The 4th industrial revolution took centre stage as the main topic of focus at this year's Smart IoT show held at London's Excel.
Speaking at the opening keynote was Henrik von Scheel, who spearheaded the development of Germany's 2009 digital strategy that later evolved into the concept of 'Industry 4.0'. Von Scheel sits on the Industry 4.0 Council, and is one of the founding fathers of Europe's Digital Agenda 2020, the EU-wide strategy established in 2010 to drive economic growth across the region.
"The fourth industrial revolution is by design changing everything in your life, in your business life, economy and how you interact with everything in the industry," said von Scheel. "This is not a small change, it is a major change and it's happening faster than before.
"Industry 4.0 is not about technology. It's about people, how people connect and how they work together. It's about helping each other to be successful.
"Of course, that means innovation, that's transformation and productivity, automation and all those aspects but at the core, it's about human beings and how we interact with each other," Scheel added.
Present chancellor Philip Hammond and his predecessor George Osborne both elevated the role technology and R&D can play as a part of Britain's economy – setting out plans for driverless car trials, better broadband, 5G, and various innovation funds. Whether they are delivering on this is a topic for debate.
But the current government has been keen to tie technological growth to industrial strategy, and released a paper late 2017 called Industrial Strategy: building a Britain fit for the future.
Von Scheel noted that Britain has the opportunity to capture the market as long as it's "smart about it".
This means realising that Industry 4.0 is about the "interconnection of things".
"These are pillars that are very strong, and each pillar interconnects all industries to support each other, so for example AI is entering in the lead companies, and other companies are going into architecture, but this is the key differentiator – algorithms and how we manage it."
"AI is entering the business world really fast. When you look at blockchain, most people will think it's focusing on cryptocurrency – but it's not. Blockchain holds the promise for smart contracts for all industries, it will change the way you trade."
Innovation at the core
According to von Scheel, there is room for progress if organisations look towards developing their use of digital technologies across all industries and not only this but also getting them right.
Cybersecurity remains a downfall and it is unlikely to get any better if organisations fail to take notice. The fast pace of both emerging technologies and cybersecurity means it's something of a balancing act.
"Of all elements, the weakest link of all is cybersecurity because it's catching up on what is already there but you constantly have to be one step ahead," von Scheel said.
There are six critical trends which von Scheel expects disruption in the UK over the next two years.
These are unparalleled growth, algorithmic control of the future, new service and business models, automation productivity and workflow, as well as the rise of M2M/ M2H productivity and redefining security and trade.
"If you look in manufacturing, logistics and all these aspects where the UK is competing head to head, either you go one step ahead of the promise of Industry 4.0 or follow the aspects which say you can connect things together," added von Scheel.