A Robot is for life not just for Christmas

Virtual reality software
First off, I’m not about to get all Skynet and Cybernetics, nor am I going to spout on about the ‘Rise of the Machines’. However, since the 1984 release of The Terminator we have all (well those that have been around since before then) seen huge developments in technology and those leaps appear greater year on year. So, coming to the end of 2017 I thought it was worth reflecting on some of the latest technologies that seem set to affect the way we drive our businesses in 2018 and beyond.

As Owners, MD’s and CEO’s we are all striving to develop our businesses to performer at higher levels, whether that’s increased turnover, profitability, market share or brand awareness/perception. We’ve invested in our people and our technology to streamline processes, improve efficiencies and differentiate ourselves from our competitors. So, what more can we do and what’s it going to do with Arnie and the proliferation or poor spin-off movies and franchises?

Well, the truth is, the Robots are here and in the form of VR, AI, AR and Bots, they’re here to help; here’s how:

Remote Working

Virtual Reality (VR) is being used increasingly for video conferencing purposes to bring workers in diverse locations together. Whilst simple meetings can be facilitated via more traditional video conferencing methods, VR and Augmented Reality (AR) can be used to change the environment of the meeting and even present products at the meeting for individuals to view and comment on. Ford are currently using Microsoft Hololens to bring workers together to view vehicles prototypes, allowing them to immediately see the results of design changes and how this impacts on the look of the vehicle and even the impact of something like changing the size of a wing mirror and what this does to visibility. All of this saving time and cost on the production of physical models and prototypes.

Training

VR can generate safe and risk-free training environments, it can also save costs in travel by representing remote environments from the comfort of the local office.

An AR device could be used to show you what to do by using overlaid animations, with information dynamically changing based on the task you are performing. This type of training could easily be adapted to teach people how to perform a number of physical tasks, ideal for engineers or mechanics who would be able to quickly learn the basics without being trained by another employee and reduce the need to consult a manual.

Talent Acquisition

Recruiting the right people for any business is a costly exercise. Companies continue to employ more and more creative and sophisticated methods to make sure they get the right people. VR is now being deployed by companies to allow candidates to experience the environment they’ll be asked to work in and what a job may entail. It also allows employers to further test candidates skills before making a final decision.

Empathy

‘Walking in the customers shoes’ and truly empathizing can reduce costs in developing or providing solutions or products or improve customer service overall. To this end, VR can reproduce a customer experience and environment so that employees can truly understand what they are experiencing.

It’s not only commercial organisations that can take advantage of VR in this way. Currently Charities are using this technology to encourage prospective donors or volunteers to get involved by allowing them to experience the effects of the charity or the scenarios they support.

Product Development and testing

Utilizing VR and AR can significantly reduce the time and cost involved in developing product prototypes. Companies such as Ford and Audi are using this to replace traditional clay modelling. Designs can be produced and refined virtually, with designers all over the world being able to collaborate and influence design changes immediately and without having to be in the same room or country. VR allows designers to walk around a product and see it from a full 360° perspective, with AR taking that product and allowing it to be seen in different scenarios, light conditions and weather.

Marketing

Marketing is probably the area where we are all likely to experience and VR and AR during 2018. Manufacturers are becoming more attuned to the use of technology to market their products, with a variety of AR apps to help us visualize products in our own homes or environments before purchasing, from seeing paint colours on walls to what a new car might look like on our drive or sofa in our lounge. Kitchen designers are now elevating 3D designs to AR and VR concepts so we can see exactly what it will look like in our own home.

Customer Services

VR and AR can significantly reduce the costs in providing customer service. Not only does it allow employees to empathize with a customer situation (see above) but it can also provide valuable tools to train and provide guidance on problem solving and technical guidance. Lift manufacturer, ThysenKrupp is using VR to visualize an elevator repair before the technician reaches the site. Once onsite, the technician can use AR to view digital overlays of manuals and repair guides to apply a fix.

In addition to VR and AR innovation, companies are using Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to automate customer service responses, with the responses becoming more and more tailored, accurate and effective as the Bot learns from every engagement. These intelligent assistants are already being used by many businesses to provide answers and solutions to regularly asked support questions and even taking sales orders automatically, saving time and providing customers with a quicker speed of response to waiting for a human operative. Add Machine Learning (ML) and we can now include things like sentiment analysis to understand whether communications from customers display particular emotions, changing responses to reflect this.

Understanding our business and market

We’d all like to think we know best when it comes to our own business and the market/s we operate in, but is that rally true? We base many of our decisions on data presented to us. However, the speed at which we need to do this in order to react to changing conditions is ever increasing, as is the volume of data we have to deal with. Many companies are therefore leaning towards ML and AI to analyse and model data, providing insight and direction to drive behaviours tactically and strategically. Obviously, a computer can churn data far quicker than we can, it also has the capability to apply multiple algorithmic based scenarios at any one time with the ability to enhance its outputs based on what it learns over time.

So that’s it then, we just hand over the keys……..?

Well, not quite just yet. The original Terminator film was essentially a tale of caution and this is no different. As with all technology we need to fully understand before relying on it totally. However, what is clear is that companies are investing heavily in these innovations and this will continue. That’s fine if you’re Microsoft, Google, Apple or Amazon, but what about the rest of us. Well, as is generally seen in industry, there is a trickle-down effect making this technology more cost effective and more available to smaller businesses. The key is really about understanding how you can start to take advantage of these ideas and ensure that your ongoing business strategy considers the use of innovation in technology to increase your competitive edge and drive performance.