30 Business Automation Trends

Disrupting the Modern Workplace

The digital era where society and business has transitioned from analog to digital 0s and 1s has continued at a rapid pace. Many individuals and some future thinkers thought that computers and cell phones were potentially near the edge of technological advancement in general. Howewer, it is ever more complex algorithms and hardware with sensors that have taken the lead, and what is now disrupting the modern workplace.

Let’s take a look at this list of technological disruption:

1. Drones at Wal Mart

Yes, at America’s favorite superstore (or at least some people’s favorite) there is a project in the works to have drones in the stores actually search and retrieve items for you. The current setup has people in blue vests with the famous "How may I hep you" written on the back. There will likely be a reduction of those people in the workforce and more flying robots soon when you shop there.

It seems like a sci-fi movie that is actually happening.

2. Intelligent Warehouse Robots

The intelligent robots don’t stop at Wal Mart. In warehouses where we usually think of burly folks lifting heavy packages from one pallet rack to the other and managing forklifts. Those people are being replaced by smart warehouse robots that can take inventory from one area to another quite fast. Amazon.com recently purchased a warehouse robotics company called Kiva Systems. They paid $775 million dollars for the company and are already deploying these types of systems now.

3. Legal Research

There is a fascinating YouTube video floating around with millions of page views called "Humans Need Not Apply". In that particular video they mention what intelligent algorithms are doing to the legal profession. For lawyers, the real legal advantage separating bad from good comes from going through hundreds or thousands of cases looking to show precedent or find an angle to support your side. That takes one or more skilled attorneys many hours or even months of time in some cases. So there are now a few legal software "robots" that can analyze thousands of cases looking for similarities and patterns in legal precedent. Even the best attorneys couldn’t go through that many case and their paralegals and even attorneys themselves are getting replaces.

4. You Can Get Beat at Jeopardy

Although I wouldn’t exactly consider the game show Jeopardy a reliable source of income, at least for some contestants, they have made a ton of money. Take Ken Jennings for example. He is known for being the Jeopardy contestant with the highest winning totals of all time. His total winnings totaled $2,520,700. The IBM supercomputer named Watson beat him. Yes you read that correctly. That is one more source of income that could be disrupted by automation as it can process more historical facts and data than a human could in that time frame. (that is actually an understatement)

Attribution thanks to EHB_7849 for the pic

5. 3-D Printing

This may be one of the most disruptive on the list. It is still very early on in this industry, almost like the internet was in 1995. The most noticeable disruptions are happening in figurines, gadgets and even mechanical parts. One of the most popular marketplaces for intelligent 3d printing instructions that your printer can understand is on ShapeWays.

You can connect and get smart instructions to print iPhone cases, coffee cups and jewelry. Yes, they have metallic cartridges just like a regular printer uses ink cartridges.

As the machinery and software gets more sophisticated so will the products they can produce. In theory this should produce abundance and low cost goods for society However, the people who work in manufacturing may have to learn how to operate these machines as a new skill to learn.

6. Self-Driving Cars

Some science fiction fans may remember the movie Total Recall from 1990 featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger. It featured many technologies that seemed, well, so far in the future that we thought we’d never experience them personally. One of the more famous was of a self-driving taxi cab featured in this picture:

Now the car manufacturer Tesla has started shipping models that will self park and also drive on the freeways. This is happening right now. Eventually as things improve there will likely be completely autonomous cars. This will disrupt the cab/ride sharing industry and transportation to a large degree.

What this means for you. there will always need to be someone to manage the algorithms and machines intelligently.

7. Stock Trading Algorithms and Robots

The term "quant" which is short for quantitative analyst has become the most prized team member in many cases for the world’s biggest hedge funds. Collectively they manage trillions of dollars in capital. Most people when they think of money managers envision people in fancy attire pouring over sheets of paper statistics and calling multiple people on the phone to place trades. They are being replaced by quants who not only spot math patterns and crunch insane amounts of data, but even program machines to do the trading. They even build data centers closer to the stock exchanges to gain a competitive advantage. The extra few milliseconds to run the order ahead of a competitor can add up to an enormous amount of profits. So basically traders, floor brokers and financial analysts are getting replaced by machinery and those writing the code to operate the trading bots.

This picture of the New York Stock Exchange may soon look like an empty floor where the quotes on the screens are 100% being decided by robots.

8. Internet Ads and Programmatic Bidding

Shortly after the advent of the commercial internet in the mid 90s, there were advertisements popping up on websites. Some may remember seeing a puppet dog with a microphone for Pets.com and of course the many banner ads that you see daily browsing the web…i.e. Netflix, Amazon deals and other common banners.

