Technology: The Fourth Industrial Revolution
By Nick Behan, Norman Broadbent Interim Director – Industrials
The world has lived through three industrial revolutions to date:
- The first was when we started to use water and steam power to mechanise manufacturing processes.
- The next came with the invention of the telephone and use of electricity to enable mass production.
- The third was when we started to use electronics and information technology to automate production.
Now it appears we are on the brink of a fourth that will fundamentally change the way we live, work, and relate to each other with the use of new technologies. We don’t yet know how the use of all these new technologies will unfold, but one thing is clear, it’s starting to occupy the minds of more and more of the business leaders I talk to.
Over the past 12 months or so, I have found myself having increasing numbers of conversations with our clients about the pace at which technology is evolving and how it’s started to or is going to impact their business. With the wide range of sectors covered in these conversations, it is almost certainly going to have some sort of impact on virtually every industry and business.
With emerging technological breakthroughs in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics, data analytics, 3D printing/additive manufacturing and materials engineering, companies are beginning to take the opportunities and threats technology potentially creates for their businesses very seriously, particularly when it comes to how they operate in the future. Far from being afraid of these technological advancements, businesses are seeing their use as a way of creating long-term gains in efficiency and productivity.
Alongside the potential reduction in transportation and communication costs, they expect the use of technology and data to enable their businesses to become far more efficient in other areas also, such as logistics and supply chains. With these efficiencies they expect the cost of trading internationally to reduce significantly, which would enable them to access markets previously inaccessible to them.
The four main areas where our clients believe technology will have its biggest impact on their business are:
- Customer expectations
- Product development/improvement
- Company structure
With customers and how they’re served being at the heart of everything they do, some of the early users of these new technologies are already seeing the benefits, with noticeable improvements in the quality, speed, or price of their product.
Beyond how their business reacts to these new challenges, CEOs are becoming more and more concerned about the readiness of their senior leadership teams to meet the technological challenges that lie ahead. Whilst, in most cases, they believe that they have a strong management team in place, they are concerned that they don’t have the in depth knowledge and understanding of the technologies that could affect how their business operates in the future.
Because of this, the challenges to those companies who choose not to react to these technological advancements are likely to be high and they could be at threat of being left behind by their competition.
On the back of these concerns, we are already being asked by some of our clients to help them fill these skills gaps in many different ways. Below are two examples of where Norman Broadbent has helped businesses overcome some of these transformational technological challenges.
Interim Technology Mentor to the future CEO
FTSE 250 manufacturing
With the current CEO looking to retire at some point over the next two years, he was starting to look at his potential successors in more detail. The company had always been focused on developing and promoting talent from within, but when it came to those within his senior leadership team most capable/likely to succeed him, he found that they were excellent in all areas with the exception of technology. Whilst they had a strong CTO, the CEO felt that the future CEO would need to have a strong understanding of technology also.
The solution provided by Norman Broadbent was to bring in an interim mentor with a strong background in technology, to sit alongside the CEO’s preferred successor for a year to help develop their technology skill set. Whilst at the same time, work with them to build a robust technology strategy for the future.
Norman Broadbent introduced an interim technology expert with a track record of successfully creating and delivering technology strategies. The client was able to use their expertise in this area to help them create a strong strategy that would enable them to improve the quality, speed and total production cost of their products. At the same time, significantly increasing their customer service and experience levels.
The interim also mentored the CEO’s successor to enable them to become a more complete CEO. As well as having a much stronger candidate to be the next CEO, they also maintained their record of promoting people from within the business, which was very important to them.
Interim Supply Chain Transformation Director – New Warehousing Technologies
FTSE 250 manufacturing
The business had grown rapidly over a number of years and as a result, their supply chain and warehousing was no longer fit for purpose and was in need of transformation to ensure it was able to meet the company’s current and future needs. They were keen to leverage the latest supply chain technology and Internet of Things to create a smart warehouse that would deliver improvements in efficiency and speed across their entire supply chain.
They believed there were many benefits to creating a warehouse that utilised the latest supply chain technology. Aside from the usual voice pick up, automation and wireless warehouse devices, they were also considering some of the newer technologies too. These included sensors and radio-frequency identification tags that would enable them to know the exact location and progress of their product at any time and smart watches/wearables that would allow their employees to move about and access information and instructions from anywhere in the warehouse without the need to return to a central point.
The main obstacle to success was that they did not have the experience or skill sets to design and deliver such a project.
Norman Broadbent introduced an interim Supply Chain Transformation Director who had completed similar supply chain & warehousing transformation projects in the past. As a career interim, they were also able to hit the ground running, which was extremely important to the clients as speed was of the essence.
After gaining a full understanding of what direction the senior leadership wanted to take the business and the forecast growth, the interim set about creating a sustainable plan that would enable our client to increase the volume of products shipped, their speed and shipping accuracy and provide their customers with visibility into inventory and supply chains.
The assignment resulted in the interim delivering tangible cost savings, improved cash flow and a significant increase in customer service levels.
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