Digital Dare

IR 4.0 for Idiots!

Late last year, I had the opportunity to attend a daylong workshop on IR 4.0 (The Fourth Industrial Revolution) where the speakers included a number of high-level government officials from multiple ministries and institutions. From their deliberation, I concluded that factors like connecting through Zoom/Google Meet, online approval of documents, and telecom connectivity are the key elements of IR 4.0. 

Listening to them took me back to memory lane in 1993 when I joined Unilever. That was the time when all accounts and finance function personnel were provided with a desktop for the first time. I observed and wondered why no one was using the desktop computer and instead opted to use the Printing Calculator.

I got my answer when I heard a conversation between the finance director (FD) and the business system manager (BSM). The FD was challenging the BSM, saying: "What kind of computer you have brought that can't do the calculations properly? The BSM was struggling to explain that the problem was more with the people and not with the computer.

And you can imagine how the discussion was not going anywhere. A few weeks later, I got to witness a similar discussion between the two. But this time the BSM proudly presented a book to the FD declaring with a smile that it would surely help him learn about computers. I peered over his shoulder to check the title of the book, which to my amusement, was "Computer for Idiots".

The facial reaction of the FD leaves little for the imagination! After 29 years, sitting at the workshop I wished I could present all the speakers a book titled "IR 4.0 for Idiots".

While the above is a fact, I know many like our ministers and high officials in the Posts and Telecommunications Division and the ICT Division have a very good understanding of IR 4.0 and its elements. Based on their knowledge and understanding, policies and infrastructures are being built.

But the gap of understanding between the smaller group in the relevant industry and the bigger group of other government officials is so huge that the engagement could potentially be totally dysfunctional.

The government has already set up 12 hi-tech parks and 4,176 Sheikh Russel Digital Labs with a view to creating digital infrastructure to achieve a software export target of $5 billion by 2025.

In addition, massive investments were made by telecom operators, internet service providers, nationwide telecommunication transmission network operators and others to create a digital highway. Now, the question is: "Are we ready to use this digital infrastructure? In order to use this infrastructure, we need high-quality IR-educated resources. What remains as a massive challenge is the lack of supply of resources with the knowledge of IoT (Internet of Things), AI (artificial intelligence), AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality), data analytics/data science, blockchain etc.

First of all, do we have a sufficient number of qualified teachers at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels of our education system?

The answer is, of course, negative, and unfortunately, there is no plan as such to address this except for a few initiatives here and there.

Despite such a huge investment by the government and the private sector, why are there such missing links in the execution?

In my view, it goes back to my first point that there are insufficient decision-makers in the government system who understand what IR 4.0 is, its potential or its application to fulfil the aspiring export revenue target as well as socioeconomic development.

In order to address the lack of resources issue as stated above, the education ministry with the support of other relevant ministries and agencies needs to take a 360-degree approach to educate and develop teachers who will take the responsibility of building the IR 4.0-compliant resources at different levels.

Industry 4.0 technologies positively affect the productivity of a domestic economy. Economies actively engaging with such technologies show faster growth in manufacturing and non-manufacturing value chains than other countries.

Importantly, such increases in productivity are associated with increases in employment. Early adaptation of it will take away the fear of losing jobs due to high levels of automation or digital adaptation.

The essential goal of Industry 4.0 is to make manufacturing and related industries, such as logistics, faster, more efficient and more customer-centric, while at the same time, going beyond automation and optimisation and detecting new business opportunities and models, including edutech, fintech, e-commerce, e-ride, data centre, smart factory/home/office.

One of the actions of other government ministries and agencies is to expedite the process of making our large young population educated in various branches of IR 4.0. In this regard, each ministry may force all its resources to have a foundation level knowledge through a simple certification course available globally till our local model is ready.

In addition, the private sector should be simultaneously encouraged as well through initiatives like fiscal incentives and investment-friendly education policies and guidelines, to name a few. Government investment alone is not enough to address the magnitude of the challenge that we have at hand.

IR 4.0 is an opportunity for Bangladesh to take the country to a new height after our success in macroeconomic indicators. The sooner we adapt to it with a proper understanding, the better our country will be able to reap its benefits to ensure socio-economic sustainability; or else, we will be overrun by other countries and lose the early bird advantage!

The author is a telecom and management expert.


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