The fourth industrial revolution will demand speed and leadership - IMD Business School
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The fourth industrial revolution will demand speed and leadership

May 2020

Ahead of his keynote address 23rd June 2020 at IMD’s inaugural OWP liVe – an innovative virtual learning experience – Jim Hagemann Snabe, Chairman of Siemens and A.P. Moller – Maersk, considers critical trends that businesses cannot afford to ignore.

Jim Hagemann Snabe has been at the frontlines of the digital transformation ever since he started his career three decades ago at SAP. Today, in his role as Chairman of Siemens, he oversees the German multinational conglomerate’s journey to meet the unique demands of the 21st century.

Under Snabe’s chairmanship, Siemens launched its Vision 2020+ strategy program in August 2018 to chart its course into an innovative future. It has one eye on the fourth industrial revolution and another on the profound changes that technology will bring to all strata of business

In the near future, the Siemens group will consist of three companies – Siemens AG, Siemens Healthineers AG and Siemens Energy. “You could say that Vision 2020+ is a blueprint for the conglomerates of the future,” Snabe explains.

“The goals for every Siemens business are greater speed and profitability, and stronger growth. The expectation is that, as specialized companies, Siemens businesses will hold leading positions in multiple sectors: manufacturing and processing, infrastructure, transport, healthcare and energy. They will all drive sustainability and digitalization,” he says.

Central to the strategy is agility and, as the speed of technological change outpaces traditional strategy scenarios, this is a key criterion of the transformation:

“For well over a century, diversified companies – or conglomerates – were powerful engines of economic progress. Today, however, the scope and speed of change have radically increased. The size of a company and the efficiency of its processes no longer guarantee success, whereas speed and flexibility count. It follows that conglomerates must reinvent themselves to remain relevant,” he states.

As part of Siemens’ reinvention, the company has fully embraced digitalization. In Siemens’ Bavarian factory in Amberg, for instance, artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) technology have been successfully leveraged in order to increase productivity by predicting, and therefore deflecting, potential bottlenecks in the manufacturing process.

In the future, according to Snabe, “AI will help entire factories self-organize – for instance, to help reconfigure manufacturing processes to shift from one product to another, find solutions to unforeseen events, resolve interruptions or reduce the consumption of energy and other resources.”

He adds, “All this will greatly improve the flexibility and speed of our factories. Put another way: AI will make products more individualized and eco-friendlier.” Technology, in his view, offers the opportunity to meet the needs of the planet, people and business – ensuring a triple-win of sustainability, relevance and profitability.

While AI and IoT hold great promise and potential, there is a growing global awareness of their less-desirable attributes. Big Tech companies are perceived as placing profits before principles and the notion of data mining for commercial gain – its negative impact on privacy and trust – are increasingly seen as deeply problematic corollaries of technological progress.

As a member of the Board of Trustees at the World Economic Forum, Snabe is a leading voice in its support for the Tech for Life movement. This initiative came about in the wake of the Copenhagen Letter, which saw 150 global tech professionals, philosophers, academics and business leaders come together and call for accountability, sustainability and a person-centered focus in technological development. Its core principles are that technology must:

  • Make a positive contribution to society
  • Enhance the lives of its users
  • Create opportunities for all
  • Respect and enhance human rights
  • Keep human beings at the center at all times

“Tech for Life” is also the title of Mr. Snabe’s new book, to be published in May 2020. “Never have so many powerful technologies been available to humanity”, he explains. The question is: what will we do with this power? This is what Tech for Life is all about. Technology gives us the opportunity to meet humanity’s greatest challenges. It’s up to us to seize this opportunity.”

Jim Snabe will give a keynote address at IMD’s inaugural OWP liVe, on 23rd June 2020. He is looking forward to sharing his insights and questions with the delegates present.

“There are so many questions to address,” he says. “How can we make sure technology benefits society? How can we make digital technologies more secure? How can we use technology to make business more responsive to the needs of customers – and of society?”

And the list doesn’t end there. What technologies will enable us to make the global economy more sustainable? How can businesses balance profitability, growth, sustainability and inclusiveness? Snabe hopes to provide answers to some of these questions.