Executives worry about smart factory automation, IoT backlash

Executives worry that automation and the Internet of Things (IoT) won’t be accepted by workers, investors or the general public according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

By Rene Millman January 27, 2017

Nearly half of CEOs around the world fear that automation and robots in factories and offices will prompt distrust among workers, investors and the general public, according to an automation survey carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). In its annual CEO survey, half of executives worry that the fourth industrial revolution, where robots and sensors work alongside people in factories, will sow skepticism of the technology.

With the loss of jobs to automation and the Internet of Things (IoT), digital skills will come to the fore. According to the PwC survey, while U.K. business leaders rate digital skills more highly than their global peers (83% vs 79%), people with these skills are proving hard to find. Two-thirds (67%) say recruiting people with digital skills is difficult, against just over half (52%) globally, and significantly higher than the US (43%) and China (24%), underlining a digital skills gap.

Some companies, however, continue to move forward. General Electric (GE) estimated that digitizing industrial machinery, networks, and processes will not only bring down manufacturing costs for companies but also deliver productivity improvements by $10-15 trillion worldwide in the next 20 years according to a report by the Financial Times. It’s a question of convincing everyone else that this is the future and narrowing the skills gap will go a long way to helping that.

Automation and digital skills gap

Kevin Ellis, chairman and senior partner of PwC, said that in the tech talent race, UK organisations must be viewed as leading the way in emerging technology development.

"It is vital that we are able to attract businesses and people with the right tech skills, and also develop the requisite skills internally. With the current pace of technological change, it is hard to predict what jobs will look like in the future, so as well as developing digital skills it is important that employees are adaptive and able to respond to the next skills challenge. Those that can will be in high demand," Ellis said. "Emerging technology development will require diverse thinking to ensure the fourth industrial revolution is representative of the population and doesn’t leave anybody behind as we reshape our economy."

Martyn Williams, managing director at industrial automation expert, COPA-DATA UK, said that by using IoT-enabled smart automation software, manufacturers are not just reaping the rewards of automated production, but gaining analytical visibility of the entire manufacturing operation.

"Machine-to-machine (M2M) communication generates a plethora of comprehensive data from the factory floor, all of which can be analyzed to help organizations make intelligent business decisions based on real-time statistics," he said.

Rene Millman is editor at Internet of Business. This article originally appeared here. Internet of Business is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, CFE Media, cvavra@cfemedia.com.

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