The introduction of machinery precipitated the industrial revolution: steam power and the opening of factories changed the fabric of society and economy forever, bringing with it the ability to mass produce items for public consumption.
Just as with the original industrial revolution, machinery is behind the second revolution: but this time, it’s of a digital nature. Innovative digital tools, rich in AI capability, are driving an increasing focus on automation which, as in the industrial revolutions, is generating seismic shifts across every area of our lives.
Here in this article we will discuss how automation is driving the new industrial revolution and take a glimpse at what the future could hold!
Leveling the Playing Field
Automation allows even small businesses to compete on a wider – even global stage – as automation tools typically boost productivity, drive down costs and simply mean that companies can get more done, better – and with a smaller workforce.
Everything from payroll services to marketing campaigns can now be largely automated, saving time and money – for a small business; there’s no longer the need to employ an entire HR department to manage otherwise complex tasks around tax and compliance, for example.
Increasing automation is having the effect of changing career outlooks and patterns, too. It’s possible that automation could lead to some jobs becoming defunct, therefore putting an onus on an adaptable workforce open to learning new skills.
Design, tech, and service-focused professions are likely to become, long term, the careers that are ‘safest’ from automation. It’s also probable that the shift to automation will lead to a workforce that no longer expects to remain in a post for decades but changes career paths every five years to keep up with the pace of change.
Automation will create waves of new jobs over the next few years, and gaps in the market will appear that offer exciting opportunities for start-ups and entrepreneurs.
The Rise of the Robot
It may seem straight out of a sci-fi movie, but one of the key ways automation is driving the new industrial revolution is via the increasing incorporation of robots into the work environment.
There’s already a hotel in Japan that is staffed entirely by AI-enriched robot staff members, carrying out everything from welcoming guests to delivering room service to cleaning.
The clothing giant Zara has recently opened several highly-automated factories in Spain as an alternative to subcontracting its manufacturing processes to businesses in Asia, as it had previously been doing.
Expanding production capabilities is the most apparent change that this will bring to companies across various sectors; this will likely help even smaller businesses become more competitive in a global market.
Robots are driving the 24-hour economy, too: advanced chatbots are now widely used to allow people to make orders, requests and find the information they need at any time of the day or night.
How Big Data is Benefiting Business
Then there’s the big data side of automation, which is having a profound effect on how businesses target and engage with their existing – and potential – customer bases.
Reports can now be viewed in real-time, providing intuitive insights, and systems are automated to respond to what these reports show.
For example, an integrated digital system used in a chain of restaurants could quickly identify and respond to a subtle trend based on customer behavior and initiate a series of marketing emails – a trend that a person may miss.
Predictive analytics and data visualizations are now being used to help businesses make more informed decisions. When combined with robotics and AI tech, the result is a smoother, sharper, and, crucially, smarter service or product.
Economies of Scale and Scope
When an increased production level is linked to a proportionate saving in costs, this is known as an economy of scale; this is especially important for businesses that require a high level of capital investment and is often achievable through automation.
Automation can also bring about an economy of scope: meaning that one factory can manufacture a more diverse range of products than it was previously able to. Today, personalization and customization are often important to customers, and automation allows businesses to provide this.
For example, automation will enable customers to select the size, design, color, and functionality of an appliance rather than simply picking a standard product fresh from the assembly line.
The Benefits to the Consumer
As consumers, we’re already reaping the rewards of increasing automation. A drop in production costs usually means cheaper goods, giving us more disposable cash.
Higher profits may mean a boost to wages, too. The public will likely have a greater choice of products and services and lots of opportunities to customize these things.
In theory, a general rise in business profitability puts more tax revenue in government coffers, which means that the public benefits from increased spending on services.
The Future is Automated
While it’s impossible to be specific regarding what the future of tech will look like, automation is sure to play a huge role and will continue to shape and change the economy and society in general. The way we produce, distribute, and consume goods will be influenced by automation technologies.
On the horizon? An industrial internet of things, collaborative robots (cobots), autonomous vehicles, and additive manufacturing are some tantalizing possibilities that could be nearer than you think…