The world is changing, led by uncertain global processes, social divisions, political missteps and growing economic inequalities. The so-called Global Age has resulted in a world more divided, increasingly divergent and inevitably pluralist, where the rising of tensions and separations are putting at risk the strong level of correlation and connection achieved by globalization. In this epoch-changing era, the 4th Industrial Revolution is reminding us why unified models and integrated approaches are the most effective methods to reshape the purpose of nations and organisations.
A global world in pieces
As many observers have affirmed since the beginning of the XXI century, the world is ultimately engaging in a painful and prolonged age of transition towards a new global order. From civil wars to climate change, from economic turmoil to transnational terrorism, from intercultural conflicts to political uncertainty, this development is affecting social, political and economic stability on many different levels. It is not hard to acknowledge how the global age is showing not one but many forms of globalization, as a result of increasing divisions among and within nations and cultures, as well as of growing discontentment caused by endemic economic inequalities.
In this scenario, the European Union stands out as an emblematic case of a last century innovative project that seems to be losing steam and focus, which today is in an identity crisis. Clearly, it is not a matter of chance that Brexit, the most shocking event in the history of the EU, has pushed many to announce that it marks the end of globalization and the return of a more domestic/regional oriented international system. The unquestionable global correlations, along with the ongoing transformation of the industrial system, are opening new spaces where we need to rethink what it means to live in a globalized world today.
Towards a new era: the case of Italy
One of the strong signs that indicate the dawn of a new age is provided by the challenges, risks, and opportunities caused by the 4th Industrial Revolution. This impelling brand-new industrial turn needs to be carefully evaluated as it has wide-spread implications regarding global dynamics.
Among the European countries, Italy is facing hard-hitting challenges, and it is no surprise that the government, along with the most influential business actors, has recently taken the initiative to lead the country to embrace Industry 4.0. Last year, the General Confederation of Italian Industry (Confindustria) launched Fabbrica 4.0, a multi-disciplinary project where an Italian way of the revolution was explored. According to the final document presented by a recent governmental study, «the industrial system and infrastructural transformation is more than just an opportunity, it is a necessity, to ensure the competitiveness of Italy» (p. 90).
The challenges are many, but everyone agrees that the 4.0 scenario is asking for bigger companies, stronger global players, more flexibility in business models and diversification of investments. To answer the global challenges, the Italian companies need to grow, expand and be better equipped, while the small and medium-sized enterprises, of which there are many in Italy, has to be vigorously supported to make this transition sustainable for the economy.The virtuous examples provided by many Italian companies – like Algorithmic Research, Berto’s, Umana and others – are showing how the future is already here, and the possibilities are countless.
New business cultures call for integrated organisational models
The new phase is indeed a transformative revolution not only because of technological and digital breakthroughs, but also thanks to the success of integrated models and cultures. The future means: 1) the development of holistic business cultures, which are shaping a wide range of experiences, talents, and organisations; 2) the multiplication of collaborative partnerships and business networks among companies; 3) the transformation of companies in areas of research, training and education.
We can argue that the transformation of the industrial system is displaying two interconnected features: one is more technological and evolutionary, another is more organisational and comprehensive. Let’s look for instance at three exemplifying market transformations:
- The circular economy is causing a paradigmatic shift where products and manufacturing processes need to be managed with a unified approach. According to the EU commission the circular economy is affecting the companies as well as the citizens and demands radical changes for the economy, the social organisation, the consumer behaviors and the business models;
- The sharing economy is another massive shift that is hard to govern and manage which will require a broad-ranging analysis and review;
- The maker movement is instead an example of a growing bottom-up and multi-level economic culture, where the revival of craftsmanship is combined with digitalization processes and breakthrough technologies. The internet of things is opening up unique paths, where «long-standing traditions are melding with fast-emerging technologies, resulting in a myriad of innovations».
Circular systems, holistic phenomena, and blending processes are shaping an all-new, all different future for many industries.
Unified solutions for a new collaborative age
Coming back to the case of Italy, to embrace the opportunities means to design a new organisational approach with an emphasis on interdisciplinary understanding and more collaborative initiatives among companies, different economic actors and business players.
From our experience in transforming companies at Consulus, it is clear that this process is not easy, filled with challenges and anxieties. But without change, many businesses will not survive, resulting in more unemployment and destabilization. Change must begin but it must be undertaken strategically as certainly results cannot happen overnight.
Our experience tells us that there are 4 basic principles for change to be effective:
1) Change from a position of advantage
Every business has a certain existing advantage. A 360 business and organisation study must be conducted in order to assess its unique strength and to enhance that advantage with digital and design solutions.
2) Change requires unity of purpose
Any transformation exercise is a strenuous process filled with anxieties, so the company must be convinced of the purpose of change and what it means to everyone. It will be a battle and identifying the purpose will matter. We spend a lot of time doing this for companies to ensure that the will to succeed will not falter as the change process goes into a long stretch.
3) Change requires a new way of collaboration within the company
Obviously, roles will change but the industry 4.0 also means better collaboration. So is your company collaborating enough? To answer this question it will mean implementing new organisational principles and structures, which facilitate unity of actions from diversity of ideas and identities. It will take some time to get used to this, but from our experience, once the commitment is there, the return on investment is high.
4) Change requires giving a new meaning to products and services
Finally, Industry 4.0 will trigger reflection in all industries, while in the past it was more about quality now it will be more and more about our shared humanity and meaning. For this, the products and services must also inspire meaning in the lives of customers and result in collaboration and co-creation.
The achievement of a proper collaboration between idea, business and organisational culture is arguably the most pragmatic way to overcome these challenges and foster industry 4.0 innovative processes. Collaboration requires strong unity, open partnership and sustainability through strategy, and this is precisely the way to unlock the bright future anticipated by this coming industrial revolution. If companies are willing to think and act differently, then we can all expect the launch of a new Global Age for businesses.
Paolo Frizzi is the Country Director of Consulus Italy. He specializes in global dynamics with an emphasis on intercultural and interreligious development shaping globalization. He is also a professor at Sophia University Institute, post-graduate institute with an emphasis on trans-disciplinary methods of learning and practice.