When we talk about technology, the binary perspective of “physical vs. digital” is a recurring motif. Hardware is a tangible device or part of a device, while software is an incorporeal material, only manifesting itself on the computer screen as a program or datum. Information can either be printed on paper as a hard copy or on the vast pages of the web as soft copies.
According to advocates of German engineer and economist Klaus Schwab, we’ve established clear-cut boundaries between the physical and digital—but perhaps not for long. During the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, Schwab attested we’re living in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where the lines among physical, digital, and biological spheres will continue to converge.
Industrialization in Stages: the Four Revolutions
For commercial businesses, technology made its first huge impact on factories and plants. From manual hands-on work, production shifted to machines through steam and water power, which marked the First Industrial Revolution. It fostered mass manufacturing methods and created the first line of industry giants. Unfortunately for the common worker, this meant fewer job opportunities as machines made some jobs obsolete.
Following shortly, the Second Industrial Revolution saw the widespread installation of railroad and telegraph networks, which started the technological revolution and global dissemination of ideas.
With the fundamentals of technology at hand, we easily shifted into a Digital Revolution, the Third Industrial Revolution. It created a standard layout for offices, one that’s powered by mainframe computing and the world wide web, without which many businesses wouldn’t exist today.
Yet the world is changing drastically again, for the fourth time. And this time, it will be dominated by data, interconnectivity, and, basically, a greater reliance on computers.
In fact, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is already changing the business interface as we know it.
Changing Data Storage
The first mechanical storage came in the form of punch cards, mostly recognized as the earliest timekeeper. Also known as IBM cards, they are pieces of paper where one can punch holes, either by hand or a machine. These holes represent data, which can be readable with a computer program.
During the era of punch holes, typewriters, carbon papers, and folders were the other familiar tools for an office employee. But we’ve now come a long way.
Instead of rows of files occupying rooms in various offices, corporations have condensed their information in a single headquarters: the data center.
The data center is colloquially dubbed the brain of the internet. It allows corporations with massive workloads, applications, and data to store these all neatly in stacks of hardware infrastructure, all within a single building or room. It takes a ton of energy to perform this herculean task, and data center fire protection systems keep corporations reassured that their data isn’t going anywhere.
As we move further in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, data centers are undergoing their own transformation, starting with the cloud data center.
Like how data centers have consolidated information, the Internet of Things (IoT) is moving towards centralizing connectivity.
IoT is a broad term. It encompasses everything connected to the internet. A great example is smart home technology.
IoT connects smart devices from wearables to sensors into a single network, accessible remotely.
With IoT, not only do devices store data, they subsequently put this data into action—a process we refer to as automation. Generally, this is more helpful for the executives rather than the entry ranks. IoT devices allow executives to make more informed decisions as they deliver real-time data, monitors important processes, and delivers new insights. These insights are gathered after a quick analysis of millions of data, which might be a week’s worth of work if done manually. Thus, it has rendered some entry-level positions obsolete, as with most technological advancements.
As remote work became necessary during the pandemic, it hastened the integration of IoT in various corporations. Using a single virtual workplace, IoT allows productivity wherever employees are located physically.
In 2021, IoT is expected to grow into a $520-billion market.
Improving Business Insight and Delivering Faster Feedback
Customer relation is at the center of branding. The importance of IoT in customer feedback is perhaps witnessed most readily in the retail industry.
At the consumers’ end, technology propagated the movement towards a “need it now” mentality. The need for immediate satisfaction has become the main motivator for most retail innovations, such as online shopping apps and their rating features.
The five-star rating system that’s prompted after every online purchase is an effective way to get customer feedback because it requires little from them.
A ‘Smarter’ Business Landscape
More than a technology-driven change, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is another opportunity to reinvigorate businesses and create leaders with fresher perspectives. There’s no stopping change, and the only way to move forward is to adapt to it.