Rise of the connected worker and transformation of UAE’s industrial sector

Future-proofing the industrial sector will pay rich dividends for Connected Workers

In March, the United Arab Emirates announced an ambitious plan to position the country as an industrial powerhouse by 2030 by leveraging the power of advanced technologies across a range of sectors. By doubling down on technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, cloud computing, blockchain and biotechnology as part of what it calls Operation 300Bn, the country aims to more than a double industrial contribution to its GDP from the current $36 Billion to $86 Billion by 2031.

Among the economic sectors being prioritised are petrochemicals, metals, plastics, space, biotechnology, food, water, healthcare, manufacturing machinery and equipment, electronics, and clean and renewable energy. Along the way, the UAE expects to strengthen its place in the global knowledge economy by boosting research and development while encouraging investors to Make it in the Emirates.

Similar strategies have been enacted by other governments across the world as the benefits of these breakthrough technologies – often referred to as the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – become apparent and are beginning to reshape the way we live and work and communicate. From Uganda and Saudi Arabia to the ASEAN countries and the UK, 4IR technologies are expected to play a key role in future-proofing economic output in a post-Covid world.

Thirteen countries around the world run 4IR centers aimed at piloting new approaches to technology adoption and governance with potential applications across a range of fields from smart factories and predictive maintenance to personalised solutions in education, medicine, and healthcare.

On the one hand, 4IR technologies have a significant role to play in creating entire new industries – such as the role of 3D printing in manufacturing or the development of new pharmaceutical solutions thanks to biotechnology. On the other hand, 4IR technologies are transforming legacy operations into truly modern, connected enterprises.

In manufacturing alone, the Industrial Internet of Things is refashioning the entire value chain by digitalising asset and operational lifecycles to facilitate the exchange of data between connected industrial equipment, processes, and users. Analysing this data using machine learning technologies uncovers efficiencies across the business, leading to lower costs, maximum asset performance and sustainable enterprises.

The impact of this new industrial revolution goes beyond innovation in products and services and the consequent income boost for their host economies. As digital technologies permeate every aspect of our lives, 4IR technologies could unleash significant lifestyle improvements for people around the world.

Beyond potentially bringing billions of people into the global economy and providing access to products and services in new markets, this digital-led transformation will change the way we live and work and allow us all to learn and earn in new ways, while potentially leading to a more equitable and sustainable society.

In a world where digital technology plays the role of enabler, we are already living and working in ways that are unrecognisable from the pre-pandemic era. When cross-functional teams can get together to create, build and launch a product while collaborating remotely, expertise based on years of experience will gradually be replaced by a new digital skillset.

The trend coincides with a cyclical evolution of the workforce: the first true generation of internet-connected natives – Generation Z – has begun to report to work. With their unique perspective on success at work, members of this generation expect to be able to use digital technology to cut across silos, hierarchies, and geographies to collaborate on projects aimed at the greater good.

Having come of age in the era of social media, this generation understands the importance of algorithms and how to work with them. In an environment where workers already see technology as a partner, the digitalisation of industrial processes, therefore, becomes a prerequisite.

Professionals across the value chain – from creators to engineers, operators, and managers – will demand to be equipped with data, analytics, automation, and predictive guidance to be able to accomplish their tasks reliably and efficiently, both in their personal capacities and as part of digitally connected teams.

Simply put, these Connected Workers – across generations – will solve problems remotely by tapping into smart data and organisational knowledge to generate lasting value. McKinsey estimates that digital collaboration could potentially unlock more than $100 Billion in value in part due to productivity boosts of up to 30%.

Forward-thinking organisations are already deploying Connected Worker strategies to increase operational efficiency, safety, and sustainability. By applying Industry 4.0 technologies to connect shop floor to top floor for the oversight of operational performance and asset performance at its Batam, Indonesia site, Schneider Electric was able to improve operational efficiency through real-time performance tracking and digital escalation for faster decision making.

The result was 44% less downtime, 40% increase in on-time delivery for customers and 21% energy savings achieved. The site has now been recognised as a 4IR Lighthouse for best practices by the World Economic Forum and a model for Schneider’s wider smart factory program. At the same time, the transformation has impacted workplace culture at the site. By improving data transparency, teams have more trust in the data, leading to more trust between the individual workers.

80% of the global workforce already has no desk, with mobile jobs in the field and on the floor, according to a Harvard Business Review report. These first-line workers will soon be joined by a new generation that expects technology to mirror their personal lives by supporting them in every aspect of their jobs. Industrial organisations and countries must respond accordingly or risk being left behind.

In that context, moves by the UAE and other countries to champion 4IR-led industrial growth is more than a strategy to build global leadership, advanced digital technologies promise to unlock social value for the connected workforce.

Future-proofing the industrial sector will pay rich dividends for Connected Workers
Dr Tariq Aslam, Head of MEA, AVEVA.