A robot is not taking your job

Factory staffed by robots.

Part of my morning routine is flicking through articles on my Flipboard app over a cup of coffee. In addition to some personal selections on politics, comedy and food & wine, I follow #TheFuture, #Automation and #Robotics. It seems I can’t go a day without reading about how an evil robot is going to take my job and devastate the modern economy.

It’s true, robots will displace work. A recent study from researchers at Oxford University finds that 47% of jobs in the United States are at “high risk” of being replaced by robots. Delve into this data, however, and you will find that these jobs are repeatable tasks with often binary outcomes. As any supply chain executive knows, managing a global network is anything but binary.

Our own SCM World data shows that 35% of supply chain executives view automation and robotics as both disruptive and important today. Even more say the same of digital networks (66%) and analytics and modelling (77%). As demonstrated in 2011 by IBM’s Watson on Jeopardy and just last week when Google’s DeepMind won a historic Go contest, technology will dominate human logic and analytics.

Supply chain professionals have generated billions of dollars of cost savings and globalised modern businesses with practices like Lean, S&OP and process standardisation. The common thread to these frameworks is that they are the definition of ‘left brain’ work. Each is linear, analytical and designed to use logic to solve binary problems.

The next wave of technological innovations from automation, virtual reality and advanced analytics will displace much of this left brain work. This reality should be welcome news to anyone planning a career in supply chain.

It’s time to right brain your supply chain

Left brain activities are logical, linear and analytical. Right brain work is holistic, intuitive and creative.

Infographic showing left-brain and right-brain skills.

I’ve now presented the concept of the ‘right brain supply chain’ to several audiences. Our discussions have shown that most supply chain professionals view our work as left brain. The most common question I get asked is how to develop right brain capabilities.

Note the first right brain activity listed above: “process information holistically”. People in supply chain do this all day, every day. We are network thinkers.

Right-braining the supply chain will usher in a new era of supply chain expertise. Most notably, the future of our profession will be for the designers and the storytellers.

Design requires both logic and intuition. It also flexes between sequential processes and a broader understanding of an overall network. Network, product and even packaging design are all examples of blending the left brain and right brain.

The SCM World community is full of good storytellers. And perhaps the best place to look for examples is our annual Power of the Profession Awards. We’re fortunate that three of our 2016 winners, The Coca-Cola Company (in partnership with Georgia Tech), Intel and Volvo, will be hosting a live webinar to share their stories of supply chain talent innovations. Click here to register.

Welcome the robots

We’ve just finished our survey on how digital technologies will both disrupt and enable customer-centric supply chains. The number one opportunity is getting a clear understanding of what customers value and will pay for.

Graph showing that many find customer insight hard to get.

It’s no wonder 74% of you say this data is hard to get but offers high value. Access to data is only part of the challenge; interpreting it is what will ultimately provide insight.

The internet of things, big data analytics and digital supply chains will garner improved access to data. Predictive analytics, robotics and automation will remove the left brain barriers to managing the data, but simultaneously require a human touch.

Our human ability to understand intangible value, to empathise with the minority and the very right brain capability of thinking holistically will solidify the need for supply chain expertise. The good news is that the tedious work of capturing, synthesising and analysing massive amounts of data will all be taken care of for us by our robot peers.

I, for one, welcome the robots.

If you’d like to share your right brain supply chain story, please contact me at [email protected]


Author Matt Davis

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