Source: Pexels

By Takalani Malivha 

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us and institutions are positioning themselves to participate and lead their industries in the deployment of 4IR technology. The definition of this industrial revolution is not quite set in stone and the technologies associated with it are moving targets whose true value will reveal themselves to us as we explore them. However, the 4IR can be broadly defined as an integration of faster, efficient and intelligent technologies.

Undeniably, the 4IR has propelled the digital economy and early adaptors are setting themselves up to reap the dividends. There is a handful of large commercial companies that adopted and scaled 4IR technology and thus positioned themselves as leaders in the field. Many have relied on data (personal and otherwise) to build better products, increase efficiencies in their businesses and train models that can predict patterns. Although access to large amounts of data is at the heart of various 4IR success stories, what sets businesses apart is looking beneath the hood to uncover industry specific levers that will create valuable change.

On the up and up

Adopting 4IR technology is no small task and businesses site skills, understanding and use case relevance as some of the barriers between preventing them from adopting smart technology. Consequently, large businesses that have the mileage to research, test and deploy quickly have taken the lead. However, and as demonstrated below, the gap between consideration and adoption is still wide even for businesses that have begun proclaiming the potential and power of smart technologies.

Figure 1

Medium and small-sized companies can also be positioned to take up smart technologies. They are often looking to scale, have room to alter business models and can expand their customer base more comfortably by improving their product or service offering. Within these companies also lies an opportunity to demonstrate the transformative power of smart technologies that are often spoken of but not taken up by many.


Multiple industries-and companies in particular-have existing data that if used can empirically reveal why a company experienced success or failure. With data, a company can shift from building a customer base that increases the odds of conversion to creating more opportunities to establish client relationships. The mobile phone, a device that is common amongst customers, has also become a complimentary device to data, innovation and work overall. The availability of the mobile phone makes the internet of things (IoT) more feasible for businesses. IoT allows businesses to monitor the lifecycle of their products and impact of their services beyond the checkout point.

4IR has gifted us technologies that enable businesses to automate forward, so that employees are gradually freed up to tackle waste as well as idle value income streams. Additionally, automated processes can introduce reputable consistency and avail resources to better understand complex markets.

Pathways to implementation

For the most part, existing computer hardware can set a company on the path to integrating these technologies. In most instances, the relevant software might not be as accessible at first. A practical approach in such a case would be to collaborate, within reason, with software as a service (SaaS) providers . Such organizations can advise on the best software to use for medium and small size businesses that have plans to expand in the future. It might soon become detrimental and costly to rely on legacy software and thus, collaborators can assist with the much-needed transition into improved smart technologies of the fourth industrial revolution.

Smart technologies require skilled individuals that South Africa is not currently in abundant supply of. The scarcity has made 4IR skills pricey and understandably, it might not make business sense to invest in skills before a process is established and proven to be successful. It can be valuable to contract a trusted advisor in the field of emerging technologies who can go through industry-specific use cases that can bring in tremendous understanding of the current landscape.

The subsequent hire following the intervention of an industry expert can then be a specialist in the relevant smart technology that will be deployed in the company. There is often a host of consultants that can help with the initial heavy lifting and this can allow the internal hire to focus on getting domain knowledge that will be valuable when hiring more specialists and upskilling current employees.  Ultimately, company hires will move from an I-shaped structure to a comb-shaped organization where specialists build on the know-how of current employees to create a path to specialization for more. This method can help businesses adopt smart technologies more sustainably, create a path to growth and ultimately encourage agility.

Figure 3

Source: DevOps Institute


It cannot be emphasized enough that leaders in business need to be aware of the bias and inferences that are inherent in how they source, classify and use their data. Moreover, leaders should take care to set boundaries that are relevant for the world in which their products and services will encounter. Left to its own devices, technology can innovate to dangerous territory with consequences that it has not been exposed to. Additionally, those at the forefront of the 4IR have gone ahead of digital regulation and established their own ethical barometer on how these technologies are used. These companies are cautionary tales and can act as case studies on how to better interact with pervasive 4IR technologies.