SMEs to drive Industry 5.0

As I have talked about in previous posts, the move to a technology based environment has been accelerated rather than slowed up in the pandemic. Whether ordering online, or using a check-in app rather than writing down one’s details at every location visited, the ageing luddites have come into the 21st Century.

A month ago I arrived back in Kuala Lumpur and, as was my usual practice, I withdrew RM 1000 in local currency. One month on and most of it remains in my wallet. Suddenly Malaysia’s drive to a cashless society doesn’t seem so far fetched. Taxis are booked and paid for with no human interaction other than polite chat to the driver.

Check-in at malls, shops and restaurants is done with the mobile as QR codes at last become cool! A scan of a QR code on the restaurant provides the menu, and payment everywhere is completed by a tap of credit, debit or store card rather than having to hand it over. (No more dodgy waiters taking the card out back to copy down the details!)

There is therefore a tendency to think that the opportunities for new businesses and entrepreneurial adventures lies simply with the writing of a new app. Whilst the opportunity is there for new, tech savvy entrepreneurs to rise, there is much more than simply putting something on line.

It seems only yesterday that I was presenting on Industry 4.0, where we were looking at the opportunities for using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics to provide a more efficient and productive business environment. I well remember the enthusiasm of the university students as they imagined the opportunities facing them.

Equally, I well remember the concerns of the older members of the business community that were present as they considered the forecasts of massive job losses to the new technology. However, whilst AI and robotics have continued to have an impact in manufacturing, there is little evidence of robots in the everyday world. The only recognisable robot I have encountered so far has been one that delivers dim sum in a Chinese restaurant. (Unless you include R2D2 or 3CPO at the Christmas decorations here in Kuala Lumpur).

AI has clearly made an impact on other industries, but often in ways that could never have been carried out by humans. An example would be my booking of a taxi through Grab (the local Uber). In a matter of seconds, not minutes, I can identify my journey, be offered a choice of types of cars, told the price and a driver will be identified minutes away, with the driver’s name, car type, colour and registration. I can even see the car moving on the map as it approaches me and if difficulties arise I can communicate with the driver. None of this was possible in pre-AI days so no one gets made redundant.

What this is leading to is a step change from Industry 4.0 where jobs were made redundant, to Industry 5.0 where new technology opportunities are working hand in hand with humans to create a more complete experience. This enables the new technology to carry out tasks that were not possible using humans. This may be through managing large amounts of data in various forms or it may be the ability to consider many alternative solutions and their implications.

What this does do is to allow the human element in the workplace to use their intelligence to work with the new technologies. They apply their knowledge and their experience to the conclusions of the new technology. It also allows for the human to apply things that the new technologies may not be able to consider at this stage. This could include issues like improved customer service versus efficiency, or the implications of climate change issues,

So why is this an opportunity for entrepreneurial SME’s? For a long time it has been recognised that change within large companies is a bit like turning a tanker. It needs lots of space and time to achieve it! Equally, large companies are usually hierarchical and the decision makers are usually older and risk averse.

On the contrary, entrepreneurs are usually much younger, have much more knowledge of the emerging technologies and have less downside from taking risks. With good mentoring in business start up and development skills, the entrepreneurs of any country should become the true drivers of economic recovery post-pandemic.

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