Kathy Gibson is at the NEC XON Summit in Sun City – Industry 4.0 is a concept that is bandied around all the time – but what does it really mean?

Walter Lee, evangelist and government relations leader at NEC, describes it as the era where Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and big data all combine to create cyber-physical integration.

Going forward, the fifth dimension will allow intelligence go beyond the dimensions of space and time, he believes.

This will allow us to come up with radical and revolutionary new innovations.

“But Industry 4.0, at the end of the day, is about how we can impact the world economy,” Lee says.

But how does this affect all of us? “It is about the global tech giants investing heavily in Industry 4.0 to capture the value in this market,”

This will also impact Africa, Lee adds. And Africa is very ready for digital transformation.

Innovations like smart factories, smart homes, logistics, utilities, buildings, social webs and business webs are all set to drive value in Africa.

Throughout the world, small steps are being taken to support digital transformation, Lee points out.

Technology is now available that uses IoT and AI for Smart transport systems, public services and urban management to achieve resilient cities.

Safety and security are becoming more important, so systems that use facial recognition coupled with smart analytics will be implemented.

Smart healthcare opens up access to state-of-the-art medical services, and drives healthier communities.

While the Internet opened up information to people, and social media was about interaction, the state of connectivity now – what Lee calls Web 3.0 – creates intelligence and insights.

“Through deep data analytics, we are creating new insights through the power of end-to-end connectivity – machine-to-man, man-to-man and machine-to-machine.”

We have moved past rules-based computing to the point where machines are deriving the rules themselves. “Big data presupposes that we all have access to massive amounts of data, and it is creating mind-boggling opportunities to innovate,” Lee points out.

When we talk about innovative new concepts like Industry 4.0, we tend to overlook that fact that these systems are not as easy to deliver as we might think.

“What we are seeing today in terms of complexity, lack of knowledge, is tremendous,” says Yarob Sakhnini, head of Middle East, Turkey and Africa at Juniper Networks. “What we are seeing around confusion is also huge.”

Technology vendors are at least partly to blame for this, he adds. “We have put so many new technologies and acronyms in front of you that it’s confusing.

“So yes, it is a complex world; and the solutions are getting more involved. Yes, there are not a lot of people available who know this stuff. But we are adding a lot to the situation.”

Sakhnini explains that the industry tends to run in 20-year cycles, and we are at the beginning of a new innovation wave now.

“So you can’t use the same infrastructure going forward that you use today. It’s time to look at your infrastructure to improve business agility.”

Internet of Things (IoT) is a case in point. It is at an inflection point now, he adds, with the number of connected devices having overtaken the number of people on the planet.

“We are moving IoT infrastructures from the experimental to fully-blown deployments. It’s going from experimental scale to business scale.

“In the next few years we will see exponential growth in connected devices.”

Gartner predicts that most business scale IoT implementations will fail. “Because we haven’t seen anything on this scale before, and we haven’t done this before – so we don’t know what to do.”

What’s happening is that the gap between what people want and what IT can deliver is growing, Sakhnini says.

In the traditional IT world, users are people. In the future world, devices are increasingly going to be the users of our networks.

Part of the problem is that we are still designing networks the same way we have done for 30 years or more – but the world has moved a long way since those infrastructures were evolved.

The journey has a number of steps that include simplifying and automating systems, then making them intelligent with dynamic and secure attributes, and finally the self-driving systems that enable innovative business.

“It’s not just about technology,” Sikhnini adds. “It is about people and processes as well.”

NEC the Wise is NEC’s AI engine, which offers visualisation, analytics and prescription in a positive feedback loop.

It is now possible to solve problems with a clear target, as well as address problems without clear goals.

This is a very difficult issue, Lee explains. To generate intelligence without prejudice requires a flexible and agile AI system.

The end goal, Lee says, is to create a smarter and safer world that embraces AI and biometrics.

The NEC biometric solution, Bio-Idiom, can recognise people by fingerprint, finger vein, palm print, voice, face, iris or ear acoustic.

Bio-Idiom offers a combination of exceptional convenience and high accuracy.

Importantly, it allows the security method to be personalised according to the use case. “So you need to apply biometrics intelligently to achieve the results you want to get,” Lee says.