This Is Why Industry 4.0 Needs To Be Backwards Compatible

Industry 4.0 & Smart Factory

These days, buzzwords like Industry 4.0, Smart Factory and "the fourth industrial revolution" are all over social media, blogs and news websites. Many businesses communicate strong interest in those topics as they are preached as the path to future success.


It is about sucessfully leveraging latest technology for the industry where potential is seen.

While hearing and reading about Smart Factories and Industry 4.0 in general, we're creating this mental image of that wonderful world. Everything is equipped with sensors to measure every little thing imaginable. All the data is shared between equipment and machines and all the processes are digitalized and running by themselfes. Robots doing all the work, software handling all the organization, planning, and coordination, based on the vast amount of data that's accessible and analyzed with ease. We'll just be sitting in the control station watching everything working perfectly fine.

As much as I love that idea, its the vision for the industry of the future. Not the steps that really lay ahead of todays industry companies. Don't get me wrong, I strongly believe that eventually we'll get there. Yet, to be able to evolve that much, many steps need to be taken. It's a journey of change. The technologies will change, the industries will change, and also the customers and the people working in the industry will. The question is, how to fuel this process of change today, with the starting point we're now really at. 

Status Quo

Of course, the industry has a very wide variety of businesses at a lot of different stages on their way to the industry 4.0. Some are very traditional, while others have already adopted some new technologies and are known as innovative businesses. To be fair, a lot of technologies target a very specific market and are no suitable for other parts of the industry. 

In my many years in the automotive and renewable energy industry, I had the opportunity to work with a lot of companies and get to know their processes, culture and also their pain points. The conclusion is, that nearly all those companies did in fact grow over many years. You may think, that that is not a very shocking realization, yet most of the solutions for the Industry 4.0 seem to completely ignore this fact. In those companies, very old machines work next to brand new ones. Processes, that have been in place for many years have not been changed a lot. Very few equipment is digitally integrated and most digital solutions serve a very specific task. The core that puts all the different strings together and delivers great user experience does not yet exist. 

Another very important aspect is the culture of the company. Today, a mix of different people work closely together to tackle a specific challenge. A wide range of different ages, skills and affinity to the digital world brings high complexity but also a lot of potential.

Backwards Compatible

To make the Industry 4.0 a reality, we have to start where we're at. All things considered. Solutions for todays companies must also have the old machines, equipment and the different companies and people in mind. Therefore being backwards compatible. And from there on think and build ahead to create innovation together with the industry.

Innovative solutions that are to far ahead already and therefor no one can really integrate in their existing workflows won't create the companies of the future. There is no product-market-fit. Based on that, It is my believe, that a industry 4.0 solution needs to have perfect product-market-fit for todays reality. Innovating for the challenges at hand, before working on those laying ahead. Companies and people will adopt new technologies and behaviour and create a foundation for further possibilities. Offered solutions for an innovative industry need to grow, adapt and think ahead to make sure that product-market-fit is maintained. That way innovative solutions will be created. And they will be easy to integrate in real workflows when the need comes.

Innovative solutions need to have product-market-fit for todays reality. Then provide further solutions to evolve with the industry. While maintaining the product-market-fit.

This process of becoming the industry 4.0 is often referred to as "The fourth Industrial Revolution".  Here I'd like to introduce the thought of "The fourth step of the Industrial Evolution". Evolution takes its time, but finds and builds the best solutions on the way.


If you are not planning to start a Industry 4.0-company from scratch, chances are that backwards compatibility is a very important topic for you. Innovative solutions must have product-market-fit for todays circumstances. Then enable further innovation when the company is ready for it. The solution you should choose, is the one that helps you with todays challenges but has further innovative solutions ready or on their roadmap. Make sure the process of integrating a solution into the workflow is as easy as possible and the user experience and the result is exactly how you need it. The goal is not to integrate a innovative solution, but to ease the life of the people working with it. If they love to use it, they will love to explore further. Driving the innovative momentum of the whole company and creating real value along the way.

Yannick Treichel MAS MBA
Yannick Treichel beschäftigt sich in Theorie und Praxis mit der Lösung komplexer Herausforderungen, wobei das Aufbauen und Führen von agilen und selbstorganisierten Teams eine zentrale Rolle spielen. Dabei sind Innovation und Potentiale durch neueste Technologien, Methoden und Tools immer wichtiger Bestandteil.