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What Does the Fourth Industrial Revolution Mean for Research?

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The third industrial revolution heralded transformative technologies such as electronics, telecommunications and, latterly, the internet. These tools have completely transformed how research is conducted. But the field is now entering a fourth industrial revolution that promises to change the landscape of science once again. LabVantage Solutions, Inc., a provider of laboratory informatics software solutions, has signaled a turn towards this future with its appointment of digital transformation veteran Mikael Hagstroem as its new chief executive officer. Technology Networks spoke to Mikael to find out more.

Kate Robinson (KR): Can you briefly explain what the fourth industrial revolution entails?

Mikael Hagstroem (MH):
When we speak of the fourth industrial revolution, we’re referring to the automation and digitalization of traditional manufacturing, industrial and other practices by means of modern smart technologies. We have yet to fully grasp the speed and depth of this revolution. Consider the unlimited possibilities of having billions of people connected in real time, with unprecedented processing power, storage capabilities and knowledge access at their disposal. Or think about the impact from a confluence of disruptive innovations covering wide-ranging fields such as artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), biotechnology, nanotechnology, robotics, 3D printing and quantum computing. As well as technologies that amplify each other in a fusion across physical, digital and biological worlds. Of the many diverse and fascinating challenges we face today, the most important is understanding and shaping the new technology revolution, which entails nothing less than a transformation of humankind. We are at the beginning of a revolution that is fundamentally changing the way we live, work and relate to one another.

KR: Are there any challenges standing in the way of this revolution?

Big data is the new oil and an asset class that is generating economic growth while exposing us to new risks that we need to overcome. These include cyber breaches, data bios and fake news. As we create increasingly powerful technologies, we also risk arming bad actors. It is on us to ensure that a laboratory is being protected from cyberattacks and that the data remains protected, that the usage is compliant and at the same time transparent to authorized stakeholders.

KR: How will the incorporation of advanced technologies further research capabilities?

We are now able to address classes of use-cases with applications that were inconceivable even 20 years ago. We can now move beyond the descriptive reporting of the past to prediction engines and even prescriptive augmentation to speed up decision making. The COVID-19 pandemic is an excellent example. During this global health crisis, more tests have been processed than ever before, the time to develop new vaccines has never been shorter and our ability to treat the infected has greatly improved. It is a great sense of accomplishment to contribute, even in a small way with our laboratory information management system (LIMS), to such heroic efforts. This is only the very beginning for the digital lab of the future, as continuous monitoring and integrated feedback loops become a reality. How are we going to meet the exponentially growing demand for plastic while reducing the negative impact on the planet? BioCarbon like Pyrolysis Oil alone cannot solve the equation without a digital lab continuously recalibrating the production based on its varying impurities. The digital lab can help improve the human condition while helping to save the planet.

KR: How will this development cover the full range of lab operations currently in use?

: This question is less futuristic than it might appear, as we are already through the first phase of the digital transformation of the lab. Labs are already rushing to integrate various software solutions (LIMS, electronic laboratory notebook (ELN), laboratory execution system (LES) and scientific data management system (SDMS) etc.) into one common platform. Lab data lakes are being used to accelerate knowledge-sharing and to better integrate data assets, not just within the labs but also between labs. Examples would be in forensics or between lab environments and production environments.

KR: What role will LIMS systems play in this revolution?

: You will be surprised to find that 70% of lab workers’ time can be wasted on administrative tasks, preparation work, finding and cleaning data, or reporting. Imagine the impact of turning that equation on its head and thereby tripling the capacity of our lab environments, while empowering the experts to work on their area of expertise and democratize many of the current lab tasks through self-service, etc. Digital transformation starts with integration on to a single common platform, enabling access to the wealth of data assets and that is what a modern LIMS platform provides. We then add content relevant to each individual lab environment through workflows, data assets and collective best practice. This is when the fun starts and the collaboration between humans and machines enables more efficient and effective lab environments. I like to refer to this as the “Digital Lab Twin”. This is what digital transformation is all about.

Mikael Hagstroem was speaking to Kate Robinson, Editorial Assistant for Technology Networks