It’s just an analogy

I’ve recently been working on analogies designed to let me talk about Industry 4.0 concepts. In short I’ve been trying to find ways to explain what’s almost unexplainable, and often to a sceptical audience. This is my current favourite:

Here’s what happened lasttime

In 1993 the Internet was explained in terms of bits, bytes, modems and tunnels. Most people had no idea why this geeky stuff would be important or what it could possibly be used for in everyday life. By 2003 it was explained in terms of Amazon and Facebook. Now my mum can order shopping on-line but has no idea how the Internet works. That’s how it should be, invisible to the application. My niece uses Facebook, WhatsApp and ASOS and can’t really imagine not using them – it’s woven into the fabric of how she does things, she’s never done it any other way. Why would she? In the mean-time those that had no idea what the geeky stuff could do ignored Amazon and are now closing their retail space [link]

Here’s what’s happening now

Industry 4.0 is now explained in terms like sensors, internet-of-things, and security. There is little understanding of how to retrofit this into existing ways of working, or why all this geeky stuff is relevant. In short people think this is a nice to have but really changes nothing. In ten years I will be explaining this in terms of its application and not how it is implemented. Industry 4.0 will be a forgotten concept and we’ll be talking about its various applications – like operating and maintaining according to equipment condition. In 20 years time a maintenance engineer (like my niece does with Facebook) will have no concept of why you would (or even could) operate equipment without on-line condition monitoring, system level surveillance, and connected “helper applications” that learn from global failure modes. Why would she?

But surely we’ve already been here?

I normally get an objection at this point along the lines of this:

“We’ve had digital oilfield for years, and it’s promised a lot, cost a lot and not delivered much – why will this be different, why should I think there will be a change.”

In my view, things no longer change incrementally when platforms become ubiquitous and costs tumble 1,000 times. They “take off”. That’s what’s occurring now. Add to these exponential technologies such as machine learning (which self-improve with time and experience) and t the stage is set for big breakthroughs.

Four companies: Facebook, Google (Maps +Waze), Uber, Amazon would be impossible without the widespread adoption of horizontal general technologies. They’re interdependent and co-ordinated rollouts enabled cross-platform co-innovation at the application level.

By the way – If you think these companies are just fluff : Google is worth 356Bln, Facebook 350Bln, Uber 62Bln and Amazon 250Bln. In total over a trillion dollars. For comparison Exxon is valued at 360 Bln.

Adoption Curve is reversed

Here’s another thought – In the 1960’s Military and Space applications were modified for business use before finding their way into the hands of rich consumers a couple of decades later. Facebook-like platforms and messaging applications such as Skype emerged first in the consumer space before being adapted for corporate deployment.

I think this mode of adoption is now true for application level innovation generally. If this is so for our next wave application innovation for industry 4.0, I expect to see it emerge first in the consumer space, deploy rapidly at scale and be ready to find ways to adapt and deploy in industry. It will be people like my niece that will know how to leverage these applications with no need to have any knowledge of how the underlying infrastructure works.

Keep your millennials close at hand; you’ll need their insights.

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Entrepreneur, Management Consultant, Technologist - Interested in all things Upstream Oil and Gas, New Ventures and Projects.

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