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The technology drivers of the 4th industrial revolution

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/bluebay)

Six minutes. That is all it takes to make a meaningful change to your business. A change that will drive profits or cut costs, put you ahead of the competition and ready your organisation for the fourth industrial revolution.

Today, we have access to an inexhaustible stream of data. It is helping organisations iterate in new and unexpected ways. How? By moving that data to the cloud – along with the bulk of their IT spend.

While not the only driver of the fourth industrial revolution, cloud is by far the most important. It is the forum through which the other factors that will shape our future come together, whether they be AI, biometrics, automation or aggregation.

Which brings us back to those six short minutes. Businesses used to schedule procurement over several months, but when they are building in the cloud, they can action a change in the time it takes to buy a coffee. Cloud resources are bought by the minute – within minutes – and priced to allow growth through failure and rapid iteration.

The investment paradox

Yet despite its potential, there is still reluctance from some quarters to move to the cloud. Most often, it is within large businesses, where bureaucracy can stifle innovation. Directors tend to remember signing off large investments and will want to extract the last drop of value from existing infrastructure.

But that is as big a mistake as its previous investment might have been. The business won’t recoup its losses by persevering with hardware that was barely fit for purpose when new – and now it is costing it money in the shape of lost opportunity. Far better to write it off today and move to something more suitable.

If only it was that simple. Some organisations have no choice in the matter, airlines being a prime example. Aviation relies on legacy systems, on the ground and in the air right around the world. Yet there is no reason why airlines should not extract data from those systems to the cloud and use AI to deliver insight. They will know in an instant which action is having a positive impact on the bottom line. The rest can be shuttered, and their funding redirected to better effect.

The same can be said of the cloud service itself, as soon as business needs change. The easy-in, easy-out nature of cloud keeps the market competitive, while encouraging challengers to innovate.

Top three considerations for cloud

First – and certainly before investing your first pound – make sure you understand your business needs. Only once they are clear, will you be able to identify the resources that will meet them. These needs will also inform your second consideration - which of the many providers would be your perfect partner?

Investing in the cloud is quick and relatively painless but moving from one provider to another takes more thought and planning. For that reason, getting it right first time pays enormous dividends.

Some might think that hedging their bets, by signing up with two or three providers, mitigates this issue but, in reality, it only compounds it due to the non-trivial nature of building operating models for each. Something as simple as allocating costs in-house is significantly complicated when each provider uses its own bespoke billing structure. Beyond that, there is data portability, security and compliance to reconcile. Moving data between them is not as straightforward as it should be, yet. It is possible, of course, but start down that road and you may as well return to running everything on site, spread across multiple locally-hosted servers.

Third, which infrastructure suits you best? This is perhaps the most important consideration of all as, rather than an empty box that you fill with your own content, you are investing in a service with existing capabilities. Make sure you understand your business needs first. Then, you can identify which resources are needed to meet them.

The choice can be a confusing one, and it is not something that should be done without the requisite thought, analysis and advice. The latter of those can be provided by one of the many cloud consultancies, whose job it is to understand the market and advise their clients on the most appropriate choice, given their business needs.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the cloud

There is growing debate about AI, how it should be used with the cloud, and concern in some quarters that really it is a cover for cost-cutting redundancies. That need not be the case.

AI as a component of the fourth industrial revolution is a means to achieving more, not merely doing the same with fewer resources. It is a catalyst, which has already sparked a workplace evolution. Over the coming years, we will need fewer hands performing menial tasks, but not fewer staff per se. Instead, AI in the cloud will free the existing workforce to take on more meaningful roles. Fifty per cent of the jobs people will be doing in 2025 haven’t been invented yet, after all.

At the same time, AI is providing new insights and capabilities, which are only possible because of the massive distributed power of the cloud. They weren’t open to businesses ten years ago – and still aren’t to those organisations that are running outdated equipment.

Cloud investment is iterative, easy, and less costly than those who haven’t yet made the switch might imagine. How quickly it is adopted – and by whom – will determine who thrives and who merely survives the seismic shifts of the fourth industrial revolution.

Who decides?

A viable cloud implementation is now so important to the success of a business’ future growth that responsibility for its design and implementation can no longer be left entirely within IT’s hands. Increasingly, the decision to move to the cloud, retire ‘local’ hardware or adopt a hybrid infrastructure should be made at C-suite level.

While this might once have been cause for alarm, this is no longer the case. Cloud is a leveller; it is something we all use in our personal lives when we log on to Office 365, Dropbox or Gmail, leaving CFOs, CEOs and other board members increasingly savvy. While they still may not know what SaaS stands for, they know a SaaS when they see one and, because they understand cloud’s potential, they must be ready to drive the conversation, and actively propose investment in the enablers of the fourth industrial revolution.

IT departments still have a role to play, but in the coming years, that role will be reshaped as they transition more towards offering advice and administering a third-party purchase, and away from physical implementation and configuration.

As the guardians of the corporate purse strings, then, it could well be that the board, with its overview of the business and its evolving needs, will be just as much the drivers of the fourth industrial revolution as the technologies whose purchase they authorise.

Dan Scarfe, founder, New Signature (opens in new tab) UK
Image source: Shutterstock/bluebay

Dan Scarfe is founder of New Signature UK, a cloud-first Microsoft partner. New Signature’s UK client roster includes The Metropolitan Police, TalkTalk, The Met Office, Citroen and The Cabinet Office.