In the late 18th century, the Industrial Revolution started the transition from a manual-labor based economy towards an economy based on using technologies, tools and machines to significantly improve the manufacturing of physical goods. Over the next two hundred years we have seen the industrial sector of the economy achieve major improvements in the productivity and quality of manufacturing, ranging from very simple to highly complex physical objects.
A major step in that remarkable story of innovation occurred around thirty years ago. Before that time, most manufacturing plants were fairly inefficient by almost any contemporary measure, and were turning out products of varying quality. Then, driven by the huge success of Toyota and other companies around the world, the industrial sector and academia discovered the merits of applying engineering discipline as well as a holistic, systems-wide approach to manufacturing processes. Company after company embraced the Toyota Way, Six Sigma, Lean Production and similar methods in their manufacturing and logistics operations, which have brought the industrial sector of the economy to a whole new level of productivity and quality.
The rise of IT in the last several decades has enabled us to start applying technologies to the large and diverse world of services. In the beginning, computers were used primarily to perform calculations. In the 1970s, we started to make a lot of progress automating highly repetitive, back office tasks like processing financial transactions, inventory management and airline reservations. Then, a decade later, the personal computer enabled us to develop all kinds of productivity applications like word processing and spreadsheets. The 1990s brought us the Internet and World Wide Web, which introduced revolutionary ways of dealing with content, communications and commerce.