The 4th Industrial Revolution is study in contrasts, as the GE Global Innovation Barometer illustrates. Optimism about the power of innovation to address some of society’s greatest challenges, mixed with fear of “Digital Darwinism” and becoming obsolete. A growing recognition of collaboration as a competitive advantage, combined with the empowerment of individuals who have access to an increasing array of digital tools.
For a glimpse of how these trends are shaping the future of work and the global competitive landscape, we’ve asked several thought leaders to share their outlook on the digital revolution — and animators to bring those visions to life:
Marco Annunziata: A Welcome Revolution
The latest GE Global Innovation Barometer shows that both business leaders and informed citizens are looking to innovation with much greater optimism. This is a powerful, encouraging sign. The global economy has recovered from the great financial crisis; we are now moving away from a period where global growth has been supported by exceptional policy measures — quantitative easing, zero interest rates — and toward a new equilibrium where economies have to stand on their own legs. Human talent, ingenuity, collaboration and entrepreneurship will be essential to secure stronger, sustainable growth. And there is a lot less fear about the impact of innovation on jobs than I expected. Business leaders and informed citizens realize that the new world will be one where humans and machines work side by side, in a way that increases safety and performance.
Still, I think people do not yet fully realize how digital technologies will make existing jobs better, more rewarding and productive. Innovation will create new and better job opportunities. The workforce, though, will need to go through a significant transformation: the jobs of the future require problem-solving abilities, flexibility and creativity. Education and training need to catch up fast. The GE Innovation Barometer confirms that the digital-industrial revolution is real, and it is already here. The high share of business leaders and citizens who have already learned to make better use of data and collaborate more —and are reaping the first benefits — are enthusiastic about this new revolution. Let’s make it happen.
Marco Annunziata is Chief Economist and Executive Director of Global Market Insight at GE.
Amit Narayan: How Digital Innovation Can Tackle Global Challenges
As we enter the 4th Industrial Revolution, technological innovations —particularly advances in software — are increasingly being used to address some of the world’s most pressing issues. Perhaps nowhere is software’s ability to solve our most difficult challenges more apparent than in energy. Big Data, artificial intelligence, machine learning and the Internet of Things (IoT) are enabling us to transform the electric grid — making it cleaner, more affordable and more reliable. It is true that software can’t actually generate electricity. But it can allow us to maximize the value of the power we generate through effective use of data. In doing so, we can reduce our dependence on dirty fossil fuels and improve the effectiveness of energy efficiency, renewable energy and energy storage technologies — and create a more efficient, carbon-free electric grid. Software will turn data into a new source of power. This transformation will allow us to cost-effectively extend the benefits of electricity to 1.1 billion of people in the developing world without access to reliable electricity and accelerate our transition to a fossil-fuel free economy. When it comes to energy, software will not eat the world — it will help save it.
Dr. Amit Narayan is Founder and CEO of AutoGrid, Inc., a leader in big data analytics and control software for the electricity and energy industry.
Don Butler: The Future of Innovation Requires Collaboration
Innovation and collaboration are inextricably paired. At Ford, it is part of our DNA, from harnessing the power of the assembly line more than one hundred years ago, to partnering with cutting-edge companies today as we continue redefining the way the world moves. In today’s connected world, a diversity of perspective is needed. That’s why we’re working with Amazon to connect your car to your home, and why we’re sponsoring technology competitions and providing software platforms to foster the next generation of innovators working to dream up the future of everything from smartphone connectivity to mobility solutions to the customer experience. Our collaboration efforts are all about making people’s lives better which results in a strong business. More than two-thirds of the executives surveyed in the GE Innovation Barometer said that collaborative innovation activities have yielded an increase in financial results. So it’s no surprise that 68 percent of executives said their firm is open to risk-sharing associated with innovation. They understand that the future of innovation — and of their companies — requires collaboration. At Ford, we’re driving innovation in all parts of our business by encouraging our team to take risks, challenge custom and question tradition. Within the auto industry, this means working together to develop connected car technology that can help prevent accidents before they happen — all possible because of collaboration. With innovation happening at a rapidly expanding pace around the world — across borders and between industries — companies that embrace the spirit of collaboration will excel.
Don Butler is Executive Director, Connected Vehicle and Services, at Ford MotorCompany.
