The emerging role of ‘robot co-workers’ on the B2B technology roadmap

robot co-workers
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Key transformative technologies such as articial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) are evolving and maturing at a breakneck pace. With these key transformation enablers, robots are joining the B2B landscape in a number of ways.

The business and operational value of industrial robots has been well understood and accepted for some time. Now business leaders are looking beyond industrial applications to the concept of service robots that are able to contribute value to back-office and front of house operations in new and innovative ways.

We are rapidly moving to a future where AI-enabled robots are programmed to function alongside workers, interact with customers, gather and process critical data, and perform administrative functions. They will also be integrated with mission critical systems to streamline backend processes, support compliance requirements, or respond to data-related questions. Forward-thinking leaders are investing in robots now, in recognition of the importance of ensuring their organization is ready to adopt and realize business value from these much more robust use cases.

According to a May 2018 IDC report, Robotic Technology Goes Beyond Automation: “Robotic technology continues to improve resulting in new and innovative ways in which robotics is improving business processes and helping to improve human performance and safety.”

The Forrester Wave™: Robotic Process Automation, Q2 2018 report notes that 4 million robots will be doing office, administrative, and sales tasks by 2021 .

Technology is not enough

To understand the potential role of robots in the workplace, let’s first consider the challenges around digital transformation as a whole.

As exciting and impressive as technology advancements are, they are not the only factor in realizing the expected business benefits of digital transformations. No matter how innovative a technology is, succesful digital transformation is also about people and processes.

The reality is, digital transformations often fail because people are resistant to adopting new ways of working because they fear losing their jobs or are unclear in terms of how to integrate process change into their daily routines.

One key hurdle with digital transformation in general is that its processes are often invisible to the people who need to work with them. This is where robots can potentially play an important role, as they can serve as a highly engaging and practical physical manifestation of a company’s new way of working.

The sum of many parts

Business owners need to be aware however, that implementing robots is not as simple as a plug and play voice assistant, tablet, or smartphone. While they are instantly engaging for the end user, realizing business value or generating business-relevant work from a robot requires interaction design (conversational, visual, process) in addition to robotics and coding expertise.

Also, there is a lack of understanding around how robots can actually support employees. By customizing apps to create unique interactions, businesses can both enrich relationships with customers and improve employee engagement.

To realize service robots’ true potential in a business setting, budgets will need to consider not just hardware costs, but also custom app development and organizational change management (OCM). That will mean, among other things, engaging subject matter experts who can help them design and develop intelligent, compassionate robot experiences that can benefit both customers and employees.

Top 5 Robot Use Cases

There is already a proliferation of robot form factors in the market. In North America, robots are being used as greeters in retail stores. Service robots are also being uitlized around the world in banks, health care facilities, airports and more.

As for up and coming applications, our market and field research has identified what will likely be the top use cases for robots in the coming year. They are:

  1. Marketing Specialist: Marketing operations can amplify sales and marketing messages using engaging robots to attract attention, build awareness, and capture more leads.
  2. Talent Scout: A robot co-worker can support HR specialists at career fairs to attract tech-savvy people to apply for jobs.
  3. Employee Training Support: Businesses can use robots as a more interactive and engaging form factor for online training content to improve compliance, enhance practice scenarios, and increase participation.
  4. Inside Sales Agent: Service robots can be programmed to provide best practice answers to common questions asked of customer service, or inside sales people creating proposals (e.g. insurance quotes).
  5. Queue Management: Service robots can alleviate backlogs by providing check-in services for scheduled appointments, facilitating queue management for tech support, enabling digital registrations for special events, or collecting wait-time analytics to learn about customers/prospects and identify opportunities for process improvement.

There is no doubt that robot co-workers can help improve the success of strategic initiatives within an enterprise. The question remains whether or not North American business leaders are ready to push forward the technology adoption cycle and integrate robot co-workers in their offices. By embracing a robot technology roadmap today, businesses can be ahead of the game in supporting their employees with innovative, strategic workplace solutions.

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Janneke Ritchie
Janneke Ritchie is the founder and CEO of Orange Gate, a design and development studio and innovation lab where the staff includes four robot co-workers. Orange Gate specializes in developing customized apps that allow robots and humans to interact in a business environment. A seasoned executive, Janneke has a keen eye for the next big thing in technology adoption. She’s a communications, organizational change and IT governance expert with more than two decades of experience in helping organizations in financial, IT, pharmaceutical, and resource industries generate business value from the latest technologies.