Digital Transformation: The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Susan Bowen

August 23, 2017


Digital transformation is like a penetrating wind reaching into all areas of commerce, business and government. If there’s any doubt about this, consider what industry analysts IDC recently said: at the end of 2017, the vast majority of the world’s largest businesses will put digital transformation at the centre of corporate strategies.

I recently gave a presentation at an Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) conference about the need for and benefits of digital transformation. ICE understands the winds of change have been blowing for some time and recently launched a digital transformation campaign.

Digital transformation takes different shapes according to the industry in which it is taking place. Within civil engineering and construction, it is largely digitised engineering and the ability to monitor infrastructure so engineers can use real data to influence construction and maintenance.

This is significant and the implications are tremendous. The Three Gorges Dam in China is the greatest building project in the country since the build of the 2,300 year old Great Wall and the 1,100 mile Grand Canal. It’s a technical marvel and although construction began in 1994, its architects and engineers identified the value of real-time data even back then.

They developed a system in which the 32 turbines that power the dam are monitored in real time and the data sent to engineers’ phones. This enables them to immediately identify potential malfunctions.

Within the context of civil engineering, while it’s important and far reaching, it’s actually a fairly basic use of digitised data. Today, the scales of these types of operations are much larger thanks to cloud computing environments, managed web hosting and colocation services.

Looking ahead, digital transformation in civil engineering is driving the exploration of robots in the creation, inspection, repair and maintenance of critical infrastructure. This is radical but these types of changes are to be expected given that revolutionary changes are being ushered in across many industries.

ICE identifies digital transformation as the fourth industrial revolution in which a range of new technologies are fusing the physical and the digital. This is leading to smart buildings, smart critical national infrastructure and smart cities in which infrastructure monitors itself and automatically makes adjustments when necessary, such as street lighting systems turning off to conserve power when no activity is detected.

ICE acknowledges that a cultural shift and employees up-skilling is absolutely essential to help drive digital transformation, not only in civil engineering but also to enable the UK to establish itself as a world leader in digital delivery and smart infrastructure.

These requirements are the same for all organisations whether its companies involved in developing smart street lighting systems, retailers looking to improve sales or logistics organisations developing smart supply chains.

These are important points. If in the UK, we don’t get ahead of the needs of digital transformation, we risk falling behind.

There are many companies that have used digital innovation to fracture existing markets and take market share. We call them ‘disruptive’ in that they have shaken up traditional business and left other businesses struggling to catch up.

By placing digital innovation and technology platforms at their core, many of these organisations have come into their marketplace as new entrants yet within a short time have taken substantial market share. This is evident across many industries from financial services to retail, logistics and entertainment to mention just a few.

Digital transformation is an unstoppable wave that has been set in motion and we either embrace it or try and ignore it. However, the problem with the latter point is that if we try and brush it off, it will eventually break over our heads and we will inevitably be left struggling. However, by embracing the revolution we will also inevitably reap the rewards such as greater operational efficiency, improved revenue and larger profit.

At Cogeco Peer 1, we are helping drive this revolution by providing clients with a wide range of digital transformation foundational services via cloud computing, managed technology services and other vital networking services. As such, we are witness to the digital revolution on a daily basis and it can’t be ignored.

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