We hear a lot about how the Internet of Things (IoT) will transform the way we work. AI and robots reducing the need for people to do routine, repetitive work is a dominant theme, but will the IoT lead to a reduced workforce?
Werner Reuss, head of Industrial IoT & Analytics at Orange Business Services, describes what he believes will be the IoT’s real impacts on the workplace, who the winners and losers will be, and what can be done to prepare for the new skills that will be needed in the connected age.
Internet of Business: We hear a lot about how the IoT will transform industry, but where will it have the biggest effect?
Werner Reuss: “I see the IoT having a huge impact across industrial sectors, including manufacturing. And when coupled with other key technologies, like predictive analytics, augmented reality, or AI, the IoT will revolutionise how everything in the world is manufactured.
“In manufacturing in particular, companies are always on the lookout for ways to become more efficient, as part of the wider supply chain. IoT-based solutions will look to root out wasteful practices, cut downtime at plants, and enable finished products to fit more tightly with the rest of the supply chain.”
What will the IoT bring to these industry sectors?
“Innovative manufacturers are already combining the IoT and AI as part of Industry 4.0 for predictive maintenance and automated quality control.
“Introducing this level of intelligence to an industry that never had access to such insights before, and which undergoes constant change and improvement, will make manufacturing a smoother, faster, and better-planned procedure than ever before. It will revolutionise the types of products that companies can offer, and even change the way people work for the better.
“Companies will see malfunctions before they happen, because the vital data being generated by their machines and communicated by connected sensors will tell us things that we would never have been able to see in the past – until it was too late.
“But this is just the beginning of a smart journey that will change the factory floor forever. Essentially, it will enable businesses to make more decisions than ever based on insights, which in turn will help them to protect their bottom lines and productivity.”
Can you give an example of where IoT has already transformed a sector or plant? What did the IoT bring, and what were the significant changes?
“We did some work with a European car manufacturer, because they had a problem they needed us to help solve. The company had a complex supply chain that included tens of thousands of boxes, which contained materials for production. Each of these boxes had a value of 400 euros and, all in all, the company was haemorrhaging tens of millions of euros due to boxes getting lost in the supply chain.
“We came up with a solution to track each one of the boxes with a device that updated the location twice a day. Yes, it helped catch the odd stray box that went missing along the way, but more importantly, they were also able to triangulate the precise location of one box and, by doing so, they found an entire stash of boxes that had been misdirected. As a result, they were able to reduce the number of boxes that went missing and also address the huge costs associated with it.
“We’ve also recently joined forces with Siemens to drive adoption of the IoT in the industrial sector. The initial focus will be to develop solutions around asset tracking and monitoring, to optimise the supply chain and improve efficiencies, as well as to develop digitally enhanced products to increase customer satisfaction and create new business models.”
Will the increased use of IoT technologies in industry lead to job losses in some skill areas, and gains in others?
“It’s inevitable that such a seismic shift in industry will change the way that workers carry out their daily jobs. We expect to see work become more interesting, because the mundane, repetitive tasks will be carried out through increased automation. Jobs revolving around data and analysis will be called upon more.”
In the winning skills areas where IoT will create jobs, what kinds of skills will be needed?
“A successful Industry 4.0 model is based on testing and learning. It’s about starting small and scaling when the programme is delivering true value.
“By connecting machines and physical infrastructure to the digital world, businesses can translate the wealth of data they produce into business results. The skills that we’ll need include the ability to understand data outputs and apply insights in a way that helps businesses to improve their processes and innovate.”
How should industry, educators, and governments react to the need to develop new skills to meet the demands that the IoT is already creating, and will continue to create in the future?
“It’s the responsibility of all parties – industry, educators and governments – to safeguard future work and skills, ensuring that the next generation of workers is able to work in an Industry 4.0 world and beyond.
“IoT won’t suddenly make countless jobs obsolete. Instead, it will force people to apply their skills in new ways. It will make them work with new people in the organisation that they didn’t previously associate closely with.
“For example, security will become more of a priority, with all the data being generated from sensors. The role of the global Information Security Officer will become more commonplace. Also, operational technology and IT teams will work hand in glove.
“In short, future workers will need to be flexible in how they operate, and they should be adequately prepared for that.”
Internet of Business says
With so much of the recent debate about Industry 4.0 technologies being about the replacement of human workers, the truth is likely to be more complex and messy. In the long term, these technologies’ employment impacts will probably be neutral – just as ecommerce and mobility have created new companies, new types of work, and new services, while disrupting and threatening legacy businesses.
But in the short to medium term, the employment impacts could be significant. In such an environment, the core challenge isn’t so much to do with (un)employment, as skills: transferrable skills, niche sector knowledge, or expertise that links specific functions across different verticals.