Kakul Srivastava: How Software Collaboration Will Unleash the Next Wave of Innovation
At GitHub, we believe that democratizing the software development process will be critical to the next wave of innovation. When companies break down barriers for internal teams, and invite the broader community to participate in building software openly, the speed at which we advance technology will increase exponentially. We see it in our community every day — whether it’s the doctors working on software to 3D print stethoscopes for doctors in conflict zones, or the scientists at NASA JPL building software to help us get to Mars, or the farmer in Canada who forked a piece of driverless car software to build an automated tractor to work his field more efficiently. Marc Andreessen famously said a few years ago that “ software is eating the world.” In our view, it’s becoming clear that it’s the other way around — the world is eating software. By lowering the barrier to entry to software development and expanding the pool of people working together in the open, we will be able to reach new heights of technological advancement and explore new worlds.
Kakul Srivastava is Vice President of Product at GitHub.
Jake Schwartz: Talent Is the Key to Surviving Digital Darwinism
The fear of “Digital Darwinism” is palpable around the world, with 81 percent of executives surveyed by the GE Innovation Barometer mindful of a fear of becoming obsolete. While tying survival to innovation is a valid mentality, the global race for talent should be top of mind. The greatest thing companies can do to stay competitive in today’s evolving digital landscape is to focus on talent — the top factor cited by executives in the Barometer for innovating successfully. Talent is the building block of an organization, and the current moment represents an opportunity to build real advantage through their teams. This means bringing in new talent that is fluent with the trends and relevant 21st century skills, but it also means truly investing in the development of the teams already place. Employees value their growth and development above all else, and in that they are 100 percent aligned with the imperatives of the contemporary business environment of continuous change. Valuing people and investing in their skills will fuel a positive and consistently relevant corporate culture — and will help avoid the risk of becoming obsolete.
Jake Schwartz is Co-founder & CEO of General Assembly, a global education company, empowering individuals and companies to be successful in the digital age.
Aaron Levie: Don’t Be Timid Moving Into the Digital Future
The big question facing Fortune 500 companies is: as we move into a digital future, how do we remain as relevant as possible to customers?
Companies in nearly every industry are facing dramatic transformation brought on by new digital experiences. With the emergence of new products that blur the boundaries of the physical and virtual — like Airbnb, Uber, Netflix, 23andMe — the Fortune 500 is waking up to how much change is ahead.
These new startups are derived from completely different technology platforms and corporate cultures than the incumbents in these markets. Internally, fast-moving cultures, collaboration and agility define the work styles of these new disruptors; externally, their products and customer experience are on-demand, light-weight, data-driven and at times magical. Incumbents, by comparison, are often hobbled by decades of heavy process, regulation, bureaucracy and legacy systems that have come to define their operating style and products.
The best big businesses have recognized how transformational this shift to digital is and are ensuring digital becomes an accelerant to their business as opposed to a headwind. Nearly all companies — whether 1 year old or 100 — have ways of serving their customers more directly and more completely by leveraging technology.
Incumbents that succeed will employ a mix of tech acquisitions, investments in startups, building out talent and operations in Silicon Valley, developing digital capabilities themselves and driving partnerships to transform their companies. While “checking a few of these boxes” will be how most incumbents respond, companies won’t thrive by doing muted versions of any of these. They can’t be timid in their approach. If they wait to see how this digital era plays out, they will be left behind.
Yvonne Wassenaar: Where Software Companies Rule
In today’s marketplace, companies must become digital businesses to effectively capitalize on market opportunity or risk extinction. Consequently, regardless of size or industry, the leaders of tomorrow are transforming their companies into software companies today.
Enabling this transformation is the migration from traditional IT infrastructure environments to the cloud. Moving to a cloud-first environment frees up valuable company resources to focus on innovation and differentiation versus management of often costly and complex IT infrastructure. Cloud-driven companies can ultimately become more agile and scalable.
But the cloud is only as good as the software you run in it. In an increasingly competitive marketplace for software talent, maximizing the value that talent can deliver is critical. One element of value is the insight and innovation of the software built; the other element is the efficiency and ease with which the software runs. Companies built around well-running software are better able to tackle tech curveballs and innovate their product without major hiccups.
Explore the findings of the GE Global Innovation Barometer here: www.ge.com/reports/innovation-barometer