As the robot revolution approaches, companies will increasingly rely on smart machines and robots replacing functions previously performed by humans, looking for continuous optimization for both processes and workflow.
It won’t be possible anymore to simply rely on IT and CIO and considering all this stuff their own problem: assessing to which extension is necessary to introduce robotics into processes and business has far reaching consequences that will request very soon full top management commitment and engagement.
Industry 4.0/5.0 will split the value chain the way we are used to consider it right now into two flows: robot assisted processes on one side, and activities/phase where human factor will be still paramount on the other. Hoping they will converge. A new role on the organization chart is probably about to be defined: a Chief robotic officer, with responsibilities that range from implementation of robotic systems to the handling of the human workforce and the transition of tasks.
Therefore, strategic thinking will be concentrated, beyond and in addiction to the previous and “classic” issues, towards re-engineering the organizational structure and firm’s governance in order to assign to humans the right place. This means just one thing: give to people the roles that add value into the business, give to robots the rest.
But it this task that simple? Clearly not.
The common mantra is value= customer so who makes this statement very often thinks of entrepreneurial landscape ads follows: at one side a black-box, fully-automated factory and automated warehouses so efficient to make business extremely flexible and scalable, and where in future human being won’t even be allowed to get in.
At the other side a plethora of men running and striving in the “real” world, devoted to delight customers, to capture and retain customer attention. (If any customer will be still there to wait for them, because the loss of jobs will be huge, and the supposed, positive relationship between new technology and employment is probably a medium-term effect…..”whereas in the face of increasing divisions in society, with a shrinking middle class, it is important to bear in mind that developing robotics may lead to a high concentration of wealth and influence in the hands of a minority” cfr European Parliament resolution of 16 February 2017 with recommendations to the Commission on Civil Law Rules on Robotics).
Don’t know why, but this scenario makes me think about Welles and the “Time machine” dystopic novella, where the human race has evolved into two species: the ineffectual and childlike Eloi, and the become the brutal light-fearing Morlocks, that feed on the former.
Anyway, this means that we need a strategic and holistic approach, this topic isn’t any more just about technology. Many processes need to be completely re-designed.
- our current methodology of study and work needs to change dramatically: if we really want people to deliver value we can’t accept them being progressively more and more tilted towards mere software usage and less and less focused into understanding topics, fundamentals, briefly the “whole picture”. Otherwise, even the interaction firm/customer will be a passive process between two clusters of glorified software/platforms/social network users (customers and firm’s people) both being absolutely unaware about how those algorithms and software (written by other machines) works; in other words, who in future will be the company’s storyteller? humans or robots?
- Logistics need to address how humans and robots will interact/get along rethinking workflow, as well as the landscape of the workplace in routinary and emergency-conditions (not to mention the connected liabilities);
- IT and compliance should assess how robots can effectively communicate with humans (already happens) and with other robots (actually mostly they don’t);
- Improvement actions and TQM needs to be imagined in an optic of a self-learning robots ecosystem: who decides and when “robots-suggested –improvement” may be efficiently (and without risks) introduced into processes?;
- The compliance office will be heavily impacted by a totally new legal framework for the robots that are currently on the market or will become available over the next 10 to 15 years, not to mention the liability landscape. Liabilities could concern the quality of produced software and technology, reliability and ethical/legal issues connected to automated and algorithmic decision-making;
- Last but not least the importance of ideating measures to help with specific measures small and medium-sized enterprises and start-ups in the robotics sector that create new market segments in this sector or make use of robots.
This is to say that it seems decision makers underestimate the consequences of introducing AI and robotics into industrial processes, missing to analyse the complete picture and all its implications.
Strategic management is a complicated decision-making processes with a lot of deep, long-term and risky implications. It is a delicate matter and a very sensitive process and what is looming on the horizon is somehow similar to the discussion on the role of robotics in the field of procedural rights. What is clear in that field is that the critical processes and the final decision/judgment can be algorithms -assisted but must remain strictly under user (the human judge) control and the use of AI must be transparent.
The same should happen in the field of a strategic decision. Of course if we don’t want to end like the Eloi.