

Business replication

The customerthink.com article points out that the streamlining of tech devices working together to deliver seamless experiences is also something we might see replicated in the way businesses operate.

This will be accompanied by an increase in partnerships and collaboration to create new, unique consumer experiences. As digital devices enable communication in more and more ways, the hurdles that prevent co-working will slowly disappear.

This even applies to intercontinental business. Internationalism – learning about other people, cultures and equality – is among the differentiating values for the youngest consumers (the Now Generation), when compared to Millennials at the same life stage. Working with people in different cultures, environments and time zones will be a huge benefit for tomorrow’s workers – and likely a source of added competition in some cases.

The worry factor

The article points out that , in all of this, a key factor for workers and consumers is privacy. As news reports of hacked corporate databases have mounted, anxiety among digital consumers has grown. The youngest generations are by far the most concerned about the security of their personal information – and, perhaps in a related point, also more environmentally conscious. Doing things the right way will be a must for companies that want to earn and keep consumer trust; these concerns will be every employee’s responsibility in workplaces of tomorrow.

So where is this fourth industrial revolution leading us? Today’s world is just the tip of the iceberg — but it is surely an exciting time to see technology and its effects on many areas of our lives, as products and business models become more fluid. Consumers remain king – but workers may not always get the royal treatment. As employers and employees, we need to be sure we see tomorrow as clearly as possible – and start to take action today!

Jordan Govender
Jordan Govender
Designer. Musician. Part of GTconsult's A-Team. Enabling secure productivity daily!

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