By Rama Shankar Pandey*:
Industry 4.0 has seen the rise of robots working alongside factory workers, and autonomous material movement systems replenishing production line supplies. Sensor networks and communications technologies are being used to connect designers with factory workers, with intelligent machines and software interacting autonomously, and facilities connected in real time to suppliers and customers.
Use of smart technologies offers the manufacturing industry great possibilities. Engineers can get instant feedback on costs and performance predictions. Machines and logistics equipment can automatically assign factory processes. Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems can compare parts and processes to optimise performance. Smart factories will enable companies to predict when their equipment is about to fail and take preventive measures or inform the maintenance team. This could help organisations save time and money by improving uptime through predictive maintenance.
The opportunities triggered by AI and modern connected technologies, also bring completely new sets of challenges, mainly in job obsolescence, skilling and reskilling. Only if we reimagine the education and training system of the country, which is obsessed by Degree and Designation, can we develop a new world where creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, skills and expertise are recognised and given social importance. Or else we will fail in this new world order. Our rewards and recognition system must be reconfigured to directly factor in the value-addition by any team member. We will still need some administrative role but many of today’s jobs will find no value addition as machines can do jobs better than humans. We need to find our new world where a problem needs our attention, probably in the domain of “We don’t know what we don’t know.”
This disruption is healthy as it will steer industry to higher efficiencies and economies. These practices will make manufacturing operations more flexible, improve productivity and facilitate new, more efficient business practices and entrepreneurial approaches in the long-run.
Of course, upgrading factory systems to embrace Industry 4.0 requires huge investment. This could be a potential roadblock to its widespread adoption in the short-run. With a clear understanding of the needs of an organisation, a frugal approach can be adopted for a low-cost transformation which will help even the MSME sector. But a ‘later needs’ platform concept where new partners and cooperation have to be embraced, by a ‘Pay per Use’ business model will be adopted across all value chains. This also means less control on the chain and more shared, open innovative economy, but with the advent of blockchain even this can be secured and organised.
We at Hella work with various stakeholders in a partnership approach to keep investment low so that the customer is happy with our frugal approach. At the same time, we are fully ready for the future. Not only in manufacturing but even in our independent aftermarket, we are exploring many new business models and partnerships to offer end-to-end solutions to car owners for their vehicle maintenance and servicing, at par with any digital expertise they have today on their smart phones.
Mankind-killing Concepts, Re-skilling
We should view this change positively as one that will finally lead to improved production and increased efficiency in our manufacturing processes. Mankind will have to evolve to contribute in other areas of business. AI is going to create a new class of workforce, which is not going to be monitoring screens all the time. Instead, it will be engaged only on an on-demand basis and for higher functions.
Having said that, I do not have the expertise to predict any revolution of that kind and hence I am not competent to give any concrete response, though I hope cyber security professionals will face major challenges, going forward.
The workforce will have to migrate towards other verticals which offer a more dynamic environment to function such as understanding customer needs, communicating empathetically to stakeholders, including customers, users and society at large, creative solutions to near impossible problems, making choices which impacts humanity, its feelings, its inherent and supreme needs and human existence. Leadership skills are in scarcity today and will be even more so in future. I see growth of new verticals that will replace the old departments in organisations in times to come. These newer and smarter business environments will create new jobs that will demand a differently skilled workforce able to operate in the new systems.
I feel all functions will be impacted. The question is whether it will have negative or positive impact on jobs and careers. Businesses such as those parts of manufacturing which need data analysis and data-driven environments will need more skilled people to solve today’s real-life problems both to improve efficiency and to break new barriers of being effective. The purpose among employees need to be reinforced in this difficult transformation from the age-old hierarchy, designation-based reward and recognition system to the ‘Employee Value Add’ concept, which will disrupt the employee-ship towards an employee-entrepreneur.
This divide between businesses owners and employees will merge and people will be contributing much more than today, and that too not only to one organisation but to many and they will also be earning much more disproportionately than today, depending on the skill-set they have. Valuation of an organisation will depend on valuation of its human resource in future, which seems completely opposite to the common concepts prevailing today about these technologies that they will eat away our jobs and earnings. HR has to gear up for this mega change of our times.
(*Rama Shankar Pandey is the Managing Director of Hella India Lighting Ltd.)