Getting Educated For Industry 4.0

Cranefield College educates people to reach higher levels of organisational leadership


Cranefield College educates people to reach higher levels of organisational leadership, management and governance required for transition into the new world economic order of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Before and during the emergent Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) economy, Cranefield’s staff conducted extensive research and published ground-breaking articles on the subject globally, establishing the college as an educational leader in this field. According to Professor Pieter Steyn, the Principal at Cranefield College, Industry 4.0 is characterised by a range of new technologies, which are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, increasing digitisation and interconnection of products, value chains and business models.

“The world has now moved into a new economic dispensation and we’ve been preparing for it for a long, long time in terms of the research we’ve done over the years. Both of us saw it coming,” Prof. Steyn says, referencing his colleague, Professor Brane Semolic from the University of Maribor in Slovenia, founder of the Lens Living Lab research organisation based in the European Union and an external examiner at Cranefield. Prof. Semolic is also the past Chairperson of the Research Management Board of the global International Project Management Association (IPMA) on which both of them served for many years.

How their careers developed over time

Prof. Steyn left school at the age of 17 and applied to do an apprenticeship at Iscor (ArcelorMittal today).

“I always wanted to study engineering but I decided that it just made sense for me to first gain practical, hands-on experience. I did a four-year apprenticeship to qualify as a Millwright (electro-mechanical) artisan and during that time, also completed my first-year industrial engineering at the University of Pretoria”, he explains.

It was during his apprenticeship that he learnt about the importance of human relations—understanding people, their behaviours and relationships. He also holds an MBA and DCom in business economics.

Prof. Semolic started his career in a similar fashion as his colleague.

“I started mechanical engineering and thereafter, I continued industrial engineering and information technologies and actually, in the end, I finalised my PhD in Information and Communications Technology (ICT),” he says.

“All this knowledge you gain when you start from the shop floor where you are exposed to the technological processes, and then to understand the business and managerial processes, this enables you to understand the importance of leadership. “Grasping this and how to create value for all involved parties need to be harmonised like an orchestra—it’s crucial,” says Prof. Semolic who is an expert in managing virtual networks of partner organisations.

What is unique about the Industry 4.0 dispensation?

“The Industry 4.0 economy is very much centred on people, collaboration and building relationships in order to create successful virtual networks of partners”, Prof. Semolic continues.

Prof. Steyn explains that the complexity of today’s technologies, artificial intelligence, mass data and the internet of things calls for specialisation and sustainable collaboration among partnering organisations. He avers that competitiveness no longer depends on the optimisation of one’s own resources. It now relies on total inter-organisational value chain innovativeness and supportive partner technologies, products, services and systems.

“As organisations become more involved in virtual networks of partners in the Industry 4.0 economy, it will increasingly lead to accelerated organisational transformation and change.

“It’s very much a different ball-game and the leadership, management and governance of such structures also change, hence, you require profound transformational leadership in this new situation,” he says.

It, therefore, demands the introduction of new horizontally structured supply and value chain business models. Prof. Steyn says that virtual value chains shape organisations into strategic, collaborative, value-driven entities where non-core activities are performed by carefully-selected partners.

“A competitive edge is gained by collaboratively performing strategic activities more effectively and efficiently. This approach demands exceptional governance, supported by transformational leadership excellence and a systemic knowledge of applied programme management.

Effective and efficient cross-functional and inter-organisational management of project and supply chain programmes in virtual networks is a critical enabling competency for the Industry 4.0 economy,” he elaborates.

Prof. Semolic adds, “There’s a need to look beyond South Africa, so one needs to become globally competitive. Before, the focus was mostly on operations but today, it’s much more focused on innovation and the introduction of new technologies and you cannot do it by yourself.”

“The most critical element here is to first identify your key competencies, and then evaluate these to see where you stand in terms of being a regional and global player.

“All other things need to be partnered—this is in order to create a virtual value chain—horizontal and vertical virtual value chains.

“An organisation’s value system is a crucial element and when selecting your partners, it’s of paramount importance to select those that have the same or similar value systems to yours,” he adds.

“In order to make this work, no matter the industry, remember you are actually operating in networks of people and value systems and associated leadership role modelling become very important,” Prof. Steyn avers.

The imporance of transformational leadership

Coupled with those value systems of the various partner organisations, leadership excellence is of paramount importance in Industry 4.0.

“Leadership is very much about role modelling of organisational values, beliefs and guiding principles, and we need transformational leaders to fully understand the importance of not only changing the structure and the processes of the organisation, but also the behaviour of the people to reflect the new status quo, otherwise you will become unstuck.

“It’s no use you try to transform the organisation but there isn’t a ‘people mind shift’ towards the new dispensation,” Prof. Steyn explains.

At Cranefield, they teach transformational leadership in their programmes as continuous innovative improvement and performance are central to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. A shift from bureaucracy towards cross-functional knowledge-based learning organisations and systems thinking is essential.

Academia at Cranefield College

The college offers programmes specifically designed to serve the organisational leadership, management and governance needs of the Industry 4.0 economy where structures are moving more and more cross-functional.

All their academic programmes are available to students nationwide and globally. A Bachelor of Business Administration is currently in the accreditation process. Cranefield also offers a host of short courses.

“We’ve introduced what we call technology-enhanced distance learning, that’s our whole business model, and that means we brought a lot of flexibility and agility into our teaching. Although our mode of delivery is distance learning, we conduct classes at our auditorium in Midrand that are also streamed live online on the Internet all over the world.

“Moreover, our classes that are streamed live online are also recorded and stored in the cloud for the convenience of students who missed the live classes, or those who wish to attend it again. They can access the recordings of classes at any time via Cranefield’s high-tech learning management system. We practice what we preach,” Prof. Steyn enthuses.

He adds that all the college’s academic programmes and courses focus on achieving organisational value chain performance excellence through programme-managed cross-functional and inter-organisational supply chain and project portfolios that ensure effective and efficient differentiation, integration and collaboration of work generally shaped as virtual networks of partners, supported by transformational leadership.

Embracing the revolution

As innovation increases and technology becomes more advanced, many people fear job loss due to automation. However, Professors Steyn and Semolic believe in the exact opposite. Society will change and adapt, but while some professions or jobs will become obsolete, new ones will emerge through appropriate education, training and experience.

“Organisations will have to transform as we move into the future, they have no choice, and then as I said, the mindsets of people also need to change to reflect the new ways of doing things,” Prof. Steyn concludes. 

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