Jun 06 2022

Why Industry 4.0 Practices Will Matter to the Federal Government

Automation, machine learning and AI change manufacturing methods, and agencies may reap the benefits.

For technology end users, Industry 4.0 is a nearly invisible revolution. It doesn’t involve the construction of massive factories, the invention of new energy sources or increasingly small but powerful devices.

Instead, it’s a change happening well behind the scenes, as goods and services are manufactured and sold with the help of artificial intelligence, machine learning, automation, microservices and other technologies that are becoming more mainstream every day.

These new capabilities are funneling even more technology into the market — and that technology is simpler and more efficient for the end user to deploy and operate, not to mention faster to develop and bring to market. Processes that took months or years are in some cases down to hours and minutes.

So, if most of the Industry 4.0 action is taking place on the manufacturing side and is complete before a product reaches a consumer, why does a consumer — in this case, the federal government — need to know anything about it?

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New Technologies Mean New Federal Workflows

This is why: In an Industry 4.0 world, a product is less a product than it is a technology ecosystem. Certain capabilities once performed by humans in the design and manufacturing process may be automated. Manufacturing facilities themselves may be automated or connected to outside networks; HVAC systems, for example, may report changes in temperature or energy usage to an offsite vendor or a utility company.

These process changes can fog visibility into the technology supply chain. Who programmed the robotic process automation that sorted the incoming data? Where does the vendor’s network connect besides my agency? Who vets the patches that provide system upgrades?

It matters, not only to the agencies, but to all the organizations they trust as part of their secure supply chain. This will be a new way of working, the way things will be in the future, and everyone along the supply chain needs to understand it.

These new methods promise upgraded readiness and effectiveness across all agencies. The ingrained automation and more accessible technology should make it easier to use, even for a team with gaps in its IT knowledge.

LEARN MORE: Microservices are speeding up services in the federal government.

The industry, for example, has begun to focus on a low-code/no-code approach to software development, which provides agencies a tool to mitigate staffing shortages. Not everyone can program, and not everyone can write or rewrite source code to accomplish modernization goals.

With the low-code/no-code approach in place, a worker whose primary job is not necessarily IT can leverage the machine learning built into the product and learn to gather and filter data without extensive training.

Agencies may see upgraded readiness and effectiveness in this new environment, as platforms that use less code may also have fewer bugs. With less code, agencies also can seamlessly integrate old and new solutions without having to rewrite their underpinnings — and do it less expensively as well.

Even with a staff that may not have all of the IT expertise an agency needs or wants, the agency can see its agility improve as the Industry 4.0 environment takes hold.

Merging Technical Capabilities Means More Accurate Communication

These new capabilities enable agencies to collect real-time, real-world information on the status and location of their people, their assets, their equipment and their infrastructure and know exactly how ready they are for their next mission, whether it’s a military deployment or civilian disaster relief.

Look at all the organizations that need to be able to communicate with one another during a natural disaster. They must be able to get information from one place to another quickly and scale up operations fast.

If they all have the same technical capabilities, the lead agency can incorporate a small piece of code into its communications network, and with the push of a button, send out the same message at the same time to 15 other agencies, which can also pull from those same feeds to provide information.

EXPLORE: ServiceNow solutions help agencies better track data.

The new technology can also start developing predictive algorithms to help push aid where it needed to go. It could determine which roads can handle the heavy equipment, where supplies need to be pre-positioned and how best to integrate services ranging from medical assistance to surveillance.

In this context, agencies could run simulations to see what a plan’s expected outcome would be rather than relying on after-action reports — saving time, money and even possibly lives.

Common tasks could become almost templated so end users don’t have to worry about building a process or project from the ground up; the basics are already there. In a way, it’s like leveraging data from your smart watch: With one glance, you can check your health status, your calendar, your to-do list, because someone else has done the coding and the preparation for you.

Government may not have an active role in Industry 4.0, but it can and will reap the benefits.

This article is part of FedTech’s CapITal blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #FedIT hashtag.

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