• The majority of business executives believe Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies can help protect their company from economic slowdowns.
  • Consumers would be more comfortable with these advanced technologies if they had greater control over their use and assurances of how their data would be utilised.
  • As 4IR’s automation of tasks and processes becomes more pervasive, many employees may fear for their jobs.

Like the electricity we take for granted, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is permeating all facets of our lives. We may not realise it, but 4IR encompasses many of our digitally connected products and services, as well as advances in smart factories and cities, and the ever-increasing level of automation in our homes and offices. With some 7 billion connected devices now in use,1 we’re living in a hyper-connected world — one powered by essential technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), advanced data analytics, and blockchain.

To understand how 4IR is playing out in our homes, offices, and towns, PwC conducted a global survey of 6,000 consumers and 1,800 business executives. What we discovered is that while these technologies are ushering in substantial benefits for businesses, they are also raising serious privacy and job-security concerns among consumers and employees. 

Can 4IR tech
bulletproof business?

As worries over a slowing economy persist, many businesses believe Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies could serve as a shield. In fact, 63 percent of the executives polled in the 4IR survey agreed that the tech “provide[s] protection against economic downturns” through improved efficiencies, operational performance, and increased productivity. Even more impressive, the execs reported that these technologies can give them a competitive advantage, create new revenue streams, automate routine tasks, and accelerate research and product development. Graph: 4IR drives efficiency gains

These executives also expect 4IR to have a positive impact on other aspects of the business. They agreed that it increases the value of their company’s products and services, and promotes more efficient production, business operations, and customer interactions.

Why consumers
are conflicted

In contrast, the consumers surveyed seemed to be experiencing an ambivalent relationship with digital technology. Seventy percent surveyed said these Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies made their lives easier, yet 68 percent are concerned about the collection of their data, as well as potential assaults on their privacy and security. This dilemma is central to the larger issue of technology’s trustworthiness.

Consumers are particularly uncomfortable with technologies that track their locations. Nevertheless, many said they are willing to share their information if it will improve their or their family’s safety and security, or improve their health or the quality of their life. 

Graph: Customers willing to share private data

To win consumer trust, companies need to overcome concerns about these technologies by clearly explaining how they are using and securing personal data. This involves embedding privacy and data security into tech devices and infrastructure right from the start, being transparent about what data is being collected and how it’s being used, and giving consumers more control over how these technologies — and their data — are used. Such measures would foster greater consumer trust in both existing and future generations of products and services.

A critical trust question for businesses to address is, How do we make our technology responsible? What will make consumers more comfortable with sharing information via connected products that collect personal data? The answer: Greater control over the use of these products and related services, more transparency from companies producing them, and assurances that their data will be protected and used appropriately.

Graph: Customers want control and transparency

Workplace ups
and downs

On the good-news front, both employers and employees agree that the Fourth Industrial Revolution has helped enhance the work environment. Eighty-one percent of business executives said these technologies lead to greater efficiencies, the 4IR survey found. Most employees, in turn, acknowledged that 4IR is contributing to a better work experience by saving time, enabling them to work anywhere, improving their organisational skills and productivity, and providing a better work-life balance. 

Graph: Steps to consider champion

However, when it comes to its impact on jobs, employers and employees view things differently. Nearly half of employees in our 4IR survey were concerned about their job security. In contrast, even though half of the business executives admitted that they expected some job losses, 69 percent believe this tech will also create new jobs. In fact, about a third said training and upskilling employees was their top priority for integrating 4IR into their workplace successfully. 

This employer-employee dialogue comes at a time when businesses and governments are increasingly concerned over the prospect of automation replacing jobs. The World Economic Forum estimates that through 2022, 75 million jobs will be displaced by a shift from human to machine labor. However, it also forecasts that 133 million new roles may be created — roles that will require employees to adapt to a new division of labor among humans, machines and algorithms.2

The message for all businesses is clear: Employers need to listen to worker concerns and then actively and transparently address how advanced technologies will affect job roles and career security.

That requires companies to first determine what the business seeks to accomplish and then provide personalised learning that gives employees upskilling opportunities that can help them achieve the company’s objectives. This innovative approach involves a broad cultural shift that requires businesses to include employees in the design and planning of all major technology implementations. 

Listen, learn
and adapt

As consumers and employees continue to embrace Fourth Industrial Revolution innovations, executives need to translate those innovations into business value. To do that, they need to understand and address the trust concerns associated with these advanced technologies 

If companies don’t deal with consumer concerns about security and privacy, they risk losing customers to more forward-thinking competitors. And if they ignore employee concerns, they risk having to deal with worker disinterest or reluctance when they adopt new technologies. 

To avoid these unwanted outcomes, check out the consumer and employee sentiments in the 4IR survey, which provides guidance that can help ensure the success of an effective, inclusive, responsible deployment of these technologies.


Contributor Steve Pillsbury


Steve Pillsbury

Steve is the digital operations leader at PwC US, heading up operations and strategy engagements for manufacturers. 

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