The Robots are Here — Are You Ready?

By Glenn Bowers

Businesses around the world are using robots to modernize operations.

Every company is a technology company. Innovation is what keeps companies nimble, progressive, and efficient. Robots have been the symbol of futurism for generations — and the truth is that the future is now. The robots are here.

Take healthcare, for example. Companies like OhmniLabs and Monogram are developing robots for everything from telepresence to robotic surgical assistants. The pandemic has also introduced a new wave of robotics for office and retail spaces. We are seeing more remote telepresence with robots roaming warehouses, checking barcodes, counting inventory, checking on patients, and even sanitizing workspaces.

A recent report from The Economist says that the spike in automation and robotics will stick around long after the pandemic is settled. The article leads with a story about GM using robotics and AI for autonomous electric pallets in warehouses — which highlights how robotics aren’t just for futuristic marketing sizzle — robotics are officially a part of mainstream logistics and operations.

According to this 2020 story in TechJury.net, 88% of businesses worldwide plan to adopt robotic automation into their infrastructure. This stat was established before the pandemic accelerated the adoption of robotics. We expect that the number of businesses looking to robotics and automation has only increased, as long as the supply chain can keep up.

Aaron Campbell, who leads strategic partnerships for Ohmnilabs, summed up the future of robotics thusly, “In virtually every major industry, I’ve seen first-hand how the pandemic catalyzed the adoption of emerging technologies and our robots, in particular. From Fortune 500 companies to government institutions, one message is resoundingly clear: robots have a place in nearly every type of organization.” Valence partners with companies such as Ohmnilabs founded on our shared interest in emerging technologies and innovative user experiences.

Robotics will undoubtedly be one of the most important strategies that leaders and organizations in congested spaces use to expand market share, increase profitability, and displace competition.

At the end of the day, digital transformation is a requisite part of creating a competitive advantage, and, ultimately, survival. We’ve taken note of this and created an Enterprise Pilot Program to make it easy for interested leaders to start the process.

Will robotics fit into your business?

If 88% of businesses have determined that robotics fit into their business, there’s a good chance that it could fit into yours. If you are curious about where robotics or Robotics Process Automation (RPA) could be applied to your business, look at your work processes and workflows to find the interactions and transactions that could be automated, freeing up your human resources for higher value inputs.

As the price of sensors and chips continues to decrease, driven largely by advances within the mobile computing market, there has been a dramatic drop in the cost of robots. In certain cases, robots like the

OhmniLabs telepresence robot can be purchased for less than $5,000. This makes it much easier and more affordable for companies to invest in a robotics project.

How to kick off and scale a robotics program

Start with a pilot program. Pilot programs are a smart way to ease into a new technology. A small-scale pilot program could provide your company with a way to explore the potential impact of a new technology before making a significant investment. The goal of a pilot program is to understand what is feasible. It creates a safe and controlled environment to test logistics, assess value, and reveal deficiencies before deploying the technology at a large scale.

If this is the first time that your company is investing in a robotics pilot program, we recommend that you start by automating processes that are less complex in nature. This will increase the likelihood that your initial pilot program will succeed. Once you’ve identified the objectives of a robotics pilot program, your team can document the steps to test the concept and establish metrics to evaluate the success of the pilot. Because the driving goal of a pilot program is to learn about what is possible while the stakes are controlled, most pilot programs achieve some degree of success. You can’t go wrong if you are learning.

Following the pilot, you need to understand how what is required to scale the program up. When scaling up a pilot program to full production release, fewer than 15% of pilot programs achieve the desired ROI. This low success rate is largely due to the lack of a holistic approach to production scaling rather than because of the capabilities of the technology. To improve your chances of achieving the desired ROI, there are a few things you should consider when scaling from a small pilot to an enterprise production release.

  1. Depending on the complexity of your implementation, you may need to work with multiple vendors, each with its own hardware/sensor extensions. Those hardware/software extensions will each need to integrate with your company’s platforms and other hardware.
  2. Be realistic about the time and effort required to integrate robotic devices. Due to a lack of industry standards, each of these integrations will likely require some form of custom implementation. The resources needed to develop, deploy, and manage a production robotic fleet is often underestimated.
  3. The work doesn’t stop once your solution has been deployed across your enterprise. There will be a need for maintenance and updates to your robots and ancillary hardware and sensors. Account for the ongoing resources needed to maintain your implementation.

A secret weapon: The Innovation Scale Roadmap

Our work with clients across industries has revealed that the secret to a successful deployment of an emerging technology from pilot to production is the Innovation Scale Roadmap (ISR). An ISR can help you to develop a strategy that pulls internal stakeholders together, supports the development and implementation of new technology, and prepares the company for innovation.

A quality ISR will document and plan for the success criteria for technical and implementation measures. The ISR will guide the evaluation of the pilot program and help the company determine whether or not they are ready to scale from pilot to production. In addition to the value that the ISR brings as a decision-making tool, it is also critical as a strategic roadmap that can be referenced throughout deployment. The ISR should include a detailed deployment plan that addresses the desired rate of scaling into production along with the ongoing development and support needs for the program.

Want to learn more? Contact us, and we can talk. You can also check out this roundup of robotics at the CES virtual tradeshow, where Katie Collins breaks down many of the robotics solutions that caught her eye.

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