Industrial Revolutions and Productivity

Industrial revolution, Productivity | Sanjaya Ranasinghe on December 10, 2019

From the steam engine to the computer to Quantum Computing, the human race has been constantly exploring the boundaries of our capabilities. Experts have divided our recent history into Industrial Revolutions, and we are in the midst of Industrial Revolution 4.0 right now. 

This concept was first introduced in 2011 when it became clear that the disruption of new digital technologies – Big Data, the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence – was something greater than a mere extension of the 3rd Industrial Revolution. 

Earlier Industrial Revolutions had been characterised by a lull in productivity before a great leap forward. There is naturally a period of change, instability, and new developments before the new technologies stabilise. One recent area of great interest in the evolution of technology is the focus on us, the user, and our physical interaction and experience within the workplace. Industrial Revolution 4.0 offers unparalleled potential for improving end user interaction with our environment. 


What are the four industrial revolutions?

Industrial revolutions are when technology causes a profound change in how we live and work. There are no definite start and end dates and each revolution merges into the next. One thing is certain – each revolution arrives faster than the one before. 


number Revolution (18th century): The steam engine took us from the farm to the factory. This is the industrial revolution you learnt about at school. The locomotive expanded the distances we could travel while factory machines in textile mills and other industries changed how we work.


number2Revolution (19th century): The next decades were punctuated by floods of inventions. Electricity, combustion engines, and mass production (among others) exponentially increased how much we could produce. The second revolution set the foundation for modern life as we know it. 


number3Revolution (20th century): The next step was the transition to digital. Transistors and microprocessors paved the way for automation and robotics, and the computer. Digital systems allowed for ever more efficient processes, and entirely new ways for people to interact with machines. 


number4Revolution: (21st century): We are now living through the cyber revolution where interconnectivity is key. This cyber revolution consists of artificial intelligence, Big Data, the Cloud, the Internet of Things. In some ways it is an extension of the third revolution, but the scale, speed and level of disruption have led experts to class it as a revolution in its own right. Central to this is the focus on the way data is captured, measured and analysed on a scale far beyond what we have previously experienced.

The first revolution with productivity as a focal point?

At the heart of this revolution is data analysis and the ability to see patterns emerge. In this revolution more than ever, the user themself can be meticulously analysed. Focusing on measuring and analysing how the user interfaces with their environment can help to define how their productivity can be optimised.

In the manufacturing sector, it is easy to measure some of the productivity effects of the Industrial Revolution 4.0. E.g. how sensors allow predictive maintenance leading to a reduction in production line downtime. In the service economy, productivity is harder to measure. 

When productivity is no longer simply about how many widgets are being produced, we must decide how to measure the less tangible. We must learn how to quantify delivering better services, instead of more services. Across the board, productivity benefits become both harder to measure and harder to optimise. 

Consider the example of office temperature on productivity. A recent study showed that the optimal temperature for women to perform best was higher than their male counterparts. Could a better baseline office temperature be selected? Could a building be divided into warmer and cooler zones, depending on preference?  How much productivity could this translate to in business terms? Would this be negated by increased heating or cooling costs? Could we shrink focus even further, to optimise temperature for every worker?

Previously, this would have been nearly impossible to figure out. Now, with the Internet of Things, it is a real possibility. Improvements in machine learning and artificial intelligence could lead to performance and office temperature being analysed and quantified for example. In fact, connections between sensors and heating elements can carry out such changes intelligently. This is just a single example of many ways working environments are changing. The implications for customising the user environment to maximise productivity and comfort are profound. 


The opportunities for landlords

This ability to directly affect productivity through the office environment has driven landlords to think differently about their assets. How do people interact with their spaces, their machines, their colleagues? How can a building itself be optimised for productivity? Previously, this was considered the tenant’s responsibility, but progressive landlords see opportunities to give themselves a market advantage. Tenants are starting to expect high levels of flexibility and analytics as part of their tenancy agreement – landlords are keen to prove the incredible spaces they provide have a positive impact on productivity. 

Enabling a more productive workplace is about landlords offering more services to tenants via more tenant-facing technology rather than more people-power.

In practice, this could mean a range of new and current technology. Smart lights and thermostats to optimise each room for its occupants, intelligent scheduling of meeting rooms and shared spaces, and of course, fast and reliable connections to pull everything together.  


The new becomes the expected

At this point in time, we know big changes are coming, but we don’t yet know quite the form they will take. There will be many missteps, backtracks and alternative paths on the road ahead. In the lull before a big jump, we are still getting to grips with the new developments, still experimenting with prototypes before the core revolution technologies emerge. 

One thing is for certain, what starts as new and groundbreaking soon becomes commonplace and expected. Consider electricity, computers, air-conditioning, and the internet were all ground-breaking once. Now, no office is without them. 

As the new developments of Industrial Revolution 4.0 become more integrated into our daily lives, they will become expected necessities of both commercial and residential buildings. Landlords must keep informed of the latest developments and business trends. With knowledge of what is gaining the most traction, they can ensure their buildings remain attractive to the current generation of tenants. 



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