From the irrigation techniques of the Incas to Roman aqueducts and Egyptian hieroglyphics, ancient civilizations have innovated to improve the welfare of their citizens.

Fast forward to modern times, and innovations continue to transform the everyday lives of people, with the most significant changes often seen as a series of four industrial revolutions.

The first industrial revolution was powered by steam, after it was discovered that the pressure from boiling water could drive a piston back and forth. Steam ruled the world for more than 200 years, powering the engines that allowed for the mechanization of both machines and transport.

By the late 19th century, however, steam was being overtaken by the invention of electricity – an era sometimes dubbed the second industrial revolution. Electricity was a key driver of urbanization, with the resulting cities then becoming centers of rapid growth and trade.

The third revolution was ushered in by the foundations of the modern computer, around the middle of the 20th century. Machines could now run tasks, while the invention of the microchip allowed for faster processing and the eventual creation of the internet.

Now, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has arrived – and it is an era of digital transformation, increased automation and artificial intelligence (AI). It will change the way we work forever, and the way organizations operate. This is something that Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) calls ‘Business 4.0’.

How Business 4.0 drives success

It’s hard to remember that the iPhone has only been with us for little over a decade, that the first of this new generation of smartphones was first shipped to customers in 2007, or that the internet only really took off in the last 20 years.

AI, the technology that today powers data science and advanced analytics, has been around for decades, but it’s only since the advent of smarter computers powered by faster chips, that it has become mainstream.

Similarly, sensor technology has propelled the Internet of Things – where every physical thing is connected and communicates, revolutionizing supply chains.

These are only some of the technologies that have laid the foundations of Business 4.0, a marrying of the digital, biological and physical world.

In Business 4.0, automation, robotics and artificial intelligence are changing the way we conduct business.

Man and machine are working more closely together than ever, and technology powered by machine learning will seek to emulate the workings of the human brain. Smart robots will work alongside humans not to replace but to augment their capabilities.

Business 4.0 is happening alongside a wider globalization – termed Globalization 4.0 by the World Economic Form.

Like the revolutions that have gone before, companies can use Business 4.0 to power their continued success and growth.

How does Business 4.0 work best?

Business 4.0 is agile, automated, intelligent, and it’s on the cloud. Companies that are agile and innovative will thrive – if they follow four critical behaviors:

1. Driving mass personalization.

Data and AI analysis gives businesses insight into their customers like never before. At the same time, new technology has altered what the consumer expects to experience.

Using these insights will allow businesses to reimagine services and help their customers get their job done in new and better ways beyond simply improving current processes.

2. Creating exponential value

Business 4.0 is as much about mindset as it is about behaviours. There is a whole world of answers and solutions beyond the walls of a company. Delivering the best results for customers will mean collaborating with others. It’s a world away from the proprietary mindset we know today.

3. Leveraging ecosystems

Whether a business is involved in software development or heavy machinery, every part of it must be digitally connected to truly tap into the abundance of the digital age.

The use of the cloud to store data means that equipment and operations can be optimized by leveraging the insights of others using the same equipment. It also allows smaller enterprises to access technology they wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

Data focused on operations can help businesses work faster, smarter and more efficiently

4. Embracing risk

Business 4.0 also brings many challenges.

For instance, we’re facing a global skills gap. There aren’t enough skilled people to step into the jobs that can help businesses embrace Business 4.0. There’s the threat that automation might dislocate jobs and alter the societal fabric.

But it’s also a time of limitless opportunity, where more customers can be reached, better and more personalized service can be given, and a more holistic, environmental approach to business can flourish.

Technology will allow us to control our energy and utility use like never before, altering consumption, while auto technology is set to make our roads safer and our journeys more enjoyable. Doctors will diagnose disease at an earlier stage and be able to offer life-saving treatment.

In addition, the very technology powering Business 4.0 can also be used to mitigate risks.

Imagining the jobs of tomorrow

According to the World Economic Forum, we are now entering Globalization 4.0, an era when the forces that propel Business 4.0 are ushering in a new economy and a new form of globalization.

Richard Baldwin, Professor of International Economics, Graduate Institute, Geneva, writing for the Forum believes that: “Future globalization will be very different from the globalization we know today and the globalization we have known in the past. Moreover, it is coming incredibly fast – and in ways few people expect.”

Indeed, when the first steam engine was invented, no one could have predicted the impact it would have, nor the radical transformation that electricity and then computing would have on the world.

Companies who decide to wholeheartedly embrace the risk of an uncertain and continually changing future will surely reap the greatest rewards.

But one thing is certain; most of us can’t even begin to imagine the type of innovations that may one day become known as the fifth industrial revolution.