The 4th Industrial Revolution – A Leadership Challenge

Posted by Nina Gullerud on May 4, 2016

The 4th Industrial Revolution – A Leadership Challenge

As I highlighted in my first blog on this topic, “Change is the only constant” and the rapid changes in technology are affecting every industry. In recent years, business consultancies and esteemed publications like Harvard Business Review have adopted the term “VUCA” from the U.S. Military to describe a world that is “Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous”. The leadership challenge is to manage the constant waves of technological change amid these unpredictable conditions, without losing sight of the organisation’s purpose and customer requirements.

Technology enables us to strip away tasks that can be better handled by machine automation or robotics. Workforce design is a combination of regular, outsourced, and freelance skill/capacity boosting employees that all need to move our organisation in the same direction without loosing speed, quality and customer focus. Big data analytics enables us to take advantage of massive data sets and gain new insights that can help improve business operations and profitability. The most important strategic question to ask ourselves is: “How well are all these moving parts integrated into my business strategy today?”

I have seen too many IT investments go to waste because people were not properly trained, or processes to support the new technology were not implemented. The 4th Industrial Revolution brings a digital transformation that requires a strategy that connects people, processes and technology as an integrated whole. As an employee, you want to have access to relevant data to do your job wherever you are, on whatever device. Cloud based services are among the solutions enabling this. As a leader, you want to have real-time data on all your projects, ideally with some big data analytics enabling predictive care. Internet of Things and business management software makes this possible today. As a consulting business, you want to make the most of your people’s time and minimise administrative hassle, such as documenting billable hours, getting your invoices to clients, and processing expense reports. Software solutions such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) enables you to increase your productivity today, whether on premise, application or cloud based. These are only a few examples, but taken together they increase the complexity from a leadership perspective.

In the past, technology was often seen as a means to an end – a tool implemented in support of the business strategy – and a cost centre. One challenge for today’s leadership is to understand what technology can do for your business when integrated into your strategy from the point of design. Technology can enable new profit centres, or increase efficiency and reduce cost in existing lines of business. Hence, I urge everyone to look at their current strategy with fresh, new eyes and identify where technology can help bring together your people and processes in order to better serve your customers. The ability and willingness to learn and change will be the hallmark of the winning leaders and companies of the 4th Industrial Revolution, and the time to act is now.

In the next and final blog in this series, I will look at how we can tackle the rapid changes in technology and business from an individual perspective.

Guest blogger Nina Gullerud has over 20 years of experience in strategy, business development and management in the IT industry. With a keen interest in the intersection of technology and business strategy, Nina is exploring what technological advancement means for management and self-management in a time where the only constant is change. While the news is flooded with gloomy prophecies about robots taking our jobs, this blog series focuses on how we can embrace the opportunities the 4th industrial revolution and its technological innovations can provide to service-based businesses - and what it requires of us.