It isn’t often that the broad infrastructure that underlies industrial civilization undergoes a dramatic transformation.
But just such a change appears to be happening now.
As sensors spread through factories and warehouses, software predicts the need for maintenance before it is manifest, power grids and loading docks become intelligent, and custom-designed parts are produced on demand, the label the next industrial revolution is coming to represent this great wave of technological change.
The leaders of this revolution are companies making advances in fields such as robotics, machine learning, digital fabrication (including 3D printing), the Internet of Things (IoT), data analytics and blockchain (a system of decentralized, automated transaction verification).
Because these technologies all reinforce the others’ impact, they are leading to a new level of proficiency, and new types of opportunities and challenges for business and for society at large.
One key example is that conventional boundaries between industries are eroding. It’s getting harder to tell the difference between, say, a telecommunications company and an entertainment producer, or between a retail bank and a retail store.
The relationships among suppliers, producers, and consumers are also blurring, more rapidly than many business decision makers are prepared for.