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How the Industrial Internet of Things will affect the future workforce

From the connected vehicle to wearable devices, there is growing recognition that the Internet of Things will change our lives. But perhaps more important is the rise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Defined as the rapidly expanding network of connected smart devices and objects, the IIoT enables huge amounts of data from physical objects to be used to automate tasks or generate new services. It will also mean greater personalisation of customer experiences, generating new business opportunities as a result. 

The potential benefits for business are significant: research by Accenture suggests that the IIoT will support the creation of new products, services and markets, with the potential to boost the GDP of the world’s 20 largest economies by $14.2 trillion by 2030. In the UK alone we estimate that the IIoT will add US$300 billion to GDP by the year 2030. That could rise to $531 billion, should investments increase and greater efforts be made to improve the underlying enabling factors in the economy.      

The agrochemical industry provides a good example to help us understand how the IIoT could generate this level of growth. Companies in this sector could branch out from selling products by making use of climatic and geological data to earn revenue from guaranteed yields for specific crops in certain locations.

Another example could be for plane engine manufacturers to monitor engine performance in flight to pre-empt maintenance issues, thus reducing air travel delays.

What these examples also show is that the IIoT can enable what Accenture calls the ‘outcome economy’, in which workers create more varied and bespoke options for customers based around new experiences that go beyond the original product or service.

A steel company in Maryland is already benefiting from this kind of workforce transformation by using automation, robotics and analytics to create a safer and more engaging work experience, as well as improve productivity and quality. The investments made in digital have enabled the company to significantly increase its hourly pay and recruit more employees due to the rise in demand.

The technology has the potential to empower workers by providing data on how customers are interacting with products, enabling virtual teams to experiment with technologies to produce prototypes and tweak product design more quickly. Innovation should become more spontaneous than it is today.

In addition, employees will be able to deal with exceptions flagged by data to resolve challenges faced by customers, and to design more tailored approaches. For this reason, individual talent will become more important in the IIoT-enabled world.

Given the vast potential of the IIoT, the development of work-specific skills will be a major factor in whether the next wave of digital innovation can be harnessed to achieve growth and boost competitiveness. New jobs, such as digital robot design, healthcare analytics and software development, will require new skills. Schools will need to change what is taught so that people entering the workplace will be able to perform the kinds of jobs that will emerge.

Businesses and governments will also need to recognise the generational transformation in the workforce that the IIoT will drive. But with 72% of CEOs and business leaders surveyed by Accenture saying their companies have no firm plans around IIoT, and just 7% having developed a comprehensive strategy, there is a long way to go.

The benefits that the Industrial Internet of Things could bring for economies, businesses and workers are clear, but in order to reap the rewards businesses must step up their efforts to foster change in preparation for this next technology wave.

Payal Vasudeva is the managing director of talent and organisation at Accenture in the UK and Ireland