Industry 4.0 promises to take over the world and it will also have an impact on the African countries. Dr Ahmed Shaikh, Managing Director of REGENT Business School, South Africa, an expert in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) was present in Mauritius for a Masterclass organized by YKBS at its Highlands campus. In this interview, Dr Ahmed Shaikh clearly indicates that Mauritius needs to embrace Industry 4.0. He also recommends a change in the education system.

Industry 4.0. is what we hear nowadays. As an Industry 4.0   expert,   how would you define this concept?

In the southern part of Africa, we need to understand the implications of Industry 4.0. We need to understand how it is disruptive and impacts business in fundamental ways. Firstly, it is creating a new kind of business known as platform businesses such as Uber, Alibaba, Amazon. These technologies are leading to the emergence of large corporations. It is definitely affecting the labour market. The new technologies are creating new jobs but at the same time destroying old ones. There are many sectors where computers are taking the jobs of people like banking, retail and health care. The impact of 4IR is changing the way human beings are interacting with others and the environment. So, even the nature of human beings is being impacted by technology.

Being a small island, do you believe Mauritius can embrace Industry 4.0?

It is absolutely imperative for Mauritius to embrace 4IR. It is essential to make sure that it is able to consider the global economy as accessible. Let us take the example of Singapore, which is a relatively small country. It is technology-advanced and is a significant part of the global economy. Even if Mauritius is a small country, this does not mean the impact should be small. One way in which the island can punch its way would be to embrace technology and encourage its young people to be digitally sound in their abilities.

Besides increasing output and productivity, we are also being able  to  use  human  beings for the things they are really good at, such as imagination, creativity and problem-solving.

What could be the challenges or difficulties when facing this new revolution?

The biggest issue is capacity building and skills training. Technology is becoming cheaper and accessible.   A big challenge is training for emerging markets such as South Africa and Mauritius. These markets must ensure that their people,  especially the youth, should be trained. Another issue will be to create a policy in the country that would protect industries. In the 4IR, data is important and it needs to be managed. Data security and cyber security are important issues to be addressed.

What are the implications of Industry 4.0 for Mauritian companies?

Companies around the world are globalizing and modernizing their machinery. Others are incorporating  AI. More examples are in engineering or manufacturing, where 3D printers are being used extensively for prototypes but also to manufacture.  It has become an effective way of manufacturing because it is rapid. Before you go to the market with the product, you are able to test it. It is extremely cost-efficient, as there is no wastage of materials. You can ensure its market relevance. Mauritius can benefit from it. The health care industry can also benefit.  Hospitals can deliver far more efficient treatment to patients. Now Robotics, which used to belong to the sphere of science fiction, has turned into our daily reality. For instance, robots are being used for surgery.

How will Industry 4.0 transform industrial operations from your perspective?

It will make productivity higher. It will increase output. If the training is done correctly, it will reorganize the labour force to more meaningful areas rather than being replaced by robots. Besides increasing output and productivity, we are also being able to use human beings for the things they are really good at, such as imagination, creativity and problem-solving. Importantly, for the market, people are constantly looking for customization. Industries are able to meet individual needs without going for large scale production. We are more in a demand economy and this is making business more efficient. With climate change, technology allows us to perform well.

Otherwise, Artificial Intelligence is deemed to redefine the job market as well as business activities. Is there an awareness around it, especially in the African region?

There is not sufficient awareness not just about AI but also things like cyberspace and big data. The fact is that people in our region do not know enough and how to deploy them into the industry. Businesses in sub-Saharan areas are not necessarily leveraging the potential of AI. We need to raise awareness at the most basic level. Besides, there is not sufficient training. In Southern Africa, we need to aggressively reskill and upskill the workforce. We should not lag behind but have a fair share of the benefits of 4IR.

With automation and decentralization, is there any fear of massive loss of employment?

There is a risk in the labour market if we do not reskill or upskill. Increasingly, globalized companies are moving towards other markets. For example, Amazon is able to move its services in a new economy overnight. To reskill, upskill and future proof are big challenges. We must not think it is a zero-sum game. We need to change our mindset.

Other concerns when talking about Industry 4.0 relate to cyber-security. How can companies be protected from cybercrimes?

The policy environment in any economy is important. The government, business, labour and other stakeholders have to come together to ensure data is protected. The breaches of data on social media are recurrent. The policy of the environment of protecting data is essential. We need aggressive training in data science and create more opportunities to learn about cyber security. Data science and analysis are new job opportunities.

The tipping point for Industry 4.0 is the Year 2025. What should we expect after that? Industry 5.0?

I use the term disruptive and exponential technologies. These two terms give you an idea of speed and velocity. This is what keep companies going on a daily basis. There are companies going out of business because of the way technology is being integrated. The speed and scale of disruption are not just that technology is changing quickly but the companies are losing the ability to adapt. Industry 5.0 is already the talk of the town. But we should understand that we cannot turn back the clock. We have to embrace new technologies and build our communities to be able to adapt. We have to introduce coding and robotics at the early childhood level.

Nafissah Fakun, News on Sunday 6th March 2020