Future of retail is robotic and not just in the supply chain
Photo source: iStock.com
By Devin Gharibian-Saki, chief solution officer, Redwood Software
Retailers are rapidly working to incorporate robotics into their operations. The images of robots taking over human tasks in warehouses have grabbed consumer attention, as the public imagines one of the most labor intensive industries being run by metal men rather than humans.
The pressure on retailers is clear: the U.S. market is over supplied in retail square meters, while the Amazon behemoth continues to consume more and more of consumers' wallet share.
For retail, fast, efficient supply chains directly impacts the bottom line, driving revenue and margin. As an extension, retail has been historically among the most receptive industries to automation, particularly within their supply chain.
While augmenting human labor in the supply chain with robots enables increased productivity, this advancement is rendered ineffective when the back office acts as an effective bottleneck. Decades-old software and processes keep the back office moving at a crawling pace. The next frontier of automation will be in white collar jobs, not warehouse stackers.
The CIO moment
Retail CEOs are always aware it is vital to continually streamline operations, improve product outcome while meeting consumer demand at scale. For the retail CIO, this innovation often stopped with ERP to maintain a rational supply chain.
The growing sophistication of robotics is entering new areas of every business — and for retail, the next frontier is the back office. Retail CIOs suddenly find themselves at the forefront of the opportunity to improve operations, without ever setting foot in a warehouse.
Retailers can learn a lot from their bete noire, Amazon. The Seattle giant's advantage in reaching customers doesn't lie in warehouse technology. Instead, they have a slick interface and rapid transaction times: exactly the flexibility and usability the modern consumer craves. Instead of competing to put product on the shelves faster, retailers should rip a page from the Amazon playbook and look to make their internal processes faster.
Retail CIOs have the opportunity to truly make their businesses more agile and competitive, if they can look beyond the supply chain and see the need for robotics in the back office. By automating and customizing the millions of processes that make up a retail operation, from finance to HR and IT, retailers can set the stage for a new era of growth.
Automating the countless repetitive tasks behind financial, legal, human resources and IT processes is what will enable a lean retail operation. Not only will it benefit the broader business, but the employees will be able to say goodbye to the drudgery of simple, repetitive tasks, just as factory workers have said goodbye to the back-breaking labor and hazards of early industrial workplaces.
Looking to the future
The future of work is quite simple, and lies in the CIOs' hands. Driven by IT advancements, work is continuing on its age-old path to move toward greater education and higher skill levels, enabling a more fulfilling workplace. Rather than packs of androids carrying out the work once done by hard working humans, the workplace of the future will be comprised of highly-skilled, highly productive workers utilizing cutting edge technology. In order to compete with the Amazons of this world, and ensure employee retention and satisfaction, retailers need to take the tired concept of robotizing the supply chain, and bring it to the back office.
This new dimension of automation in the back end can have a profound impact on how retailers do business. In retail, it is no secret customer experience is the be-all, end-all of a successful operation, and through automating the backlog of menial activities and tasks, staff and executives can devote more energy and time to ensuring that the entire business is moving toward a better customer experience.