February 22, 2021

COVID-19 has required many industries to reconsider and accelerate their use of technology with many transitioning to remote work to continue operating while ensuring the safety of their employees. This has many questioning if offices are no longer relevant, shifting society from Industry 4.0 and into a new phase, Industry 5.0.

Lee Coulter, Chair, IEEE Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) Working Group is watching the trends to see the impact on our technology and standards. He’s observing how Software-Based Intelligent Process Automation (SBIPA) technologies are in our current Industry 4.0 and worked with the Standards for Intelligent Process Automation group to create specific standards that bring clarity, consistency and objective guidance around implementation, deployment and management of the technology.

“SBIPA encompasses a whole family of intelligent automation, including robotic process automation (RPA), and various platform spaces such as artificial intelligence (AI), cognitive computing, autonomics and machine learning. These related technologies all are designed to help businesses and governments improve performance and lower costs,” explains Coulter in the article.

We asked Coulter to share his insights on how industry 5.0 will change our workplaces for good and the technologies that will bring this change to light.

IEEE: What is the difference between industry 5.0 and industry 4.0?
Lee Coulter: The notation of “#.0” with respect to “industry” generally refers to a period of time in which humanity materially advanced due to technology innovation and invention. To help provide some context on which industry epoch we are in, the industrial revolution was industry 2.0. The computer/information revolution was industry 3.0, and the automation age we are in now is industry 4.0.

Today, we have handheld devices that access massive amounts of cloud computing capacity to perform machine learning-derived analytics on big data sets that reveal insights no human could produce. All of this is connected by 4G/5G to cloud infrastructure, then analyzed by machine learning models and presented to the user with nearly magical accuracy and timeliness. For example, the abilities maps [applications] have to tell you how long your commute home is likely to be if you leave 30- or 60-minutes into the future, or suggest alternative routing when a crash occurs, are examples of the convergence of technologies and an early example of industry 5.0

The separation between industry 4.0 and 5.0 requires deliberate evaluation and is very specific to a given technology/capability area. The nature of exponential advancement today is that things are moving so quickly, the move from what we would call industry 4.0 to industry 5.0 occurs in as little as one or two years. It will only be with a historical analysis performed in the future that humanity will be able to try to declare when we moved from one industrial era to another. To say it another way, industry 5.0 refers to a combination of advanced industry 4.0 technologies assembled in a way that creates a digital assistant with which humans can easily interact.

See also How Automation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution is Affecting Your Everyday Life

IEEE: How do you imagine future workplaces and offices to be now that COVID-19 has sped up our technology advancements? Can you name some specific technologies that are considered to be in the “industry 5.0” category?
LC: First, let’s separate the workplace from the workspace. Until recently, these two ideas were synonymous. Everybody “went to work.” However, the separation of the two has been slowly happening for about 40 years, and like so many other things, it is on an exponential curve. Steady advancements in telephony and telecommunications added with ever-improving telepresence capabilities have now created a very clear distinction between workplace and workspace. The response to the pandemic created a focus on how to enable a billion people to immediately change their workplace while creating a functional enough digital workspace to get their work done. It helps, as well, that so many relevant disruptive technologies were ready for major adoption.

Just five years ago, high-speed, multi-point video communication was reserved for large, deep-pocket megacorporations. Now it is in the hands of most of the developed world, almost for free. To this, add holographic display technologies that are in their relative infancy and virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality goggle systems already in their second generation. Finally, tie it all together with ultrafast 5G connectivity being rolled out worldwide. Voila, the ability to “go to the office” when the office is a digital replacement for the office of old is happening right now.

This will extend beyond the information worker. Partial physical remote presence is happening now. A workforce can be mixed and businesses can create a workspace that accommodates this new way of work in almost any reasonably network-connected location (remember that 5G is rapidly becoming ubiquitous). The convergence of these technological vectors is enabling the complete separation of workplace and workspace. We are taking the first steps in a truly remote presence capability.

IEEE: What are the risks or disadvantages of technology being utilized in the workplace?
LC: I was on a panel recently talking about the future of work. The moderator asked me what the top challenges business will be struggling with in 2021. My top answer: culture. Second to that was IT and IT security. Most of the panelists agreed top on the list will be culture once you remove the sector-specific business risks.

IEEE: How can we overcome these risks or disadvantages?
LC: For IT and data security, I recommend a fresh risk assessment. They should be part of every IT group’s annual control and audit planning. Request a fresh one. Focus on where new applications are being deployed or data would be moving or reside somewhere new. For all of the new cloud services you use, take a new look at the contract for the security certifications. Ask for current copies and a conversation with “new and now” key vendors. Don’t be shy in expecting full and current certifications and testing results. Talk to your favorite management consultant and find out about where others are getting stung. If you are like many and outsource key parts of security management, then arrange for periodic meetings at least once a month, to review trends and your specific initiatives.

I think it’s an exciting time to see how the workspace will evolve. This kind of change materially impacts the person-to-person interactions and creates new pressure on living up to the values in your corporate mission. This change is here with more to come in the next few years. Helping people through the change is a big part of the work to be done. With all of this fantastic capability comes new systems and new data. We are sitting squarely in industry 4.0 with 5.0 coming quickly on our heels.


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