Guest Column | March 12, 2020

Looking To Drive i4.0 Advantages? HR Can Be Ideal Fielder's Choice.

By Balakrishnan Narayanan, Zalaris

Field Service Automation

Industry 4.0 (i4.0) has been described as the modern-day Industrial Revolution. The label encompasses automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies and much more, as the recent Field Technologies Online article, Industry 4.0 And The Customer Experience, points out. In this column, let’s look from the inside out – where to start, and who should lead i4.0 advances. Processes and innovations on this path include cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things, cloud computing, mobile computing, analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, to name a few.

With so many innovations emerging and converging all at once, more i4.0 questions likely arise than answers. You may naturally assume it’s something IT people should sort out and address. Nothing wrong with that on the surface, especially considering how technology historically takes off in enterprises and across field operations. What’s different today relates to many factors that may ultimately point in such directions, yet when it comes to assessing what needs to be done for the good of the company and its people as well as customers, HR should emerge as a natural candidate.

Powering Up The Progress
HR’s role should be as a progressive force that not only understands dynamic workforce trends and shifts at the core of long-term enterprise success, the function must grasp what all aspects of the organization need to grow. Recruiting, hiring, developing and upskilling all fall on HR’s shoulders, and these will remain the roots for advancement, whereas technology continues to become more and more about enablement, productivity, and personal experience.

Industry 4.0 isn’t solely about digitally revolutionizing enterprises; it’s about preparing for an entirely new customer experience, as the earlier Field Technologies Online column stated, but it’s also about perpetually making employee experience better. In short, it’s about capturing and harnessing data in ways that are supremely actionable, informative and insightful. We’re talking about knowing more than ever in real time – and responding faster and more effectively to issues, trends and opportunities.

So Many Innovations, So Little Time
You don’t need to tackle all i4.0 opportunities at the same time, of course. Just recognize that such changes signify giant leaps from “business as usual.” Ironically, we can see many forms of this revolution surfacing beyond the corporate network. Consumers are already at the epicenter, enriching their personal lives and interactions with the types of tools, platforms, and applications comprising i4.0 advances they now expect to find in their workplace.

Again, HR is poised to take on the responsibility. In fact, i4.0 probably means more to the function today – and its impact on enterprise strategy – than in the entire history of the profession.

Industry 4.0 is ramping up just as workforce trends begin their tilt toward more millennial workers, open to a different set of standards and ambitions. Traditional incentives are no longer the mainstay. Nor are employees tethered to central office locations. So-called “virtual employees” are increasingly commonplace. The trend shows no sign of slowing in the evolving gig economy, with temporary and contracted workers projected to soar over time.

Enterprises with a greater, more meaningful “purpose” may have a leg up with this audience. And your customers and people will acclimate to i4.0 simplicity at every juncture when done right. Employees at all levels want and expect in their workplace the same types of conveniences and advantages they have at their fingertips elsewhere in life…and from anywhere.

The reality is if you delay taking a broader, more all-encompassing view of your direction, processes and more discerning expectations – from customers and employees – you may end up in a world of i4.0 trouble.

Determinations And Deliberations
IT is accustomed to charting the enterprise course from a hardware/software standpoint. Lines of business, on the other hand, have had a much stronger hand in their respective application directions in recent years. Interaction and collaboration have been crucial between the factions, although contentious at times, especially considering very real security concerns.

These are relevant points as any company embarks on an i4.0 journey, and HR’s expertise as arbiters can make a profound difference in helping set the course with all interests and concerns in mind.

Don’t waste any more time playing catch-up or debating how to set i4.0 in motion.

HR can help unlock the potential now. Automation and robotics have already found their way into corporate cultures with HR at the helm, most notably in the form of comprehensive HCM solutions. Expect many more options to come. Rein it in – and get control of your enterprise’s i4.0 destiny.

When you deal with hundreds or thousands of employees, the i4.0 crossroads are undeniable. It’s not just a result of fast-moving workforce trends or customer retention and growth prospects. Your company should already be leveraging automation breakthroughs, and an incredible amount of data is likely available in-house to pave the way for i4.0 advances. Now is the time to maximize the use of it, to squeeze every bit of value possible. If you don’t, competitors certainly will take this type of approach – and possibly to a much greater degree. They may not even be your traditional competitors. Regardless, i4.0 will be a crossroads where the future will be won. Analytics is sure to be the driver.

What To Do
Industry 4.0 doesn’t come with a roadmap. Partners can help you understand the options and how to put i4.0 into a structured hierarchy where you not only avoid falling behind, you stay ahead of the curve – without crushing the budget.

It’s possible, on the other hand, to get i4.0 “fever” and pursue too many visionary aspirations all at once. Or you may make the bigger mistake and choose to postpone modernization altogether.

If you’ve already dipped your toes into the i4.0 water, consider going deeper, further and faster. An easy point of focus is anything and everything that contributes to better, more timely decision making by management and staff. Efficiently delivering actionable information on this front equates to early i4.0 wins. Again, you can see why HR deserves to help lead the charge.

After all, people leverage technology and not the other way around – plus the systems you deploy in the cloud or on the road will have profound HR implications. Consider a well-rounded approach with the most potential to satisfy all stakeholders, from IT and LoBs to employees and management. This includes from an HR standpoint that should always underscore, maintain and strengthen the value and importance of your people.

Make 2020 a visionary year. Your company will be better than ever if i4.0 advances ignite, redefine and revolutionize your business as well as its ability to continuously adapt. HR can serve as a catalyst and an ideal internal partner. While weighing the options, it’s also critical to engage external service providers where you lack i4.0 expertise, especially from LoB perspectives. The way forward will clearly come down to having the right overall team – and technologies – to efficiently drive the highest i4.0 value possible.

About The Author

Balakrishnan Narayanan is an executive vice president at Zalaris, which specializes in HR, human capital management and payroll solutions. He has led the company’s offshore center in India since inception in 2015 and has been instrumental in the growth and expansion of Zalaris’ international field operations.