Industrial 4.0: The Future World is Here

Industrial 4.0: The Future World is Here

Industrial 4.0: The future world is here

Life these days is quite unlike that of the past. For instance, when our parents or grandparents were growing up, products such as chairs may have taken weeks or months to be manufactured. Worse, they might have only come in a single pattern or design, and it was usually a matter of “take it or leave it”.

All thanks to the series of industrial revolutions over the last two centuries, commodities around us have become increasingly accessible and cheaper. Now, chairs can be made to accommodate customisations, and these can be done quickly and easily. In fact, they can be delivered straight to your doorstep in a matter of days.

The third industrial revolution was the first step towards a digital age; we have definitely come a long way and the good news is that we are not about to stop evolving. Enter Industrial 4.0, and the future.

What’s Industrial 4.0?

So, the industrial revolution has gone to its 4th iteration. Coined in Germany, Industrial 4.0 is the age of digitisation, where, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke of at the annual Economic Conference two years ago, “everything that can be digitized will be digitized.”

Every revolution in history has seen economic power shifts among countries. Thankfully, our very own Singapore is among the forerunners in this round of revolution, with its economybeing the most innovative in Asia, according to the 2016 Global Innovation Index.

Singapore is already on the pathway to integrate Industrial 4.0 within its economy. Our country is home to leading manufacturers in the global industry, such as Shell, Micron, Applied Materials and GSK, in several sectors including aerospace, biomedical sciences, water, etc. Based on data released by Cartus Corporation, Singapore is the third most popular destination for MNCs in the world.

What's the big fuss about Industrial 4.0?

Your standard of living is going to be taken to another level.

Technology will integrate within itself, eliminating any reliance whatsoever on the need for human interaction. Subsequently, you can expect them to take over many of your manual tasks. For example, what if your alarm clock wakes you at 6 a.m. and then notifies your coffee machine to start brewing coffee for you? What if your office equipment knew when it was running low on supplies and automatically reordered more?

In a nutshell, the technology you see from the movies is increasingly becoming a reality. Think Jarvis from Iron Man, the Batmobile in Batman and virtual reality in Matrix. Yes, we do indeed stand on the brink of innovation.

Before you get overexcited, note that these are but a few dimensions of Industrial 4.0, which includes a series of advancements such as big data and analytics, augmented reality, additive manufacturing, the Industrial Internet of Things, the Cloud, and cyber security.  

Implications on education

As individuals just starting out, aspects of Industrial 4.0 such as the smart factory may not be of concern to you yet. However, as with this revolution, each and every industry capable of being digitised will be digitised. Subsequently, your academic life at university, as well as the career you hope to step into upon graduation will be changing over the years, and it is your task to turn with the tide.

Academics have seen the biggest leap in digitisation with the initiation of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. While not overtaking the traditional university degree and setting, elite institutions such as Harvard have taken steps to integrate such courses, while other institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge continue to keep such possibilities on the backburner.

A unique feature about Singapore's education system is that it is closely tied to the economy.Therefore, a knowledge of the changing landscape within several careers is also integral for potential students choosing a career pathway.

The entire spectrum of careers students hope to launch into are changing with digitisation being at the forefront. Such careers need not only include IT, or electrical and mechanical engineering; they may also include marketing and accounting, among several others. Due to this, you can expect curriculums to adapt further, to become more practical and in-tune with the real world than mere rote learning. This does not mean that higher education will increase in difficulty, but it does mean that it is evolving.

For some, it may be good news. The gap between education and employment is finally narrowing. Days spent in schools will match the workplace. Graduates not only have a degree, but are also well-versed and competent in skills within their chosen field. In a recent survey concerning the future of education, Shannon May, co-founder of Bridge International Academies, spoke of skill sets as a sort of “global currency for both employers and job seekers.”

Similarly, our Minister for education in Singapore echoes the sentiments in his call for Singaporeans to go beyond learning for grades and learn for mastery. 

Accountants’ role in Industrial 4.0

Here, we feel the need to address that, with the advancement in technology, the fear of losing jobs to machines and artificial intelligence has always been on the front line.

According to a report by CNN, 5 million jobs will cease to exist by 2020. By way of explanation, 7 million will be lost due to this technological change while 2 million will be created. Government initiatives seek to encourage citizens to continuously upgrade themselves in preparation for industrial 4.0 and other revolutions, even in Singapore (e.g. SkillsFuture).

With Industrial 4.0, focus is laid more on the evolution of skilled labour, instead of its exclusion. What digitisation would do to the workforce is require employees within any industry to be more highly skilled in their area. Take the field of accounting for instance; the business world will mould itself to fit in with the cyber-physical world, and, as future accountants, you would be required to change with the tide. Here, you must look to strategies which are increasingly coordinated with the digital age.

Just like devices being able to talk to one another, you can expect instant communication between different aspects of a business as well. For example, SAP Business One, an accounting software from Germany, integrates accounting with sales, manufacturing, purchasing and other departments on real-time basis. This reduces a lot of time required for accountants to do manual adjustments to make sure each side tallies with the other. Mobile and web-based accounting software systems, which enable invoicing and reporting all on the cloud, are already in the world markets. In a changing landscape as this one, it would be imperative for you to be knowledgeable on new technologies within your field, instead of merely just textbook learning.

What does this mean for you?

We all know that businesses have to evolve or risk being obsolete, as in the case of Nokia, Borders, and more. Change might become inevitable for companies in Singapore over the next few years. Hence, a great number of skilled professionals will be needed to initiate the changes.

The least you could do now is to be selective in your choice of schools. Choose schools not based on how "prestigious" they are, but how it can gear you up for the future. Pay close attention to its curriculum and check with the course consultants on how it can help you in the future economy. Remember, your skills will be your greatest asset.

In a nutshell, change is coming! You can be among the biggest beneficiaries if you brace yourself for it by making the right move now. By gearing yourself up for industrial 4.0, you could be among the change-makers in your future company.

Alas, the question is, are you ready for the future?

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