The increasing number of enterprises entering the robotics arena and the global adoption of commercial robotic systems across industries guarantees that robots will define the future of your business. How will you and other corporate leaders prepare for an automated future? I call this the process of creating a “robot-ready business.”
Just as personal computers, the Internet, and mobile devices have changed the world and turned businesses upside down, so too will intelligent machines and related technologies. How will your organization take advantage of current and emerging opportunities?
Is your business robot-ready?
If your company is not robot-ready, it will not just be disrupted. That’s for certain. What’s also at stake is your legacy, which may have taken decades to build. It could disappear forever, giving way to competitors that found an edge through the application of machine learning, mobile sensors, and automated processes.
Alternatively, if hardware and software robots are in your DNA or top of mind, you could more easily conquer new markets. You could retain market leadership or become the next global leader.
Whether your goal as a corporate leader is to protect your existing business or profit from new opportunities, your business must become robot-ready.
Which way will it be?
The robotics ecosystem, including influencer technologies such as artificial intelligence and networking, is advancing rapidly. How can a chief robotics officer (CRO) or another business leader stay up to date and filter the noise to better understand practical use cases?
Consider the following:
- Apple views AI as the future of the iPhone.
- Amazon’s Echo or Alexa is a home assistant that has over 1,000 “skills” (apps) developed by various third parties.
- Google is preparing for a world where AI will become the device and will be with you all the time, everywhere.
- Facebook has turned its Messenger app into a platform for bots; more than 11,000 bots are already operating on Messenger.
AI and robotics are quickly taking the world in a new and unfamiliar direction. As a result, these technologies are fast becoming hot topics of conversation, from barbecues to boardrooms. Everybody is wondering — or should be wondering — about how to move forward with a robot-ready business.
For the first time, a company can “hire” workers (bots) without adding to its headcount. AI can help turn big data into actionable intelligence, changing how decisions are made.
A drone can quickly deliver a customized item to your doorstep, and in that process, it’s completely redefining the supply chain as well as the need for infrastructure. A hardware robot can be your salesperson, receptionist, or even companion.
Depending on your vantage point, you may find these developments fascinating or frightening. But you can’t ignore them. They are already happening, and companies are taking notice.
Chances are that someone in your supply chain or among your competition has already begun on the robotics journey. Some of them may be quite advanced with their efforts and adoption.
Where does your business stand in this new era? What strategy should you adopt for evaluation, deployment, and integration?
Irrespective of size, style, industry, or geography, your business needs to become robot-ready. Even players within the robotics industry need to understand and use technology strategically.
Robot-ready business examples
Coexisting with robots is no longer merely an option. Chief robotics officers are prepared for the new technologies as they remake the robot-ready business. As enterprises did with other computing, they have to take advantage of hardware and software robots, using them to constantly improve their operations.
In short, a robot-ready business is not just ready for the disruptive shocks among suppliers, competitors, and customers; it’s also innovating for the robotic future.
Take, for example:
- Hitachi is applying AI to “kaizen” — the Japanese concept for constant improvement. In its warehouses, AI is analyzing what employees are doing and how and then recommending new workflows. The productivity of AI-driven warehouses went up by 8 percent compared with a non-AI warehouse. Facebook and Nielsen studied the messaging behavior of consumers and found that 53 percent of them want to shop with a business that they can chat with.
- New York-based advertising agency R/GA found that decision-making improved by 30 to 40 percent when clients were able to use its Chabot and communicate regularly with employees. When Chinese electronics manufacturer Changying Precision Technology Co., reinvented its workforce to be 90 percent robots and 10 percent humans, production went up 162.5 percent, and the product defect rate went down from 25 percent to less than 5 percent. In Belgium, SoftBank Robotics’ humanoid Pepper robot has become a receptionist at two hospitals. It costs about $23,000 at present, but it can communicate in 20 languages and offers patients personalized experiences.
- Tokyo-based Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Co is “hiring” 100 Pepper robots as a part of its salesforce. The collaborative robots will work alongside existing employees.
The business case for investing in automation is not hard to justify, especially when you add up the potential productivity gains and efficiency improvements. In addition, software and hardware robots can offer new customer experiences and a fixed one-time cost and amortization (no taxes, Social Security or healthcare costs, or paid leave).
How can your business take greater advantage of robotics? If you’re in agriculture, manufacturing, supply chain, healthcare, or retail, you’re probably already using some automation. Should you implement bots or invest in AI? What new roles can you identify for 3D printing, cobots, or drones?
Take action to maximize robotics use
It’s tempting to look at automation just as a solution for processes and workflows, but that’s taking advantage of robotics in a limited way.
For example, customer-focused virtual agents do not just save time or cut costs. They need to be a part of the new customer experience. Analytics can connect data in interesting and creative ways. But if you’re not making decisions with well-designed algorithms, it’s a wasted effort.
You may buy a hardware robot and put it next to humans in production, patient care, or customer service, but if you haven’t reinvented the relevant workflows, both humans and robots will get confused.
Machine learning is beginning to bring advanced, human-like intelligence into your operations. The fact that even “weak AI” can achieve some of the outcomes that humans produce changes everything. This includes product design, human-machine interactions, the demand for skills, the business model, and more.
You now have the opportunity to reimagine the future and reinvent your business. There is no one way or right way to become a robot-ready business. Your context and vision will define it.
Who should lead your robotics vision and strategy?
The CRO’s role in building a robot-ready business
Any company’s competitiveness depends largely on whether its leaders understand rapidly evolving technologies like robotics. This requires having the right people to direct your business in shifting markets.
Your robotics strategy will redefine every aspect of your company, and you will need internal or external expertise performing the functions of a chief robotics officer.
The CRO is a new and evolving role and is in some cases conceptual — defined by the required functions of an individual or team.
CRO functions include planning, directing, organizing, and managing all activities surrounding the integration of robots and applications to ensure effective, secure, and efficient use.
These efforts must be accomplished in partnership with other business units — IT, finance, engineering, R&D, operations, HR, business development, legal, and so on — and, increasingly, with senior management. CROs must have significant vertical industry knowledge so that they can better consider the evolution of robotics solutions in existing and future processes.
By 2030, it’s estimated that nearly 80 percent of multi-billion dollar companies will have a CRO responsible for focusing on three major elements of the enterprise: financial, operational, and transformational.
Who will be your chief robotics officer in preparation of becoming a robot-ready business?
To learn more about the CRO role, attend the Chief Robotics Officer Network Summit on Sept. 27 at RoboBusiness 2016.