Consistency Key to Warehouse Automation, Says Accenture’s Akiona Before CRO Online Summit

From the report "Foster Innovation With Enterprise Robotics." Source: Accenture Labs

November 28, 2018      

While most warehouses have minimal automation, that’s changing quickly as manufacturers, third-party logistics companies, and retailers invest in robotics. Experts such as Accenture Labs’ Nicholas Akiona agree that the best way to get a good return on investment is to first identify the pain points that robots can alleviate.

Robotics and AI in supply chains are all over the news, from debates over whether they replace or create jobs to how they enable Amazon to quickly and accurate fulfill online orders. But if you’re running a smaller operation, where should you start?

Nicholas Akiona, Accenture Labs

Accenture Labs’ Nicholas Akiona

In next week’s Chief Robotics Officer (CRO) Online Summit, Akiona will discuss how to identify problems that robots can solve, how to set realistic expectations for business managers, and steps to a successful robotic implementation.

Akiona, robotics research lead at Accenture, has worked on robotics projects in multiple industries, including logistics, utilities, and manufacturing. He has a graduate degree in robotics and mechatronics from Stanford University.

Robotics Business Review recently spoke with Akiona, who provided this preview of his session.

Q: How do you define the chief robotics officer role? How necessary is it for businesses of different sizes?

Akiona: As the person responsible for strategizing and implementing robotics solutions in a company, an effective CRO should have visibility across various parts of the business and be able effectively communicate with executive management. Especially in larger businesses, this role is important for securing initial investment, designing for automation, and scaling robotics solutions.

Q: How does Accenture Labs work with CROs or people like them?

Akiona: Accenture Labs works with companies, CROs, and robotics champions to assess the maturity of robotics in their organizations and to implement the technology, personnel, and process changes that they need.

We engage with clients during all stages of their robotics journey. In some instances, we create an overall robotics roadmap with the client that outlines the automation value, feasibility, and solution approach for various processes.

In other instances, we design and build a requested robotics solution and integrate it into the desired enterprise systems.

Accenture's maturity model for robotics, as discussed by Nicholas Akiona

Accenture’s report offers a maturity model. (Click here to enlarge.) Source: Accenture Labs

Q: What’s the first step an organization should take to identifying where automation can help it?

Akiona: Businesses should start by evaluating the current maturity of automation in their processes.

Comparing the automation level in your processes to others in your industry can give quick insights into where automation may be beneficial. Attending industry conferences with robotics companies can also help identify new use cases for automation.

Q: What sorts of reactions should robotics champions expect from management?

Akiona: Depending on the company, reactions to robots can vary greatly. Robotics champions should always be ready to justify the business value of robotics investments.

Q: Can you cite any examples of a robotics implementation that would have gone more smoothly with a CRO?

Akiona: Consistent, reliable, and efficient implementations of robotic solutions require buy-in from leadership.

In order to fully leverage robots, companies need organized and incentivized teams that design for automation.

Without consistent design for automation across groups, implementing robots becomes significantly more challenging, and organizations waste resources attempting robotics patchwork on non-ideal solutions.

In many ways, the creation of the CRO role is similar to growth of the chief security officer or CSO roughly a decade ago.

Q: What can viewers expect from your session?

Akiona: Robotics technology is progressing quickly, and simultaneously decreasing costs have made a variety of new applications tractable.

In my session, I will discuss value drivers for robots and present several tools for progressing with robotics in your organization. These tools will cover how to identify feasibility robotics solutions and progress from a company experimenting with robotics to a company that has scaled robotics deployment across its organization.

Editor’s Note: The CRO Online Summit will be on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. Register now!