“The adoption of new digital technologies and the ever-changing expectations of customers continues to challenge traditional retailers, forcing them to investigate new-human hybrid operational models, including artificial intelligence (AI), automation and robotics.”
“The retail industry continues to transform through a period of unprecedented change, with customer experience as the new currency,” said Kelsie Marian.
Gartner research shows that 77% of retailers plan to deploy AI by 2021, with the deployment of robotics for warehouse picking as the No. 1 use case. Warehouse picking involves smart robots working independently or alongside humans. In the future, retailers will establish units within the organisation for procuring, maintaining, training, taxing, decommissioning and proper disposal of robot resources. In addition, they will create the governance required to ensure that people and robots can effectively collaborate.
Many retail workers want to use AI specifically as an on-demand or predictive assistant, meaning the robot will need to work alongside humans. “This means the robot will have to “mesh” with the human team — essentially meaning that both sides will need to learn how to “collaborate” to operate effectively together,” said Ms Marian.
An example is an autonomous robotic kitchen assistant that learns an operator’s specific recipes and prepares them according to the wishes of the operator. The robot can work in harmony with the operators who, in turn, are having to adapt to changing consumer tastes.
Choosing the right candidate — human and machine — for the job is critical for success. A combined effort from HR, IT and the line-of-business employing managers will be required to identify the skills needed to ensure the pair work together effectively. “Retail CIOs must provide ongoing maintenance and monitoring performance for effectiveness. If not, the team may be counterproductive and lead to a bad customer experience,” said Ms Marian.
The introduction of AI and robotics will likely cause fear and anxiety among the workforce — particularly among part-time workers. It will be vital for retail CIOs to work with HR and business leaders to address and manage employees’ skills and concerns; and change their mindset around the development of robot resource units.