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There’s a lot of hype around the concept of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), but also some real substance behind it.

The fusion of the technologies that drive it – cloud, Artificial Intelligence, mobile technology, IoT, machine learning– have the potential to transform the way companies interact with their customers, not to mention the products and services that they deliver. In doing so, 4IR could be an incredibly powerful, disruptive force.

What’s less often discussed is the impact 4IR is having on our companies internally. The same technologies affect the workforce in every industry, from healthcare to finance, media to government to transport. New applications, devices and services – powered by these nascent technologies -- are transforming how they operate.

This isn’t something any business could or should ignore. IDG’s recent Workplace of the Future survey found that technology and culture were both important when attracting young talent, with modern IT equipment and infrastructure the second most important factor after flexible working.

Virtually all of the IT decision makers surveyed felt that consumer attitudes to technology were reshaping the workplace. The days when workers will put up with software that isn’t functional are over. The same goes for applications that hold them back instead of supporting them in their work.

And not only does poor, unresponsive software cost businesses in terms of reduced productivity and collaboration, it can also have a huge, detrimental impacts on business costs.

A recent report from testing tools specialist, Tricentis, suggests that 2016’s high-profile software failures impacted 4.4 billion people and $1.1trillion in assets around the globe. A 2017 report by managed services provider, Managed 24/7, found that workplace technology failures were costing UK companies £35 billion per year, and wasting, on average, more than one working day per month. Of more than 2,000 private sector employees surveyed, 32 percent said that their workplace IT systems actively harmed their ability to do a good job, rising to 37 percent with firms that had more than 500 employees.

If you stop thinking of employees as end-users and start thinking of them as internal customers for IT services, these are uncomfortable figures. And these customers could be having a much better experience, which could lead to a better performing business. For example, IDG research has found that consumerisation of software within a company can have positive impacts on business agility, user productivity and user satisfaction.

What, then, can companies do to build technology that changes employee engagement and productivity for the better?

Partly, it’s a case of putting systems and methodologies in place that deliver better, more user-focused software. That might mean understanding how those users use consumer apps in their daily lives and delivering a similar look and feel. It might mean embracing a DevOps methodology, so that the people who build technology for the business are also involved in running it, and so have more of a stake in – and more direct feedback from – how that technology behaves in active duty.

It also means delivering services and platforms that allow employees to do more for themselves, so that they’re not tempted to follow the shadow IT path, and instead put their energy into contributing to line-of-business (LOB) apps and ongoing programmes that could transform the way the whole team works. After all, who knows best the requirements of a company’s business units – those building the software or those that use it each and every working day?

The 4IR technologies themselves have a role to play. AI and machine learning can help developers test both more efficiently and more effectively, enabling teams to iterate faster and provide internal apps that grow and evolve. Cloud and automation enable companies to deploy technology reliably at speed and scale, so that platforms and services empower employees and don’t hold them back.

Perhaps most importantly, companies don’t have to develop all these apps and services from scratch; cloud-based platforms with mature development environments and APIs can take on much of the hard work for them, with the key technological building blocks already in place, supported by an expert and experienced community. New technology can improve productivity – it’s time to turn those frowns upside down.