Industry 4.0 - Organizational and Human challenges

Industry 4.0: Organizational and Human challenges in the reality of Walloon industrial SMEs

The Context

Since its announcement at the Hannover Messe in 2011, the concept of Industry 4.0 has garnered significant attention, if not obsession or anxiety, among various stakeholders from different countries. Industrial companies find themselves at the forefront, grappling with the challenges posed by this data-driven paradigm aiming to interconnect physical, digital, and human elements, and deliver real-time responses within and outside organisations. In Wallonia, the Southern region of Belgium, the transition to Industry 4.0 aligns with Walloon Recovery Plan, fostered by a growing number of awareness-rising and supporting initiatives. However, many small and medium enterprises (SMEs), constituting the backbone of Walloon economy, encounter greater difficulties compared to large companies in adopting digitalisation and innovation. Among these challenges, SMEs’ leaders particularly struggle to grasp the concept of Industry 4.0 and its stakes for their organisations.

The Challenge

While a growing body of research delves into the technical and operational aspects of Industry 4.0, there is a lack of empirical evidence regarding its holistic organisational transformation and its associated management challenges. Beyond assessing digital maturity, SMEs must be aware of their organisational, human and managerial readiness to embrace the transition to Industry 4.0. Understanding every facet of this process, beginning with leaders’ perceptions of the concept of Industry 4.0 and the way they introduce it within their organisations, is crucial. Given the uniqueness of each company in terms of core business, organisational characteristics, and needs, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for Industry 4.0 implementation. Therefore, understanding managers’ perceptions of the primary challenges posed by Industry 4.0 can illuminate the dynamics shaping its evolution into durable practices within SMEs.

Key Question & Goals

Based on the aforementioned elements, the research project seeks to answer the following question:

    “What perceptions do Walloon industrial SMEs leaders develop towards organizational, managerial, and human implications of Industry 4.0?”

    To understand management’s stance on Industry 4.0 and its implications for their companies, a theoretical background of existing scientific literature on this matter will be confronted to the reality of Walloon industrial SMEs through a quantitative survey on a large sample followed by in-depth interviews with managers. By doing so, the aim is to provide a nuanced analysis of existing implications, potentially challenging the established notions and uncovering new insights into the realities of Walloon industrial SMEs facing the implementation of Industry 4.0.


    About Wallonie Entreprendre (WE)
    WE is the economic and financial tool of Wallonia at the service of companies. It provides the necessary means for the development of activity in all sectors. Its investments and financing respond to a logic of creation, growth, transmission or revival of companies. As a reliable, professional and ambitious financial partner, WE supports projects belonging to the HEC Digital Lab’s Industry 4.0 applied research program.

    About Equans
    World leader in multitechnical services, Equans designs and provides customized solutions to improve its clients’ technical equipments and processes and to optimize their uses. EQUANS’ expertise and knowledge of the specifics of its customers’ businesses enable it to support them in their energy, industrial and digital transitions.