Engineering leaders need to think about the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution
8 September, 2016
“Engineering leaders need to think about the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The associated changes are set to transform the engineering profession as we know it, so the time to act is now” writes Dr Marlene Kanga, President-Elect, World Federation of Engineering Organisations. Read why.
Engineers are recognised as individuals with highly specialised expert knowledge and skills and are charged with a high degree of responsibility. There is an expectation that engineering is done with due care and in the interests of the community that is being served. The advances in computing, data analytics and artificial intelligence, mean that computers can now simulate an expert’s knowledge. An expert makes judgements based on years of experience. A computer can now analyse many thousands of data sets that could equate to a fraction of a person’s experience and compute likely scenarios and solutions that support the decision-making process. Importantly, the last step in the decision-making process may increasingly be made by a non-engineer. This is set to disrupt the very notion of a professional engineer.
The looming disruption to the professions that is expected in the Fourth Industrial Revolution is not limited to engineering. The medical and legal professions are facing similar challenges. Data analytics is increasingly being used for rapid diagnoses and medical judgements, especially in “routine” cases. Robots are assisting surgeons in surgical procedures with greater accuracy, reliability and reduced error rates and trauma. Artificial intelligence and analysis is being used to search case law for legal precedents, an area that hitherto was the domain of learned and experienced barristers. Block chain technology will increasingly be used to automate a wide range of transactions and contracts from conveyancing to the licensing of intellectual property.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution will require engineering firms to review their current business models, consider how these may be disrupted, and build those new models to get ahead of the competition. Yet a recent survey by PwC indicated that only 30 percent of firms in engineering and construction, were making changes in response to the challenges and opportunities, although they expected that 70 percent would be doing so in five years time.
The rapid changes may require a rethink of conventional organisation structures and ways of working that may need more collaboration – across geographies and organisation types. There is an urgent need to be innovative in delivering value – not just in developing new products but in setting up diverse teams that can innovate to deliver services in new ways, including digital and globalised strategies.
Engineering firms cannot ignore the changes that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will bring. As with previous industrial revolutions, engineers need to remain at the heart of the changes that are taking place today and be innovative and agile, like never before, in taking advantages of the new opportunities that will be presented.
 See Industrie 4.0: Building the Digital Enterprise, PwC, http://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/industry-4.0.html
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