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What does the “fourth industrial revolution” mean for Britain’s businesses?

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With breakthroughs in areas like artificial intelligence, robotics, biotechnology and autonomous vehicles, it is unsurprising that digital transformation was at the centre of debates between business leaders and politicians at Davos in January this year.

Technology has transformed the way we live, work and connect with each other. We are living in a world where we can control our home’s heating remotely from our mobile phones, pay for goods using digital currencies, and even “visit” a tropical island using a virtual reality headset in our living rooms.

As the fourth-industrial revolution takes hold, the impact on businesses, people, and government is seemingly endless. Entire markets across almost every industry are being transformed.

While the rate and scale of change can at times be frightening, businesses cannot afford to sit still and hold on to the past. Instead, they should embrace change and use these developments as an opportunity to re-examine the way they run their business and assess what new opportunities exist.

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Disruption and opportunity

Private hire is a classic example of an industry that is undergoing rapid and sweeping change today. Technology is bringing greater convenience and lower costs by removing both common problems such as not having cash on hand to pay for a taxi, and sources of expense including telephone operators.

In recent times, Uber has been portrayed as both the poster child for this new breed of digital businesses and the harbinger of doom for black cabs, undercutting rivals with a cheaper service.

However, this isn’t just about price. Uber and other companies like it succeed by harnessing technology to offer greater convenience to customers and to challenge the status quo of established ways, as customer expectations change and new market opportunities emerge.

By-and-large, businesses like Uber that are at the leading edge of the fourth industrial revolution and do this by creating technologies that fulfil a simple need via mediums that keep costs low and by entering markets where heavy investment is not required.

However, this is an area where more established businesses often face difficulties. Shackled by corporate expectations, businesses can struggle to be as agile and innovative as startups.

Yet, while changing with the times should be encouraged, businesses should not lose sign of their assets and reason for being, as they fight to bat away challengers and hold onto and grow market share.

Read more on the next page for how companies can “do an Uber” to improve customer experiences, while being aware that no business should invest in technology for technology’s sake.

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