Robotics And The Productive Worker
Boosting productivity. It's the mandate and mission of every organization. What I learned recently during a discussion is that besides monitoring workplace computers for employee output, enterprises might someday resort to an amazing array of information to gauge their workers - including genetic records. Some might call it Orwellian, but experts say that the day is near when a prospective candidate for a job might be asked for some DNA in the form of a swab of the inner cheek. Those who refuse to do so - well, what are they trying to hide?
One of the things that technology is supposed to do is to illuminate, and it has done so very well when it comes to measuring an employee's output. Because so many workers now operate connected machinery or sit in front of computers, organizations can record and measure their output against datasets of similar workers. One expert wrote that it will become harder for one employee to hide behind the excellent work of a group of co-workers.
I don't know about you, but one of the funniest television shows of the past 15 years was The Office, which poked fun at corporate life. So much time is spent fulfilling regulatory and compliance measures in the modern workplace that very little work actually gets done. It's ironic that the regulations meant to guard and to empower workers are now holding them back. Which is why it might be ideal for robotics to leave the nest that is the factory (some 30 percent of robots in the economy are currently used for auto components, chassis, and suspension) and fly on over to the office.
According to a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group, manufacturers will opt for robots when the cost of using one is 15 percent less than employing a human worker. Part of the equation is that robots come with maintenance, power, security, and software costs. But a company can even rent those services to keep its robots in good working order. Plus, think about human welders in an automobile plant who make US$ 25 an hour (after health and insurance benefits, pension, breaks, vacation time, union dues, etc.) compared to US$ 8 an hour for robots. The initial investment in a robotic assembly line could go a long way.
The best part of today's scenario is that there need not be a long-term investment in robotics. They can be leased like storage space on a Cloud. Companies that want virtual chatters in their call centers or even automated greeters in their Big Box stores can rent robots and associated services from the companies that manufacture them. One of my favorite companies is Intellibot Robotics, the only American manufacturer of robotic commercial floor cleaners. The machines use maps and sensors to vacuum and scrub floors in offices, hotels, and factories.
Do we as humans need to maintain some kind of balance? That's always been the question, hasn't it? The author of a great new book, The Pixar Touch, writes that the über-successful animation company actually holds back in its finished product. That is, they could produce even more life-like images in their movies. But the appeal is that human audiences enjoy the animated look and sound of the characters. Anything too close to resembling humans would seem a bit creepy, according to the book. Think of the difference to the downright cute R2D2 of the Star Wars movies to the extremely lifelike droids in the Aliens and Terminator franchises. One is loveable, the others are menacing and unpredictable.
That's why my hunch is that the unseen robot will come to offices and homes first. Like the robot that uses artificial intelligence to build a website that hones in on the expectations of consumers. Shoppers might wonder how the website seems to know them and their shopping habits so well. As far as the illumination of a human worker's output, however, robotics might best be used as tools to help an organization get the very best out of a person. So when a robot measures certain deficiencies in a human's productivity, the answer isn't to replace her - which is costly - but rather suggest ways to improve through on-the-job gamification techniques and other motivational tools.
Our own experiences with clients who have been early adopters have led to dramatic insights. One of them discovered that the total time spent by a human worker on the machine including scheduled meetings was only four hours in a day, and that they could save US$ 15 million a year by not overpaying contractors. Another client discovered that they could save US$ 25 million per year by simply looking at derivative insights on user desktop licenses that are not being actually used by the human worker but being paid for through software AMC.
The good news is that enterprises are approaching robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence in an extremely measured and mature manner. They're slow to institute organization changes, but when they do, they're with the best interest of the company and all of its human employees in mind.