The Future of Work Automation: the impact of IoT and Robotics

Digitization and especially work automation trends are changing or even disrupting entire industries.

This content ran on LinkedIn Pulse previously.

Digitization is often characterized through a number of key technologies such as Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud, and IoT. However, the real impact of digitization is echoed in the corridors of small, medium and especially large enterprises through “digital transformation (DX).” In the next few years the impact of Digital Transformation will accelerate – giving rise to the DX economy as predicted by IDC. Internet of Things (IoT aka M2M, IIOT, IoE – though each has its specific focus) is considered the most important trend in digitization. Depending on the analyst or futurist, the estimates are anywhere from 25-50 Billion connected Things to hundreds of Billions – and I have even seen estimates of a trillion devices on the Internet by the year 2020! In other words, huge!

A recent study by McKinsey identifies four fundamentals of workplace automation: automation of activities, redefinition of jobs and business processes; the impact of high wage of occupations; and the future of creativity and meaning. The results of the surveys are quite interesting. Automation will impact all categories of work and wage occupations – but not necessarily via predictable norms.

Knowledge Assisted Work in Dynamic Case Management

Digitization and especially work automation trends are changing or even disrupting entire industries. There are many sources of “knowledge” or know-how. The spectrum of workers begins with clerical or manufacturing workers: repetitive and predictable work that can easily be automated. At the other end of the spectrum is the knowledge worker. Knowledge workers are the experts. They are cognitive workers. They innovate and often come up with ideas for new products as well as the policies and procedures in the organization. Between these two, you have the most important category that represents the majority of workers: the knowledge-assisted worker. The impact of a digitization platform on work automation for all categories of workers is significant: especially with Dynamic Case Management and digitized business rules as well as analytics.

Industrial “Things” and Robots?

From connected homes, cars, cities to entire industries such as healthcare, insurance, manufacturing, public sector and utilities – connected and increasingly intelligent devices are transforming entire ecosystems.

I recently attended and participated in panels in two European events. The first one was a major Industrial Internet event in Barcelona – IOT Solutions World Congress.

There were more than 4500 attendees. The IOT Solutions World Congress addressed IoT hardware as well as software solutions and platforms for a diverse range of industries. There were several start-ups exhibiting – including local ones from Spain – but also from across the globe. The other manufacturing-focused IoT event took place in Germany. Industrie 4.0 was organized by Handelsblatt – a leading German language business newspaper. It had several hundred participants and was primarily in German.

The Industrie 4.0 event focused on manufacturing and addressed interesting challenges pertaining to the future of and also innovation challenges from Silicon Valley, especially for German industries. Of course there were common themes, especially the business models and the importance of complex systems and processes to realize business value with IoT. The top and most important level in an IoT reference architecture involves orchestration and collaboration of Things – including Robots – in end-to-end digitized value streams and systems that are automated through digitized business processes. We have called this Process of Everything.

Robots and Consumers

In addition to industry sectors such as manufacturing, work automation trends with robotics and IoT are also transforming consumer oriented industries such as retail, hotels, and restaurants.

  • Shopping Assistant Robots: CES 2015 featured several types of robots. It also included that can assist the shoppers and guide them within the retail stores – potentially replacing human assistants.
  • Japan’s Robot Hotel: Another interesting example comes from Japan with almost human-like robots offering assistance to the guests. There are other types of robots – e.g. some appealing to children.
  • Robots in Chinese Restaurants: I had alluded to this in a previous post. Robots are becoming increasingly pervasive in China for various industries such as manufacturing and of course consumer industries such as restaurants. China is not alone. As mentioned in the article, South Korea has the world’s largest robot density.

Work to Optimize the Customer Experience

A disruptive shift is coming. This shift will be multi-faceted: participation of robots in the workplace; empowerment for knowledge work; and increasingly digital systems that continuously learn and adapt. As connected devices – including robots -become more and more pervasive, the relationship between humans and connected machines is going to profoundly affect the working environment. This is inevitable. Some jobs will be lost. New ones will be created. The best immunization in these shifting digitization trends is the laser focus on optimizing the customer experience – especially for the new breed of customers and consumers. Not surprisingly innovation will be the key differentiator. But innovation in digitization has many dimensions. IoT with CRM can provide tremendous opportunities for the future of work. Digital enterprises need to increase their velocities and effectiveness in responding to their customers. From knowledge-assisted workers to robots serving customer or self-service customer interactions, the insights gained from these sources can provide new opportunities in optimizing the customer experience especially when made actionable through end-to-end digitized value streams.