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Implications of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

APICS CEO

Friday November 16, 2018


An article earlier this week from The Wall Street Journal tells us we are in the midst of the next industrial revolution, the fourth of its kind, as predicted by Klaus Schwab in 2016 during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, which he founded. Mobile internet, automation and artificial intelligence are what’s fueling this revolution.

“In the two years since Prof. Schwab’s talk, those trends have gone into overdrive,” writes Christopher Mims. “The sudden ramp-up of technologies ranging from phone components to wireless networks to data centers points to a new kind of automation, more pervasive and smarter than ever before seen. It affects every industry, not just manufacturing, logistics or transportation and is unique in the degree to which it is affecting while-collar as well as blue-collar workers.”

Mims himself predicts the economic and political ramifications of this current industrial revolution will be similar to the impact outsourcing and globalization have had over the last 50 years. And, as we’ve experienced in the past, there are winners and losers during these big changes.

For example, industrial robots are taking off, while manufacturing productivity remains level. Likewise, employment in warehouses is booming, while factory jobs are declining because of the increase in automation. Interestingly, e-commerce has created more jobs (like those in warehouses) than have been lost as brick-and-mortar stores close. And, with more smartphones, comes a great need for software development, new platforms, new networks and a variety of components.

“As we think about what jobs we must prepare our children for, we can’t forget that the fastest-growing employment sectors and the biggest skill gaps are currently in technology, and that this will probably remain the case for the foreseeable future,” Mims writes.

Mims highlights the benefits yet to come from autonomous vehicles, in which research investment is skyrocketing. He also lists the tasks that could someday be performed by autonomous robots: from delivering groceries to enabling greater mobility for aging people.

“Critical to the newfound abilities of all this automation is artificial intelligence,” Mims writes. “AI isn’t as dangerous as dystopians like to argue, nor is it as smart. Current AI doesn’t think like people do; it just takes data and finds patterns in it.”

Mims warns, however, that unless companies and governments invest in the research and development needed to maximize the promise of these new technologies, they will fall behind. Likewise, success also depends on attracting the best talent from around the world and educating the future workforce for the jobs on the horizon.

Supply chain’s future

The world is changing fast, and businesses and supply chains are changing with it. On one hand, mobile internet, automation and AI are enabling efficiencies we couldn’t have imagined 10 years ago. On the other, we are challenged to fully take advantage of our resources, while driving bottom-line results. This balancing act is one of the reasons we launched the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM). As we’ve been saying: “We’ve transformed our business to help transform yours.”

As ASCM, we’ll continue to provide the industry-leading APICS certifications and training you’ve come to trust. We’re also expanding to deliver end-to-end professional development and education opportunities through our new global network of thought leadership partners and alliances. I’m excited about these opportunities that will help us help you to harness the true power of supply chain. Find out more here. Also, as these relationships evolve, check out ascm.org to see how this new ASCM network can help you and your organization.