This week, we caught up with Sean Culey, Author of “Transition Point: From Steam to Singularity” and Keynote Speaker on Thriving in the Digital Age: The Need for a Copernican Business Revolution at the upcoming Internet of Manufacturing UK event, taking place in Farnborough, May 14-15.
Sean is a global keynote speaker on the topic of disruptive technologies and their impact on supply chains, businesses, the economy and society. He is the author of ‘Transition Point’, a detailed look at the causes of technological disruption and the impact it has on our society, and how the current wave of technological change will completely disrupt our business models, economy and society at large. Sean is also the author of numerous articles published in magazines such as Forbes and The European Business Review.
What are the key technologies that you believe will transform industry over the next 5 years?
In the book, I go through what I call ‘the creative destruction triple whammy’. Whammy #1 is the automation of labour and includes all of the technologies that are currently replacing human physical activity across the end-to-end supply chain. These include smart robotics, 3D printing, autonomous vehicles – both large (ships, trucks and vans) and small (road robots, drones, farming robots).
Whammy #2 is the automation of the knowledge worker, and this is where things get interesting. To date machines have become dumb, and now they are becoming smart – and it is this increase in intelligence that is driving the enhanced capabilities of things like robots. It is also replacing the white-collar work through the use of artificial intelligence that is capable of analysing more data and producing better plans and forecasts that humans. Forms of artificial intelligence is everywhere – from Robotic Process Automation (RPA) code that undertakes repetitive, rules-based tasks such as back-office administration, through to chat-bots that can verbally engage with customers and answer their queries. Another major innovation that is gathering steam is the blockchain, and early case studies are starting to arise.
“To date, machines have become dumb, and now they are becoming smart”
Finally, whammy #3 is the convergence of all of these technologies to create a smart, self-aware, supply chain – where machines converse with machines creating a real-time, digital overview of everything that is happening. The data being captured by this world of sensors is enabling the creation of digital twins – online representations of physical assets – from waterpipes to warehouses – allowing for constant monitoring and alert systems that highlight exceptions and pro-actively intervene to maintain optimal performance.
How far away are we from being able to track everything in the inventory and the supply chain?
Not far away to be honest, probably in the next 3-5 years. Organisations such as Amazon and their Chinese equivalent JD.com have ambitious plans to control the entire end-to-end supply chain, from creation to consumption, and in order to do that they need to be able to track everything, everywhere. I think the two technologies that will be pivotal to achieving this visibility will be the blockchain and 5G. It will be rolled out initially with a select number of vendors and SKUs, but once it is stable and the business case proven then expect to see it rolled out within just a few years.
“Two technologies will be pivotal… blockchain and 5G”
What are the obstacles to making that happen?
First is the ability to scale this across every manufacturer and vendor. Expect to see it rapidly be achieved for key products where the e-commerce retailer has almost complete control, then take much longer for products with dis-jointed and overly complex supply chains. Second is the limited mindset that will prevent many companies from exploiting these technologies beyond mere efficiency savings. When the leaders use these technologies to create whole new business models, others will simply go out of business.
What can companies do to overcome the organisational and internal barriers to truly innovate and embrace these technologies?
The problem most companies face is themselves. The line ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ has been repeated ad-nauseum, but that’s because it’s true. The missing part of that statement is that ‘leadership sets the culture’ – and if the leadership is caught in the headlights of this wave of disruption with a clear long-term vision of where the company is going and how it is going to get there, then it is very unlikely that anyone else in the wider organisation knows. The major paradigm shift that the leadership needs to make is to realise that they are no longer in control – the customer is. And most importantly, companies that put the customer first will take away your business before you know it – for example, Amazon has zero respect for the heritage of your organisation, your time in the industry, or your brand reputation. It will enter markets you believe it has no right to, simply because it sees excess profits and underserved customers – and it will delight your customers in ways you never thought about because you were focused on yourself, not them.
“Amazon has zero respect for the heritage of your organisation”
With AI having the potential to truly transform and optimize the support chain, what are the key challenges you believe will stand in the way of the AI reaching its full potential from a social and economic standpoint?
Artificial Intelligence is limited, like any technological system, by the quality of the data you feed it. Regardless of its intelligence, if your internal data integrity is all over the map, and your external data sources are unstructured and misaligned, then it is going to struggle. It is therefore likely that many companies will balk at the task ahead of them to clean up their data and use AI simply to automate repetitive tasks. AI methods such as deep learning are black-boxes – you put data in, and answers come out. If you do not trust the inputs into this black box, then you are unlikely to trust its outputs.
“Artificial Intelligence is limited by the quality of the data you feed it”
This leaves them at the mercy of organisations that do have their house in order, and which can use AI to answer difficult and insightful questions which generate significant competitive advantage.
Finally, what are your predictions for the next 5 years?
We are currently in the upswing period of the sixth wave of creative destruction, and if you understand these wave structures you will know that the next five years are going to be very bumpy. This period is the time of winners and losers, and thus of social unrest and of recession. Right now unemployment is low because both the old industrial world and the new digital one co-exist at the same time. Over the next 3-5 years all of the technologies that have been developed behind the senes will break cover and become part of our everyday business and personal lives – and this will bring great challenges as old jobs get swept away. Many people will find themselves unable to compete for the new jobs that arise because they lack the skills, and they will not be happy about that. In every previous wave, this period of recession is followed by a boom period, a golden age where these new technologies create vast amount of wealth and an investment boom, and this is also likely. The question is will enough people be able to share in the bounty, and if not, how to we provide for them so that society itself does not fracture.
You can hear from Sean and have a chance to attend the exclusive book signing at the Internet of Manufacturing UK on the 14-15 May 2019 at Farnborough International Conference Centre.