Currently 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) is one of the most discussed issues in Bangladesh. Seminars, conferences and round table discussions are being organised by different stakeholders on 4IR and its problems and prospects. Scholars are trying to make stakeholders aware about 4IR concept and inspiring entrepreneurs to adopt newer technologies to get advantages out of it. They are reminding that businesses are to adopt 4th and 5th generation technologies to remain them up-to-date with concurrent market demands. Let’s try to have a look at the history of industrial revolution from its very beginning.
Before 17th century world economy was mainly agriculture dependent. Agriculture production was the prime mover of world GDP. Till then people used to made products in their homes by using handmade tools or by bear hand. 1st Industrial Revolution (1st IR) took place in Europe and North America in 17th Century with invention of steam engine. 1st industrial sector i.e. textiles and iron industry begin journey in Europe. Handmade textile industry started to be mechanized. Starting in 1765 first industrial revolution lasted till the beginning of 19th century. Initiation of mechanisation, introduction of industrial base based on agriculture crops, advancement of mining industry especially iron and coal extraction and invention of steam engine were the success stories of the 1st IR.2nd Industrial revolution was driven by invention of new sources of power like electricity, oil and gas in the beginning of 19th century. After one century of 1st IR, 2nd one took place in 1870. Textile industry progressed into synthetic age, fertilizers were invented to increase agricultural production, oil and gas mining sectors were added with iron and coal mining, communication technologies like telegraph, telephone were invented during this period. A remarkable invention of 2nd industrial revolution was invention of assembly line by ford motors. Large scale production concept and concept of mass factory were invented by the 2nd IR and lasted till middle of the 20th century. Main players of the 2nd IR were the European countries like UK, French, Italy and Germany etc. US economy started to lead the world at the same period.
3rd industrial revolution begins in 1969 with invention of newer sources of energy like nuclear power, innovation of computer technology, massive progress of semi-conductor and microchips, electronic and electrical sector started its miracle from the beginning of 3rd IR. Telecommunication sector especially mobile communication technology, invention of internet, email communication, massive progress of medical technologies, biotechnologies, pharmaceutical industry, etc. took place during 3rd IR. Massive progress in ICT sector changed people’s life style and rural civilisations transformed into urbanised communities. Open flow of goods, globalization, e-commerce, e-business use of ICT and computer technology in production, communication, consumption etc. everywhere we see a significant spot of human civilisation. Newer economies like Japan, China, Brazil, India, Russia etc. became part and parcel of world economy during this period. Intellectual property became more valuable than the tangible products and properties during this era. Industrialization, globalization, free market economy etc. concept got maturity in this period. The world became into fingertip of global citizen. 3rd IR projected matured forms of each and every innovations of the previous two IRs. Therefore production, processing, transportation, storage, distribution, consumption, post consumption feedback, post-sale service, everywhere positive changes became visible. At the same time massive progress of war technologies put human civilization into a bigger threat at this period. Though nuclear warheads were used during the 2nd IR but world observed a long list of wars and measurable human sufferings in the Middle East and other parts of the world during 3rd IR era.
4th Industrial Revolution is much discussing now a days, scholars are describing concurrent innovations like artificial intelligence, robotics technology, 3D printing, block chain and big data etc. as beginning of 4th IR. 3D printing technology will create a new era of production concept. From construction to healthcare, from production to post consumption behaviour of consumers, everywhere a new quick and perfect age has started. It is very essential for the entrepreneurs to adopt newer technologies, use newer machineries and produce products or provide services according to change in demand of consumers. Many successful companies like Kodak, Fuji, Blockbuster etc. went bust due to their inability to innovate or adopt with newer technological advancement.
Now come to the context of Bangladeshi industries and our readiness to adopt 4IR technologies. Major Bangladeshi business sectors are readymade garment, leather and leather goods, plastics, light engineering, agro processing, electrical and electronics, fashion designing and personal effects, IT and ITES, ship building, tourism, textiles, ceramics, pharmaceuticals, infrastructure development, healthcare and diagnostics etc. Bangladeshi export is mainly dependent upon a single sector i.e. readymade garment. It is yet to get a mentionable second export earning sector. Few other sectors like leather goods, pharmaceuticals, outsourcing, human resource export, and agro-processing have potentials to become major export earners. But none of these are becoming so bold like readymade garment. Local scholars are advising government and private sector to look into the matter of diversifying export basket but yet to select the right products for export diversification.
If we look at the history of industrialisation in Bangladesh we get trace of 177 naturally grown SME clusters throughout the country. All of the SME clusters are established by following success stories of one or few individual initiatives. All of the clusters are using mainly similar and technologies of the 2nd or 1st IR era with minor modification or as it is. Therefore products quality, design and productivity of the industries located in the SME clusters are very old fashioned. As a result products of these clusters are fighting to retain existing local market against imported products of the same sector. Some of these clusters are in the verge of abolishment due to their inability to cope with the modern technologies. For example Bagerhat Coconut oil cluster was a concentration of more than one hundred enterprises even one decade ago. But with passage of time, improved quality imported coconut oil entered into the market and they became uncompetitive. Because local entrepreneurs don’t know where appropriate refining technology is available to make locally produced coconut oil clear and transparent like the imported one. Thus a pure but backdated technology used local production hub is going to be abolished.
My second example goes to the Kumarkhali Textiles Cluster at Kustia. It is a concentration of more than ten thousand hand and power looms producing various types of old fashioned textiles products including bed sheet, bed cover, Lungi etc. Only 3-5 factories became medium sized here in this cluster. But all of the factories and households are producing same designed products during last half of the century. Due to their inability to diversify their product design they are losing local market to the imported products. But these factories and households of the Kumarkhali Textiles Cluster can be competitive around the world if they can be trained on how to create a new design in textiles. Some of the entrepreneurs in Kumarkhali dreams to export their products to European markets but they do not know which machineries are appropriate to produce export oriented product. They do not know where these machineries are available and how to procure these.Not only the above mentioned clusters but also the potential/new/young entrepreneurs of the country are also suffering from lack of information regarding what should be the appropriate product to produce, and what are the relevant machineries to produce their selected products? Where these machineries are available to purchase? How to collect relevant raw materials? How to procure an appropriate machine and install it in their factory premises? There are many online portals like Indiamart, Alibaba, Amazon etc. helps to bridge potential entrepreneurs and machine suppliers in India, China and many other countries. But these types of platforms are still absent in Bangladesh. Therefore rate of new entrepreneurship development is too low in Bangladesh than the expected number. Government and scholars who are talking about 4IR and organising seminars, conferences with big shots on these issues can emphasis on such practical barriers we do have to make our micro and cottage scaled potential entrepreneurs functional on the ground. Those could be graduated into small, medium as well as large corporations in coming future. Therefore, we must procure and install appropriate technologies in respective fields. Thus we can support graduation of our 1st IR technologies into 2nd or 3rd IR era. That is even more important than that of making people knowledgeable on the 4IR issues.
Acting Secretary, Dhaka Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DCCI) & Executive Director, DCCI Business Institute (DBI) [DCCI or DBI is not responsible for the author’s opinion here in this article]