However, fifty years after the third revolution, digitisation is radically transforming our societies and the economy in a multitude of ways. With the development and implementation of artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, hyper-connectivity, automation and other technological advances, we’re fast approaching the futuristic ‘sci-fi’ days we used to dream of. This era of innovation signifies that we are, in fact, in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).
What is the 4IR?
The 4IR is the term used to describe a blend of the physical, digital and biological worlds that has led to a fusion of advances in modern technology. It features the collective force behind innovative devices and applications that are swiftly becoming essential for everyday living.
The 4IR is, in some ways, an extension of the digitisation that characterises the third revolution. However, the speed, scope and impact of the changes in the 4IR have distinguished it as an individual era.
What challenges are SMEs facing in the 4IR?
The most significant obstacles that SMEs have always had to contend with are skills shortages, as well as a lack of resources and investment. The development of the World Wide Web and social media, during the third revolution, allowed SMEs to take advantage of getting direct access to their target markets. But with the influx of branded content, SMEs were often getting hidden by their fierce competition. Visibility was elusive, and so it became even more vital for unique and powerful marketing to distinguish individual SMEs.
With society navigating their way through the 4IR, SMEs are presented with a variety of new challenges to overcome. In addition to their previous obstacles, inadequate business support, digital standards and business tools now frequently obstruct SMEs on their path to success. This, combined with the escalating threats to cybersecurity and the increasing possibility of lagging behind the world’s rapid advancements within the 4IR, create a concern for SMEs.
In 2017, the UK was globally ranked 22nd for its adoption of robotic technology, falling far behind its competitors in the EU, USA, Canada and Asia. With the UK’s long-standing low productivity rate, employing applications and devices that are proven to boost efficiency and outputs could have a significant impact on the UK’s workforce and, in turn, the economy. The potential to improve efficiency, in a multitude of ways, further emphasises the benefits of implementing these innovations and the substantial advantage that SMEs could gain.
What opportunities has the 4IR created for SMEs?
The 4IR presents unique opportunities for SMEs to level the playing field with competitors and larger organisations. Previously, technology was expensive and wholly out of the reach to SMEs and consumers alike. But with the 4IR in full swing, products are becoming cheaper, more accessible and there are a variety of funding opportunities available to support SMEs incorporate cutting-edge innovation into their businesses. The evolution of technology has shifted towards streamlining processes, increasing productivity and ensuring efficient and satisfactory services for consumers.
Business owners are often too preoccupied to think strategically about the drivers of disruption and innovation that are shaping our future, and how they can take advantage of it. They’re either absorbed by the traditional thinking that has helped them achieve their current success, or too focused on immediate concerns. Owners often reject the thought of incorporating new technology as they question whether these applications and devices are even a viable option for their business, which must compete against larger organisations that wield enormous resources with larger budgets.
Investing in applications and devices can optimise and streamline processes, which will help level the playing field for SMEs and provide business owners with the chance to focus on the bigger picture. And while some SMEs might have the resources to incorporate cost-effective innovation, others will struggle; constrained by the lack of budget, skills and workforce necessary to reap the benefits. With the 4IR fully underway, SMEs need to employ a cohesive strategy for adopting innovative applications and devices.
At Exemplas we’re experts in providing SMEs with the tools and advice they need in order to excel and grow as a business. Advisory support is at the heart of what we do, and our knowledge becomes an SME’s advantage within the industry. We deliver a number of key public sector contracts, including Enterprise Europe Network in the East of England and the Hertfordshire Growth Hub. These projects are designed to aid businesses with developing strategies for growth, boost productivity and innovation.