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Coronavirus will speed up 4IR

COVID-19 is forcing the worlds of business and education to embrace many of the tools that will drive the fourth industrial revolution, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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When the new Springbok rugby head coach, Jacques Nienaber, last week addressed a webinar – an online seminar – on the technology secrets of the Boks, he probably did not realise he was providing an example of how the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) was about to be given a boost by the spread of COVID-19.

The technologies underlying 4IR include cloud computing, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, digital collaboration, and virtual workspaces. However, most businesses and educational institutions have avoided it until now – or at least ignored it – as they believed the old ways still worked best.

That perception was destroyed in a few weeks in February and March, as many countries went into social and business lockdown, and South African businesses went into crisis mode as they grappled with keeping workers safe from the coronavirus, or COVID-19.

As business events around the world, from major conferences to small product launches, were cancelled, organisations scrambled for alternative ways to go to market. Schools and universities moved en masse to online teaching – but remained at at a loss in dealing with classed requiring physical participation.

It was ironic, then, that rugby was the basis of one of the country’s first webinars of the coronavirus era – even though it was never intended to replace a physical event. Nienaber was speaking at the first TechByte webinar hosted by Springbok sponsor Dell Technologies, which had been planning the series well before the virus became a pandemic.

The core point of the event: technologies like those used to present the webinar were at the heart of the new world of work made possible by 4IR. It represented opportunities for businesses, sports bodies and educational institutions.

According to Doug Woolley, general manager of Dell Technologies South Africa, the company was helping the South African Rugby Union (SARU) modernise its operations through innovative storage and retrieval of match and training videos, and information flow to players. This enabled the Boks to become both faster and smarter by adopting new learning and sharing techniques.

It is exactly these techniques that will enable organisations to survive the coronavirus pandemic.

Aside from normal precautionary rules, like social distancing, banning business travel and curtailing face-to-face meetings, organisations are embracing tools that, until recently, were confined almost entirely to information technology workers and companies. The concept of “remote working” has moved from being a grudge allowance for a very limited proportion of employees to a matter of business survival.

Managers who once lived or died by how many bums they could see on seats in the office are learning to oversee remote workers and manage the digital tools that manage their time. Suddenly, names like Teams and Webex are tripping off the tongues of executives who, three months ago, came out in a rash when someone mentioned “digitalisation”.

As much as artificial intelligence, robots and the likes of 3D printing are touted as the leading edge of 4IR, it is the relatively simple process of taking an organisation’s processes digital that will drive the revolution. And the benefits of remote working will be the most visible outcome of that process.

Visit the next page to read about the platforms and applications businesses can use for remote working.

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