The Fourth Industrial Revolution is driven by fully automated systems, data exchange, wireless connectivity, and the implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Once a topic for science fiction writers and film producers, the elements at the heart of the current industrial revolution have started to be seen, lived, and felt in today's global supply chains.
Fully autonomous end-to-end supply chain
In the smart factory 4.0, automated mines extract raw materials, which are made into electronic products and then transported either to the retailers' automated centers, or to the smart mailboxes of consumers by self-driving trucks, or delivery drones. Some decades ago, this could have been the setting for a science fiction novel. However, today, it describes the reality of the supply chain world.
The automated supply chain requires that both transportation companies and shippers start preparing today for the autonomous future to stay updated and ready for the change.
Earlier this year in the Netherlands, as part of the European Truck Platooning Challenge organized by the Dutch government, self-driving trucks from six different truck manufacturers delivered goods across Europe. The trial was the first step in the next generation logistics.
In the air, drones equipped with cameras and sensors are reaching places that were not reachable, or hard to reach by delivery services before bringing new possibilities to the logistics industry. One example of how drone delivery will impact the future of logistics is the DHL's parcelcopter.
Automation doesn't stop there. Robotics populating the assembly lines, Artificial Intelligence (AI) co-working with humans, the Internet of Things (IoT), all take a role in the Industry 4.0 transformation.
According to a UBS whitepaper for the World Economic Forum annual meeting 2016, AI and big data processing are expected to be pervasive features of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Changes in the workforce
The developments in extreme automation, AI, and extreme connectivity will have a significant impact on the nature of knowledge work. The growing adoption of robotics and AI specifically in the supply chain will continue to put pressure on low and middle-skilled workers.
However, there is an increasing demand for really skilled and adaptable professionals. New companies and sectors will be created as well as positions that not yet exist.
According to the UBS paper, automation will initially affect clerical work, sales, customer service, and support functions. Robotic process automation, automatic reporting, and virtual assistants will become more common.
Automation will also take over insurance processing, incoming customer queries, and customer calls. Robo-advisors, which are already available on the market, can go quickly through millions of emails and dramatically cut the cost of legal investigations.
Fewer managers will be seen in that sector as well as the result of the absence of lower and middle-skilled workers. These workers will have to re-skill into task that extreme automation cannot perform, or move into other industries in order to avoid unemployment.
As AI evolves into having more advanced natural language processing, higher-skilled workers who do routine tasks may also face threads. However, the USB report doesn't expect the Fourth Industrial Revolution to result in an aggregate increase in global unemployment.
With all these considerations, there will be no time to waste fighting change. On the contrary, embracing change, and flexibility will be keys to success in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. After all, change cannot exist without evolution. This is the time to prepare and evolve your supply chain to emerge as a leader in the new Industry 4.0.