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Data Will Lead the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Part 1

Technology is a critical component in the next industrial revolution – the one that’s happening right now as you read this article. But, technology doesn’t rule the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It’s not going to take over manufacturing and replace all the workers with robots. What will define and shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution is data.

Technology defined the Second and Third Industrial Revolutions in that it made our jobs easier, so we could be more productive. This time around, the technology is different. Not only is it evolving at a much faster pace that’s unparalleled in the history of human development – some people would argue that technology at this point can be as much of a hindrance and a distraction as it is a help.

What will make or break the Fourth Industrial Revolution (AKA Industry 4.0) are data and the human mind. It’s about whether humans will rule the technology and make it work for them or let the technology rule them. Industry 4.0 is about human beings working smarter and applying technology in new, innovative and truly helpful ways. The key to doing that is data.

In Part 1 of “Data Will Lead the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” let’s look at the effect data and technology have on the human experience from day-to-day living to business processes and workflows.

The Data-Technology-Human Connection

Technology is what makes amassing this critical data possible – but we are the ones who will make sense of the data and use it to:

  • Make critical business decisions
  • Innovate products and new inventions, as well as business processes
  • Know our customers and clients and apply technology to give them what they want
  • Get products and services to market faster and with more agility than was possible in the past
  • Answer our most sophisticated business and operational questions, including determining internal process issues, supply chain obstacles and enterprise resource planning (“ERP”)

Manufacturing was built on dirt, sweat, and tears, and there will still be plenty of hands-on jobs in its future.  However, there’s a new side emerging – and that’s the technology-and-data side. No more guessing what the right business decision is. Now, we can actually look at the numbers, create and apply algorithms to find trends, and use technology to create a solution. Could data analysts and coders be the front-line, steel-toe-boot-wearing workers of industrial’s past?

In other words, the next industrial revolution is not about replacing blue-collar workers with robots, as so many have feared. It’s all about harnessing the power and potential that technology, data and analytics together hold. Data will supply the information we need to make better, market-based decisions, and technology will be the “strong arm” behind making ideas a reality.

What Does the Fourth Industrial Revolution Look Like?

Two noticeable earmarks of the Fourth Industrial Revolution that almost all sources agree on are that this revolution will move faster, and it will have a deeper, more pervasive effect on society. If you compare how quickly technology evolves and advances now compared to the 1950s or during the turn of the 20th century, there’s no comparison. Technological advances move in terms of months and years instead of decades.

Changes affect society more quickly and completely than they used to as well. So many large chunks of the world’s populations are better connected, thanks to the Internet, social media, smartphones and an ever-growing number of apps designed to keep us connected. The winners of Industry 4.0 will be able to capitalize on how quickly trends and news spread to and through the public.

This current industrial revolution also combines what many have coined “cyber-physical systems.” This revolution is all about the interaction of technology with humans – and the data that’s collected on them. How will humans influence the technology – and how will the technology influence human behavior, human living standards – and jobs?

The Role of Technology and Data in Manufacturing

What will manufacturing data look like – and how will we look at it, analyze it and ultimately use it? In Part 2 of “Data Will Lead the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” we’ll explore the specific roles technology and data will play in manufacturing.

By examining how technology and data can be applied, businesses can get a better sense of what they can do to prepare for change and potential industry disruption. We’ll ask the question, how can your organization take advantage of and even stay ahead of emerging trends? We’ll also go through a checklist for companies that are ready to be active participants in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

About the Author

Randy Burton, CPA, Partner and Industry Leader for Cherry Bekaert’s Industrial Group, has served clients in manufacturing, wholesale distribution, retail and real estate sectors for nearly 20 years. His areas of specialty include SEC filings, registration statements, mergers and acquisitions, compliance and assurance. Before joining Cherry Bekaert, Randy worked at a Big Four firm and as an assistant controller of a large public retail company, where he led the financial reporting, compliance and general accounting.

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