The digital economy is much more than just the 'industrial era on tech steroids’, though the term Industry 4.0 is increasingly used as a synonymous term. To understand the digital age, is to recognise that transience replaces permanence, and chaos replaces certainty. On top of that, mankind and technology appear to be on a convergent path, which may eventually require a species taxonomy refresh.
But what the Industry 4.0 tag captures well is the importance of both data and the Internet of Things (IoT) as a significant generator of value.
The industrial era factory model, what with its emphasis on process, is being replaced by a focus on creativity. Much of this creativity will be data-driven, and that is a great opportunity for CIOs to move centre-stage.
This data is not just for abstract analysis, but for what might be called data-driven relationships. The more you know about me, the more you can configure my experience (rose petals on the carpet, Ferrero Rocher on the pillow etc). Hotel staff armed with smart devices can tune the room for the needs of each customer. Location-sensitive apps will detail each room configuration.
Businesses such as Tinder, Uber and AirBnB are simply data brokerages that are turning personal data into 'value' for all concerned. These particular examples relate to what is called collaborative consumption. I have 'unused assets', which you see value in acquiring, if only for a short period of time. Such assets may be considered 'dark assets' as they would normally be lying economically-dormant without such collaborative consumption business models.
Companies such as Rolls Royce and John Deere have moved from selling products to providing real-time data-driven services. Thus the relationship with the customer moves from occasional to continuous. Consequently, data both deepens the relationship and keeps the brand 'front of mind'.
Returning to dark assets. IoT provides an opportunity to really unleash the value in your dark assets. Why do retail stores reward their best customers? If you only have a basket of goods, you can use the express check out. But if you have a trolley stacked with goods you have to queue with the masses. That's wrong. But it could easily be rectified by adding a little bit of sensor tech to each trolley.
Imagine how inefficient it must be when it comes to transferring disabled airline passengers between connections, or where there is a last minute change of gate. Why not add some tech to the wheel chairs, and hey presto you have a driverless Uberesque wheelchair service that is optimised to where the service is required and where the wheel chairs are located.
I have a brilliant business idea to integrate a chain of restaurants with a calorie management app. The first model didn't work well because my clever idea to have the menu integrated with the app led to the data-driven menu being reduced to a few cheap low-calorie options, as each customer could only choose what their remaining calorie count allowed. My next approach is to have the cutlery sitting on magnetic plates. Each mouthful registers with the calorie app. As the calorie count approaches the daily maximum, the magnetism kicks in. Thus the diner now has to work harder to lift the cutlery This work out has the impact of burning more calories and thus allows them to prolong the dining experience. In any case, once the limit is reached, the magnets ramped up to the max and the cutlery becomes unliftable. I haven't actually asked if anyone would want such a restaurant, which is something of a flaw in this data-driven world.
So the question arises as to what radical pairings can you create to harness data you already have, or might easily collect, to create unique margin-enhancing services?
A confession. I must admit to being guilty of stating that applications are where the value is created.
I am increasingly now of the view that it is about the data, and it's the infrastructure, not the apps that will create the bulk of the value in the digital age. The network is fighting back!
Imagine if your network was location-aware in respect of say shoppers. Wouldn't it be a lot easier to negotiate mall concession rents if the actual foot fall statistics were available thanks to evolving beacon technology.
Some CIOs have either eschewed their technology background, or never had one to start off with, in order to be perceived as strategically relevant. In the digital era, I believe tech-savvy CIOs will come into their own, if they cultivate and apply their knowledge to disrupting the status quo.
Most CIOs are sitting on a data oil field so to speak. It's time to start drilling, and develop your data refining skills.