September 22, 2017      

Editor’s Note: Author Aseem Prakash will be speaking at the CRO Network Summit next week about “Separating Hype From Reality — Selling Upward and Setting Expectations.” He will also lead a panel at RoboBusiness 2017 on “Is Your Business Ready for Robotics and AI?” and the need for a robotics and AI roadmap.

The U.S. has about 1,200 shopping malls, but soon, 400 of them will shut their doors. What could retailers do if they had this information earlier? Similarly, how can chief robotics officers or CROs apply an AI roadmap to anticipate business challenges?

If you’re not yet taking advantage of machine learning, bots, cobots, or service robots, you won’t just be left behind. The competition will eat your lunch. Customers will ditch you, and your business will struggle to survive.

By contrast, you can tap robotics to boost productivity, apply artificial intelligence to improve efficiencies, and use automation to reinvent value.

As multiple industries evolve and are transformed by robotics, AI, and drones, these technologies will become the new nucleus of your business. That is the future for which technologists, business leaders, and partners must prepare.

Many of the robotics providers I’ve spoken with have said their customers are not fully ready to adopt and implement robotics. They mistake manufacturing’s long familiarity with industrial automation or assume that newer robots are simply plug and play. Companies seriously looking to scale up should consider the following for their robotics and AI roadmap:

  • How do you go from your current situation to becoming a robot-ready business?
  • Should you hire a CRO? If so, what qualities and capabilities should you look for?
  • Do you plan to tap someone internally or do it yourself?

At the end of the day, it does not matter which individual or team is responsible for leading robotics and AI in your business. What matters is deciding how the CRO role creates value for the organization.

Business Takeaways:

  • Chief robotics officers are necessary to evaluate and execute on the company’s robotics and AI roadmap, as well as its business model.
  • Automation is transforming just about every industry, but anticipating industry shifts and matching them with changes and efficiencies is a challenge for both humans and AI.
  • Don’t forget the human side of the equation, from the executive suite to the production-line workers who’ll have to coexist with robots. Just as technology needs to be integrated into processes, stakeholders and partners need to be prepared for automation.

Mapping industry transformation

From agriculture and construction to retail, finance, and the law, there is hardly an industry that robotics and AI are not touching or transforming. What will your industry look like in five years or beyond?

Aseem Prakash

All the data gathered by market research and the industrial Internet of Things, parsed by big data analytics, or delivered by predictive algorithms is only as good as the people who know what to look for and how to turn it into a robotics and AI roadmap.

The CRO can connect the various dots and turn them into a guide for the business. This is no small task as everything is moving very, very fast.

One way to gauge an industry’s transformation is to track startups in your industry. For instance, Gamaya is a Swiss-based startup focused on using drones and AI in agriculture. If you’re interested in precision agriculture, how might Gamaya help your business? A CRO can develop a strategic or an operational response.

Rethinking productivity

Another challenge for CROs is comparing human performance with automation. If collaborative robots can improve productivity by 85% or the humanoid robot Pepper can speak 20 languages what does that mean for the business model?

Information technology was a good tool for increasing efficiency, but IT is passe. Robots and AI represent advanced or augmented intelligence — supporting humans as well as able to work on their own.

When a robot can work nonstop and AI bots can scan through millions of e-mails daily, where do humans fit in this “highly productive” environment?

Historical models are insufficient. The CRO will need to figure out new performance benchmarks — perhaps one for humans and another for robots.

Managing coexistence with an AI roadmap

When Marriott launched a bot on Facebook’s messenger platform, it had dotted its i’s and crossed its t’s. Yet, the bot backfired. The hospitality company forgot the most important aspect of bringing AI to its operations — managing coexistence with automation for its customers.

Marriott’s marketing team was driven by what it thought was right for its business and, hence, for its customers.

The Region of Southern Denmark faced a similar situation while rolling out a robotics strategy in its hospital network. Management failed to anticipate the worker backlash. Feces were left at the charging stations. Robots faced a “hostile working environment.”

The Danish hospital network was focused on technology and process. Both it and Marriot learned that staffers, customers, and other end users need time or training to adapt to “Coexisting With Robots™.” A CRO with a thorough robotics or AI roadmap can prepare accordingly.

More on the CRO and Automation Strategy:

Innovating the business model

A CRO (or business leader without the title but with the responsibility) can take an AI roadmap and make sure it serves your business model.

For example, Virgin Railways used robotic process automation (RPA) to reduce time and labor by 85% in dealing with customer e-mails.

Dutch airline KLM is piloting a system to assist its customer-service agents on social media. The AI has been trained on 60,000 frequently asked questions and answers.

While bots and RPA are extending the life of many existing business models, the strategic advantage will last as long as the competition is asleep.

Eventually, the CRO will need to incorporate the AI roadmap into the business model as the quest for new revenue streams continues.

An automaker could sell actionable intelligence such as maintenance or traffic data to help customers get better value from their vehicles. Retailers, banks, healthcare service providers, and government agencies could see self-driving cars as the next marketplace and start thinking how to tap into it.

Whether your enterprise is just getting started with automation or you have already taken advanced steps, a CRO can help identify the next value-creation opportunities are for your business and develop and deploy a robotics playbook or AI roadmap. This will help compan leadership monitor the impact of automation on the enterprise as well as if automation is achieving its promised goals.

Given the effort involved in getting a hardware or software robot to produce results, it may seem counter-intuitive to suggest that technology is the easy part in robotics and AI. The hard part is building a strategy with robots for robots. That will perhaps be the biggest value contribution of a CRO to business.

The CRO Network Summit will be on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center.