Rethink Industry 4.0: Lessons learned after 3 years of Industry 4.0 experience

Back in 2013 when I started at IBM and I first heard about the topic of Industry 4.0 I was enthusiastic about the vision of a new industrial revolution. I had not much background in production, but I believed that the manufacturing industry was 20 years behind what IT guys like me do. What are Daimler, VW and BMW compared to Google, Netflix and Amazon? The one push new versions of their products weekly, the others yearly. Internet companies are agile and pivot, while production companies are six sigma, process focused. The internet companies have a return on invest much higher than any production companies. So the first conclusion was simple let us take the IT technology that made the Googles, Netflix, Amazons and Facebooks (the GNAFs) so successful and push it into production companies. Did this work? It did not. But why, the assumptions of a young industry entry like me were wrong. Where were I wrong?

  • It is not about technology it is about processes.
  • The reason the GNAFs are so successful is not technology but culture, automation and agility.

There were many more things I was wrong about, like the level of technology maturity production companies have reached, they are by far NOT 20 years behind! But all those are details compared to the two main misunderstandings above.
Was I the only one that was wrong? No I still see us pushing for IT solutions that go for technology but not the key reasons why the role models in the internet age are so successful. How can we expect german production companies become the GNAFs or better Apple’s of the production industry if we offer them technologies that are not used by the GNAFs because they do not fit their culture and hinder innovation and agility. You don’t think we do offer this to companies?

Well look at every Industry 4.0 reference architecture, it is a heavy layered combination of systems, from with most of them are not agile, not open and have release cycles of years. Then they have propriartary APIs, the need for month and years of consultancy to implement, they are complex and they hinder by there licensing models the design of resilient/antifragile architecture. This list goes on!

The key to be innovative and efficient like the GNAFs is to have agile process and software. Don’t built systems that can not innovate daily! You say the internet is something else than you have, that was what Kodak and many companies said: And they are out of business today, because someone thought, it is not something else and made the effort to prove it and make it work. So I urge us to rethink how our Industry 4.0 architectures, strategies and products look. And go for the lean approach. But let’s start with the most important thing first, agile culture: Let us not go back to the drawing board and rethink and design for a year how our agile culture, products and industry 4.0 vision looks: let’s start now doing it.

Leave me a comment or discuss with me on twitter @smaterindustry. What is your opinion, where am I wrong? Let’s discuss and bring Industry 4.0 forward!

Future articles will continue this one in the following weeks:

  • API Industry 4.0: A hypothesis put to the test as a starting point to implement this kind of Industry 4.0. This is not something new or revolutionary, it just something to try. Let’s start failing fast, learn and improve.
  • Role models: Where Germany manufacturing companies should look to “borrow” for their Industry 4.0 strategy
  • The german tragedy: What happens if we can change our culture

Contribution to Blogparade: #Blogparade zum Thema „Industrie 4.0: Chancen, Risiken, Ideen und Umsetzungen – was hat Deutschland zu bieten?”