By Rudraksh Bhawalkar, Practice Manager, Analytics, Africa Region, Wipro Limited and Gavin Holme, Wipro Limited’s Africa Country Manager
A robot-driven future is closer than we think. According to Gartner’s “Top Predictions for IT Organisations and Users for 2016 and Beyond”, more than three million workers globally will have robo-boss supervision by 2018. Initially performing monitoring and supervisory functions, these robo-bosses will eventually undertake logical staffing decisions. Also by 2018, there will be six billion “things” connected to the internet, seeking out other businesses and performing digital transactions, automating processes and providing a wealth of data to streamline, improve and enhance the way we do business. Of these six billion devices connecting to the Internet of Things (IoT) and generating data, two million of them will be health-and-fitness tracking devices that employees will be required to wear as a condition of employment.
While this not-so-distant picture of our future sounds intimidating and potentially scary for humans, it will have a positive impact from a business and personal perspective. While it will be hard for humans to adapt at first, the benefits will far outweigh the potential negatives.
Automation is imminent
It is our increasing acceptance of Artificial Intelligence (AI), both in the business and consumer sectors, that has coupled with the growing popularity of wearables to mould Gartner’s predictions for the IT realm, showing that AI is gaining a firm foothold in our lives.
Automation, analytics and the IoT have already begun to combine and usher in an age of total digitisation for business. Given that most organisations are customer-facing, whether corporate, retail or individual businesses, digitisation will have the effect of providing real-time information. This will be achieved through analytics, about what a user is doing on web and mobile channels, offering more information about the customer than what is already on record. Organisations will now be able to tell what the customer is thinking, obtain data about their experience, their behaviour and how they’re spending their money.
By adding automation to the mix, organisations can remove the need for manual human intervention in the consumer’s online activities. Through the creation of environments that are automatically aware of receiving these data points, it is possible for these smart systems to create next best action or next best offer. This could include providing customers with coupons and incentives to purchase, through the delivery of direct, targeted campaigns. In this way, businesses can benefit from being able to monetise data, increase revenue, boost loyalty, prolong retention and create a better customer experience.
For those industries that are not directly consumer-orientated, there will be massive benefits from automation, analytics and the IoT. One example is in industries like oil and gas, where upstream business processes occur that include an element of risk. Temperature and pressure sensors provide information about the environment and acidity of the oil which can be used to pre-empt breakages or failures. They can be used positively for just-in-time warehouse inventory and to alert management about the conditions of machinery, without the need for human intervention. Before a failure occurs, replacements can be ordered and implemented without breaking any component of the oil processing line. From that perspective, businesses can benefit from zero downtime, reduced costs and operations that are extremely efficient and reliable.
In 2018 Gartner predicts that robo-bosses will have begun to infiltrate the workplace. At first, they will be doing simple things, like attendance checks and performance monitoring through certain sets of algorithms that observe activities and provide reports. Manual intervention will still be necessary as a human brain and touch cannot yet be replaced, but at the same time these robo-bosses will keep a close eye on activities and raise a red flag for behavior that is outside of the norm. When it comes to employee appraisals, the process will be similar. Based on activities, (such as sales-generation and lead-generation activities), all data can be sent through an algorithm to produce a performance index, which will deliver an accurate, if somewhat un-feeling, performance appraisal. In this way, robo-bosses will at first play a role of monitoring or supervision and the training process will be automated. Further on down the line? The possibilities are endless. We might see a robot replacing the CEO of a company.
It’s undeniable that this will impact on employee headcounts, and in some parts of the world this has already begun. In a Chinese factory, workers in a manufacturing plant have already been replaced by robots. While robot workers will increase efficiency for the business, there will be fewer jobs for humans. Even this has a positive aspect, given that the impact of robo-workers will be felt in industries that are hazardous and areas that are dangerous, such as minefields in war-torn countries that need to be cleared for human safety. Furthermore, it gives rise to upskilling, enabling employees to master a new skillset that results in self-development and improvement.
Wearing the future
Wearable technology is making an impact on our lives and these devices gather lots of data about the wearer. While it might seem invasive at first, these devices can be used for security purposes, much like access cards. They can also be used positively in hazardous environments like mining, to provide information about the location and health vitals of the wearer should an accident occur. The benefits to both employer and employee are so significant that Gartner predicts that wearing such a device will be a condition of employment for two million people by 2018.
The big question on everyone’s lips right now: what are the pros and cons of these data-driven, analytics-based technologies, from a human perspective? The answer is simple. Right now, we’re surrounded by data. There are upsides to this. Data can be used to inform and automate our interactions with customers and transform our business processes. On the other hand, given the high volume of transactions taking place every minute, there is always the danger that these transactions can be hacked.
Regardless of the pros and cons; generating data and leveraging it appropriately can provide information about a situation or environment, allowing it to be rectified. The pros far outweigh the cons, once we accept that harnessing the power of data is the future, in any industry.