Following rapid technological advancement, robots have the potential to take up meaningful roles within the workplace.

To successfully implement robotics in the workplace, decision makers must go beyond

Hollywood fantasies and trending buzzwords to gain a deeper understanding.

A report by Forrester Research estimates that by 2021, more than four million robots will be performing office, administrative and sales tasks in the workplace. Robots are coming and organisations looking to transform are leveraging this promising, though complex, technology to thrive.

However, it is also not hard to find opposite viewpoints. There is also a great deal of pessimism over the use of robots, with some experts predicting that they will eliminate up to 800 million jobs by 2030.

Regardless of sentiments, the expectations of robots and enabling technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and connected smart devices are running high. But the reality of implementation is daunting, and it is more necessary than ever for decision makers to understand that adopting robots in the workplace may be harder than it looks.

AI & Robots

It is worth noting that robots are not new in manufacturing and industrial settings. The biggest change today is that they are now being used in institutional, retail and office environments. Three key trends are contributing to the increasing visibility of robots: a maturing robot ecosystem, shrinking workplaces and greater institutional adoption.

Technologically, robots depend on other enabling technologies – AI, cloud computing, connected smart devices – all of which are evolving at a breathtaking pace. This network effect is generating a profound acceleration of robot capabilities. As a result, robots are no longer limited to the domain of roboticists. Engineers and coders, businessmen, designers and consumers can join the fray. With this diversity of thought, the robot ecosystem is poised to transform and disrupt how work is done.

In addition to this, the global workforce is aging and there are not enough new workers to make up the difference. Without robots and other technological advances, productivity will be impacted. Countries like Singapore and Japan are already feeling this pinch and making moves to address it. Singapore’s Budget 2019 featured incentives for businesses to adopt technology to improve productivity, especially in the service sector such as in hotels, hospitals and restaurants. In Japan, the government projects a shortfall of 380,000 specialised workers in elder care by 2025, and is looking at robots to narrow the labour gap.

Robots In The Workforce

Robots are becoming more popular on the consumer side as well. Tractica Research estimates the market value of consumer robots to reach US$19 billion with 65.9 million units shipped annually by 2025, yielding a compounded annual growth rate of 23%. As leading organisations, businesses, governments and consumers strive to unlock the potential of robots, the emergence of new business use cases for them have become almost a daily occurrence.

Robot greeters are one of the first broad-based use cases, and have been implemented by HSBC retail banks in the US, Vodafone stores in the Netherlands and various airports around the world. Logistics support use cases are also becoming common, although they tend to have a narrower focus. The Park Avenue Hotel in Singapore, for example, has been using robots to manage laundry and room service delivery. Humber River Hospital in Canada has created a closed-loop medication dispensary using robots.

One of the more valuable early use cases is employee training by Rabobank in the Netherlands. Rabobank uses robotics and AI technology to train employees on managing difficult conversations with customers. There is also a talent scout use-case that supports HR recruitment efforts when the Bank of Montreal showcased ‘Elly’ at Elevate TechFest in Toronto, a robot that will help recruit tech talent.

Time To Get Started

The robots are ready and it is time people get used to them. Leading organisations understand that achieving successful organisational change requires a disciplined approach. One of the most important elements of this is building awareness and taking the effort to talk to an expert rather than rely on Hollywood stereotypes. The next step is to create diverse teams who can envision what robots can mean for the business and identify early use cases. Newcomers are also advised to start small – to find a narrow use case, plan to iterate and start the journey towards integrating robots into their workplace.

Adopting new technologies takes time and practice and robots are no exception. In fact, integrating robots into the fabric of an organisation will take much more effort than, for instance, mobile phones. The time to start is now.

About The Writer

Janneke Ritchie is an expert in helping organisations navigate the challenges and opportunities in adopting disruptive technologies such as robots, robotics process automation (RPA) and AI. She has a keen eye for the next big thing in technology and its impact on people. As the founder and CEO of Orange Gate, a design studio and innovation lab, Janneke is committed to helping clients realise the promised value of their technology investment.

This article was first printed in MillionaireAsia Issue 52 - June 2019

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