The best way for Latin American countries to succeed amid rapid technological change is to invest in education, business and government leaders agreed in a session on the Fourth Industrial Revolution at the World Economic Forum on Latin America. The Fourth Industrial Revolution refers to advances across technologies from robotics to 3-D printing, the networking of these systems, and the proliferation and use of consumer data, all of which are causing often severe disruptions to business models and labour markets.
“The Fourth Industrial Revolution is already here and we have to get ready for it,” said Claudia Vasquez, President and General Manager, Latin America, at CA Technologies in Colombia. “It’s about hyperconnectivity. It is centred around people.” A disruptive new business model such as Uber grew out of a consumer need, she noted. “Several companies already understand that they have to listen to customers.” They have to come up with solutions that are based on “agile” systems and technologies – thought up quickly and executed fast. Explained Vazquez: “Agile is the key word. Companies need to be ready to take risks. Knowledge sharing is probably the most important characteristic of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
“We are in the age of the customer,” said Maria Martinez, President, Customer Success, Renewals and Latin America at Salesforce in the US. “The customer is empowered more than ever before (and can demand) that companies and institutions deliver a better experience to them.” Many companies today are possessed by the “fear of being Uberized”, getting disrupted practically overnight by the arrival of an innovative upstart armed with little more than data, analytical algorithms and code for an app.
In this fast-shifting environment, can Latin America not only cope but also prosper? “The next generation of entrepreneurs are already named Martinez or Sanchez,” Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal, Secretary of the Economy of Mexico, argued. What they lack is financing and the enabling platforms, he added. “We have to have a good environment to support these new talents. If Latin American countries have the right set of policies, our catch-up time can be shortened. We cannot fool ourselves. We have to do our homework. Markets are essential. You have to have strong antitrust laws. We have to try to simplify the way we regulate.” Making it easier to set up a business online is one measure to take, Guajardo noted.
Investing in education is probably the most important policy a government can take to enhance an economy’s capacity to succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, meeting Co-Chair Brian Gallagher, President and Chief Executive Officer of United Way Worldwide in the US, advised. “Investment in education, especially in early childhood, and technology adoption will be instrumental. Guaranteeing universal access to early childhood education is the smartest investment a government can make.”
David Luna Sánchez, Minister of Information Technologies and Communications of Colombia, agreed, observing that academic systems can be rigid. “We have a huge challenge in teaching mathematics and science. We may live in a digital economy, but people may not be well trained in these skills. We may be left behind.” He concluded: “The Fourth Industrial Revolution will destroy jobs but will also create new ones if we can deliver the capacities that are required for them.”
More than 550 participants are taking part in the 11th World Economic Forum on Latin America in Medellin, Colombia from 16 to 17 June 2016. The theme of the meeting is “Reigniting Latin America’s Inclusive Growth”.