JOHANNESBURG – You can call it a revolution. You can also call it evolution or the march of modernity. Even though the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) has become a frequently-used phrase, that doesn’t lessen its impact.
4IR is so powerful and visible because its features are defining the world. Just as telephones and cars changed how we work and play, 4IR is ushering in a new age that shouldn’t be ignored.
The fundamental change
4IR is resulting from a big shift in computing power. I’ve been working with business systems for many years, but I’ve never seen anything like this. The fundamental change between 4IR and previous technologies can be summarised in terms of scale, cost and connectivity. These are the ingredients for the massive advances we’ve seen in business systems.
Having built a career around business systems such as ERPs, I’ve always had a front-row view of the changes brought on by 4IR to these once-monolithic systems. The most obvious difference is in how services are built and offered.
Monolithic systems had to be contained on the computers that a company bought. It would then include optional modules that enabled certain business services. But those tended to originate from the system vendor and came at extra costs that added up from a base that was already expensive.
Modern systems don’t rely on customer computers. They instead use cloud-native data centres from which services can be operated at much lower computational costs. They also often include third-party services without the heavy costs of vendor modules or integration requirements that can take months or even years to complete.
4IR features in ERPs
There are four areas where post-modern ERPs deliver on 4IR benefits for the business. These are:
● Customer centricity ● Supply chain visibility, ● Governance and reporting ● Process automation.
Customer centricity is one of the most visibly attractive features. Since a post-modern ERP is much more capable to reach various systems in a company and integrate with them, it can create omnichannel environments and collect a lot of Know Your Customer data.
Introducing third-party services such as maps or translation improves customer experiences, and it is simple to extend customer interfaces such as online questionnaires.
More advanced features can include IoT proximity tracking, such as when a customer enters a store, and advanced privacy protection. But if you count employees as customers, features like natural voice can hugely improve productivity and security. Artificial intelligence to spot customer trends is another favourite 4IR solution in this category.
Supply chains are more able to connect to post-modern ERPs, thanks to 4IR’s openness to integration and collaboration with third parties. Creating web portals for partners to access data or using supplier databases to poll availability can automate many functions between businesses. Post-modern ERPs can even predict demand and push orders to a supplier.
Governance and reporting are often overlooked features, despite being hugely transformative. 4IR is sustained by data and it can also accomplish great things with data. This includes more active reporting, even real-time reporting.
Since 4IR technologies can capture and collect data at any business level, active dashboards are fast replacing annual reports and evaluations. Being able to see what is happening right now, and drill down into the details of a department, project, site or employee, are among 4IR’s great gifts to organisations.
Finally, business processes are much easier to map, scrutinise and enforce through a 4IR platform such as post-modern ERPs. Not only can activity data make them visible, but also indicate where processes aren’t followed or creating bottlenecks.
This can be enhanced with machine learning, so processes can be automated much more easily than ever before. But fundamentally, areas of the business that were unlinked can now be aligned through processes. These only scratch the surface and more reasons to invest in 4IR platforms are becoming clearer every day.
4IR describes the future of how systems will operate and evolve. These make it easier to spot exceptions, enforce processes, create constant reporting, harness third-party services, and start using the masses of computing power in the multi-cloud world that lead to Big Data analytics, AI and more.
If you take a close look at your business, you’ll find many of the current challenges and growth demands can be met through 4IR technologies. 4IR is not one thing - it is a collection of many new technologies that will do many remarkable things for any company today.
Bernard Ford is the chief executive of One Channel. The views expressed here are his.