Why Britain must lead the fourth industrial revolution


Today we’re announcing the findings of the business led industrial digitalisation review, which has been branded as ‘Made Smarter UK’. Its aim, to set out the basis for how the UK can lead the fourth industrial revolution.

The work is the product of eight months work, led by a team of UK CEO’s from businesses large and small and it has been a privilege to lead the work. We have taken contributions from over 200 organisations including our world leading Universities, the CBI, Royal Academy of Engineering and our British R&D Catapult centres.

So why is this important, and why now? Firstly, we are at a critical juncture in politics and business. Brexit dominates the agenda and there are increasing uncertainties. The prospect of rising interest rates and inflation haunts consumers. Inward investment is becoming increasingly difficult. Short term challenges threaten to derail how the UK plans for the long term, and invests in the technologies that will help industry and specifically manufacturing thrive over the next two decades. As business leaders we have therefore focused on this very positive and tangible piece of work and not the short term uncertainties. We believe that we desperately need to have a long term economic vision for the country – regardless of Brexit, regardless of political instability and economic volatility.

Our review into digitalisation tries to address this need for a UK technology vision. We have concluded that the Government’s industrial strategy will need a red thread of digital running through its core. It will not be about reviving long gone industries but rather it will be about building the new ones, in AI, virtual reality, big data, machine learning, simulation platforms – the merging of creative digital tech and industrial tech. This will form a new vibrant and growing ‘creation sector’; creating digital tech, software, algorithms, digital media, games and many agile digital factories. Our proposals focus on how the UK can use these technologies and strengths to improve productivity, wages and the number of jobs in the economy. Industrial digitalisation could boost UK manufacturing by £455bn, increasing sector growth up to 3% per year; creating a net gain of 175,000 jobs whilst reducing CO2 emissions by 4.5% – and we think there could be a huge growth new jobs and businesses specialising in the new digital technologies of the future. Put simply, the opportunity is huge, and that is why countries across the globe are racing to invest in this new industrial revolution.

The UK however is being held back by a history of chronic underinvestment in innovation and skills, so we have identified a series strategic challenges government and industry must overcome.  The challenges include the need to increase the speed of adoption of industrial digital technologies, faster innovation of these same technologies, combined with stronger and more ambitious leadership to transform British industry.

For adoption we need a stronger national digital ecosystem. Government and industry should create a significantly more visible and effective ecosystem that will accelerate the innovation and diffusion of industrial digital technologies into manufacturing. We are proposing a National Adoption Programme piloted in the North West which as region has inherent technology strengths. Additionally we think we need to up-skilling one million workers to enable digital technologies to be deployed and successfully exploited through a Single Industrial Digitalisation Skills Strategy. To innovate the UK must re-focus the existing innovation landscape by increasing capacity and capability through 12 new ‘Digital Innovation Hubs’, eight large scale demonstrators and five digital research centres focused on developing new technologies part of a new National Innovation Programme. To strengthen leadership, business has called for the creation a national body, the Made Smarter UK (MSUK) Commission, comprising industry, Government, Academia, FE and leading Research and Innovation organisations, responsible for developing the UK as a leader in Industrial Digitalisation Technologies (IDT) and skills.

Industry is committed to working in partnership with Government to revive UK manufacturing, and firmly believes that only this combined package of measures, that go beyond business as usual and historical offerings, will achieve the level of ambition needed for the UK to be a world leader of the fourth industrial revolution. Britain made its way in the world by being at the forefront of the first industrial revolution in the 19th century. It capitalised on the second by leading in methods of mass production in the early 20th century. Somehow in the 1970’s we lost our way and missed out on the revolution of automation that countries like Germany embraced much better than we did. Now is the time to leap ahead and fully immerse the UK in digital – that way we won’t miss this fourth industrial revolution and be waiting with baited breath for a fifth. It’s down to today’s innovators and business leaders to get involved; to work in partnership with the public sector to ensure more longer-term thinking, and make sure all businesses invest and innovate to create a digitally led industrial Britain. My call to action to Government and the business community is to come together to embrace these proposals, as something positive we can get behind. Focusing on the long term challenge of embracing this new industrial revolution is vital if Britain is to succeed economically this century.

You can find the full review report here

1 thought on “Why Britain must lead the fourth industrial revolution”

  1. Thanks Juergen,
    Having only just discovered your blog I’m really enjoying sifting through your past posts … I have finally discovered a ‘visionary spirit’ that I certainly resonate with.

    In my humble opinion Brexit, and it’s possible ramifications with respect to traditional import/export industry may just be that catalyst we have been waiting for.
    One that forces the powers that be, to seriously recognise ‘informational, analytical and digital’ initiatives as an extremely valuable commodity, unencumbered to a large degree by geographical borders, time zones and economic/commercial bottlenecks.
    Diluting the Brexit effect and/or protecting against similar in the future … maybe?

    The challenge I perceive will be one of not only establishing more forums to attract the new generation of creatives, but providing a complimentary platform deployed with careful consideration their motives. One that plugs into their collaborative nature, and where joint-ownership of intellectual expression displaces the myth of innovation being the sole property of the incumbents.
    Unlike preceding generations, they thrive on a weird blend of collective independence more so than in my day when compliance was more the order of the day (after all, what other generation can crowdsource an entirely new gender 😊 )

    Sorry for the long post, just thinking out loud really

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