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opinion

Soumen Roy is the country head for Tata Consultancy Services (TCS)

Business 4.0 – also known as the fourth industrial revolution for the digital age – has upended much of what we thought we knew about industries. It is an era marked by big leaps in technology, significant upswings in data, hyperconnectivity, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, automation and the rapid and agile development of products and solutions.

The last time we experienced a tectonic shift like this was during the computer age (Business 3.0), defined by the advent of the internet, the ascent of large globalized businesses and interlinked financial systems.

Today's teeming tech environment has created a level playing field. As such, how you leverage technology is even more important to success than your ability to access capital.

Victory will belong to the enterprises that make the right investments and embrace what the digital age really means: mass personalization, creating exponential value, leveraging ecosystems and embracing risk. Using technology to satisfy these Business 4.0 demands will have more of an impact on a company's long-term viability than any temporary infusion of cash.

The proliferation of interconnected data channels has enabled access to knowledge at a never-before-seen scale. This democratization of information, so to speak, has created unprecedented opportunities for entrepreneurs. Take the sensational success of the free messaging platform WhatsApp, which currently has more than 1.3 billion users – three times that of Twitter. Its co-founder, Jan Koum, certainly didn't have much in the way of capital – and, for a brief period, lived off welfare. What he did have was an idea and self-taught technical skills that he gleaned from available sources. In 2014, he and his co-founder, Brain Acton, sold WhatsApp to Facebook for US$19-billion.

The emergence of cloud computing is another example of how businesses today require less capital to compete. It has afforded them the opportunity to tap into a wealth of resources at a fraction of the cost. Everything from data storage to operational software can be accessed through the cloud. It also makes it far easier for organizations to scale up when – and not a moment before – they need to.

For software companies, the cloud has fundamentally changed the speed at which products are created. Leading organizations are using the cloud to develop and upgrade software in an agile and interactive manner. What once took at least six months to develop is being deployed to consumers in a matter of days or weeks.

Even physical products are being brought to market at expedited speeds. Cloud solutions allow companies to evaluate designs, test performance and prevent quality issues. They have also given companies without deep pockets the ability to experiment with simulations – once the exclusive territory of the biggest players. A competitor to a bank or retailer, for example, can run simulations that predict the adoption rates of a new product before ever introducing anything to the market. On the other hand, an institutional company planning a digital transformation can pre-emptively look at its impact on profitability via cloud simulations.

Relatively cheap tech solutions are making a real difference beyond commerce – they are aiding in research and development, as well as social responsibility. Harvard Medical School's Laboratory for Personalized Medicine is speeding up research on the clinical value of new genetic tests through the use of a cloud-computing platform. Similarly, the pharma company Novartis accelerates its preclinical efforts for drug development on the public cloud.

Connected IoT technologies are also giving organizations an advantage. They can be found everywhere, from warehouses to the wilderness. A forest industry group in Finland, Wood Supply at Stora Enso, is using drones to validate its wood is sustainably sourced. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) created the drone solution, which is able to assess the quality, quantity and essential health of a tree stand. It helps inform business planning and adds value across the chain. In Kaziranga National Park, located in India, drones patrol 480 square kilometers of land to protect the endangered one-horned rhino against poachers. TCS outfitted these drones with thermal imaging cameras so they can be just as vigilant at night.

With so many technologies already giving competitors an edge, more established companies are racing to make unprecedented investments in technology. According to research by International Data Corp. (IDC) Canada, 15 per cent of Canadian organizations have created 777 corporate innovation centres at a cost of more than $2.1-billion annually – a number which is set to grow. Rapid breakthroughs in digital technologies are reshaping entire sectors and a new generation of organizations with formidable digital spines is evolving.

The European Commission has told firms such as Google and Facebook to remove 'terrorist content' an hour after it is first notified, or face legislation forcing them to do so.

Reuters