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Welcome to the Fourth Industrial Revolution

06. September by DIGITAL2GO in Digitization

Digital 2 Go
5 Minutes read

The digitalisation of business processes is progressing, and sometimes the wording used to describe it is downright spectacular. While this makes it sound dramatic, in reality it is not a rapid or spontaneous upheaval. Nevertheless, the term “Fourth Industrial Revolution” does portend quite profound changes to industrial workflows. And these changes will affect companies of every size, from corporations to medium-sized enterprises.

Although the Fourth Revolution will not happen overnight, even gradual, evolutionary changes can lead to something entirely new. Thus, the term “revolution” and the forecasts, keywords, and scenarios that go along with it are not inaccurate. But referring to this revolution as a “phase of digital optimisation” allows the subject to be approached with a little less drama.

Terms, questions, fears

The term “Fourth Industrial Revolution” refers to a phase of advanced digitalisation of work processes. Companies are under increasing pressure to be efficient – connectivity via the Internet of Things, cyber-physical production systems, and a tremendously wide range of digitalisation tools can already help businesses deal with this pressure today. “The vision behind all of this is a self-controlled factory in which factors of production communicate via the Internet,” explained Maria Hulla from Graz University of Technology, head of the Industrial Management working group.

The keyword “Logistics 4.0” must also be seen in this context: Thanks to digital transformation, a “permanent, up-to-the-minute warehouse inventory” is no longer a utopian dream, but rather a growing necessity.

The two key questions that are being discussed even outside of expert circles are “How can digital transformation be manageable for everyone, including SMEs?” and “At whose expense will it be implemented?” The fear of new things and the fear of becoming redundant are obstacles to innovation that must be taken seriously, aside from factual impediments such as time, money, and personnel – stumbling blocks that especially challenge SMEs on their path towards a digital future.

The challenges are clear

Dispelling fear, spreading knowledge, and developing strategies. And even though it’s called a “revolution”, no one can achieve the status of perfect, complete digitalisation overnight. But there is no question that these challenges have to be taken seriously and solved – at least in industry, it will be impossible to survive without digitalisation over the long term.

So how can you, particularly as an SME, face this transformation and eliminate the “stumbling blocks” described above? The best way is one step at a time: “It’s important not to rush digitalisation in a company, but to match the digitalisation strategy to one’s business strategy. Little by little, a roadmap should be developed that takes the people, organisation, and technologies into consideration,” stressed Maria Hulla. And the following must be kept in mind when it comes to reservations and fears: Knowledge reduces reservations. Graz University of Technology surveyed 160 industrial companies and determined that employee acceptance of digital technologies can be increased significantly through training measures. The importance of this basic acceptance among staff as a key factor for a successful digital transformation cannot be underestimated.

Solutions and support

With a wide range of offerings, Graz University of Technology is an extremely competent guide and catalyst when it comes to digitalisation, without requiring businesses to reinvest their last three years’ worth of profits. In the Voladigital project, for example, participants learn to implement digital technologies independently and can then immediately see the effects (higher productivity, quality, etc.). Among other things, the Factory Cube is dedicated to the digital retrofitting of machines for SMEs. And the LEADFactory is generally aimed at helping companies identify the most strategically suitable overall process for finding the “right” technologies for them and implementing them while taking the people and organisation into consideration. There are subsidies available for all of these offerings, which can help to mitigate the stumbling block of “financial resources”.

Anyone who needs help with their digital transformation will find it. Maria Hulla provided the following expert tip: “To put it simply: seek help, utilise knowledge, and take advantage of the available offerings. As demonstrated, there is a wide range of training measures, ideally in a learning factory, that serve as a competent accompaniment to the digital transformation. Tight financial resources can be supplemented with subsidies – and exchanging ideas and experiences with companies that have already completed the first steps towards digitalisation provides new know-how and impetus for one’s own path.” Armed with this knowledge, the digital transformation can be tackled without fear at one’s own company, on a step-by-step basis.

 

 

Maria Hulla is head of the Industrial Management working group at Graz University of Technology/Institute of Industrial Management and Innovation Research