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Developing effective strategies in the industry 4.0 age

360Leaders is one of the leading digital and technology executive search firms, and the talent partner of choice for some of the most well-known and fastest-growing global tech companies, including Ubereats, Box and Apple. A key element of Martin’s role is in providing strategic counsel to support tech companies at every stage of their lifecycle, from start-up to exit and ensuring they have the right people in the right roles at the right time. In addition, he advises major traditional corporations on their Digital Transformation strategies. Martin has specialist knowledge in building boards and management teams and devotes his time to the leaders of tomorrow by sharing advice and insights through keynote sessions and the 360Leaders CEO Academy.

Many C-suite execs are struggling to develop effective strategies in the age of industry 4.0. Are you seeing this and if so, why do you think this is the case?

Corporate companies are certainly under pressure to implement digital change. They’re either feeling the heat from their own board of directors, or from new innovative challengers disrupting the market. At 360Leaders, we’re seeing examples of this across many industry sectors.

A good example is the way that particularly traditional industries, like fish farming, are embracing industry 4.0 utilising IoT, AI and even face-recognition technologies to monitor developments. Also, the Oil & Gas industry is adopting AI to better predict health and safety issues before they happen.

Digital transformation to should be approached with caution. We have seen examples of major corporates overinvesting, resulting in restructures and huge losses. Approaching industry 4.0 needs to start with the leadership and the current business needs – then implementing simple technologies to ensure the organisation adjusts to digitisation.

With some clients, we’ve seen major changes. Some are even building innovation hubs – separate teams for talented developers to form new inventions in a space where creativity is encouraged. Corporate companies are also seeking to invest in start-ups, either to create a mutually beneficial partnership, or to achieve outright acquisition giving them the necessary digital edge.

What are the biggest challenges holding back the implementation of effective industry 4.0 strategies?

A lot of business leaders at board and C-level are very positive and even excited about digital change and industry 4.0. They’ve embraced the vision of integrating innovative technologies and business models which creates opportunities for new product and revenue streams.

One of the biggest challenges is culture. For some, it’s very difficult to move towards a lean, agile approach to business where it’s ok to fail as long as you fail fast and smart. Large organisations have no choice but to not fail. In addition, there is bureaucracy and politics to deal with, which slows down adopting new technologies.

Another challenge is trust, and the fact that most industry 4.0 technologies remains untested. To rely on big data sets from multiple IoT connections often combined with AI, this needs to be proven before the trust is established.

Finally, it might be that the overall goal of the company is not necessarily aligned with the new digital strategy. In contrast, for start-ups, digital is embedded in their DNA right at the beginning. For some businesses, it could be down to competence; existing teams may not have experience with digital leadership, and they need to appoint people to show them how it’s done.

This can go very well if the new hire is given autonomy and the organisation is aligned with their digital strategies and causes. The problem is when this doesn’t happen, it’s a bit like trying to attach a limb – it’s either rejected or adopted – and some companies are unable to successfully embrace change.

What are the best ways for executives to overcome challenges?

It’s important to find the right talent to lead you into the future, people with experience of digitalisation from start-ups, but also within corporations, which is where 360Leaders comes in.

We’ve worked with tech start-ups for nearly 20 years, so we’ve learned what works – we understand what it takes to build unicorns – but also the type of leaders who can adopt new technologies into a corporate. It’s easy for digital superstars to be swallowed up by big companies without empowerment, so we make sure that there is real buy-in. To really take off, successful innovation hubs should have a separate brand and enough funding. After all, innovation is not an exercise in profitability. 

We advise our clients to be mindful of the culture when it comes to recruitment. For talented developers, risk makes a workplace an attractive place to be. To do this, we coach executives to become digital leaders and encourage them to outplay the big names, like Google, at their own game when it comes to developing an attractive company culture.