Up until recently, many of those banners took a team of people behind the scenes to design, decide which sites they wanted to show up on, agree with the other party, sign a bunch of paperwork and go back and forth on technical implementation. And any of the slick negotiators who work for the millions of website publishers try to get as much as possible for a banner placement, are being replaced with one line of code in the header file of a website. 100,000s of thousands of advertisers can bid "programmatically" and actually have machines and algorithms in real-time trying to figure out the best site and browser profile to show to. These machines are entering millions of auctions a day like an advertising stock market. And the reverse break up value for the publisher is often worth many times more than having one agreement with one advertiser. Some of the companies playing in this space are The Rubicon Project, PubMatic and TheTradeDesk.

9. Facial Recognition Software for Shopping

This is one of the creepier tech trends on this list. When you enter a retail store to try on clothing, buy hardware from home depot or any other myriad of outlets, you are often greeted by a sales person. They may offer to assist you and/or you can ask them for help on finding items, deals etc. Now in a growing number of stores, they have deployed cameras with facial recognition technology to know exactly who you are as well as your buying preferences. And to make it even creepier, some of the more sophisticated algorithms can cross reference an individual with their social media profile and other seemingly personal information. And as they gather more data, they get smarter.

10. Facial Recognition Software for Security

The same style of software is not only being deployed for retail purposes but for security reasons as well. Of course there is always the privacy issue that comes up. When does technology over step its bounds into our personal sovereignty. I imagine this will be a debated topic for some time especially in regards to this one on the list.

11. Digital Assistants and Chat Bots

Ah customer service which is the foundation of a good company. Picking up the phone for decades was a staple of getting help and/or placing an order for a product or service. Then the advent of shopping carts and the ubiquitous live help pop ups, that connect to a person chatting in real-time were deployed all over the internet. Now, even the chat windows themselves are being automated by smart digital assistant bots. They run off of a repository of millions of statements and questions and have a method to get smarter as they gather more data. So basically a whole segment of the world economy, customer service, is starting to get replaced by robots. Some of the companies pioneering this are Twyla from Germany and Aivo in Argentina.

12. Article Writing - Particularly Sports Columnists

Many of the articles that you are reading right now, especially in regards to sports are being partially or entirely written by robots. Just like some of the other databases with algorithms on this list, they get larger and larger repositories of text and statistics to build upon. In a weird way, this is probably one of the comparatively easier technologies to build on this 30 list. So here is how a simplified version in theory would work. Take all the players on each team, their statistics and you could associate phrases with certain stats i.e. if 10 or more assists were achieved by Kawhi Leonard the machine could spit out "Kawhi Leonard wowed the crowd with 12 assists". Would you know the difference and would the crowd not be wowed if he did perform that way? Think about it. So, sports columnist and more journalists are being replaces by robots.

13. Medical Prescriptions and Pharmacies

The current medical system in the U.S. and most countries consists of trained doctors on the front line of treatment who must endure years of intense study. Then they have a residency and still spend years in practice learning how to evaluate symptoms and prescribe the right medications. Often times it is still trial and error and many mistakes are made. And the time and one it costs to train those doctors spans into the 100s of thousands of dollars or more. The new smart prescription recommendation robots can scan millions of patients’ records and try to find patterns in what is appropriate, often times beating the capability on one person. (I will stay hopeful and think there are still some superstars who can beat the computer :) )

And right now the University of San Francisco has deployed a $15 million dollar prescription distribution system. It is not just the doctors who make errors. The chain of command from writing to clerk to pharmacy to physically filling the order can have problems too. This system has an error rate near 0%. So doctors as well as pharmacists are already being replaced by robots…

14. iPhone Blood Test

In addition to doctors and pharmacists, blood labs and medical manufacturers are being replaced as well. The first major application involves those with diabetes. Many have to check their blood sugar at home purchasing expensive disposable kits. Now, there are a few applications including health with some simple hardware that let you monitor your blood sugar right from your smart phone. And other apps are getting more sophisticated that can check vitamin levels and other more complex tests that would take a whole lab to do.

15. HR

The HR department of a company is of course in charge of hiring candidates. The people (at least that is the case currently) make or break a company. They evaluate a resume and try to get a feel for if the person is qualified or not for a position by interviewing them. They also often spend a lot of time on time sheets, insurance and other duties as well. Full-time hr people cost the company money. Now, there are hr robots that are at least automating part of their jobs. Some of these hr systems can handle time keeping and scheduling like When I Work and Zenefits as well Bamboo HR which handles on boarding and other forms.

16. Cleaning Robots

This may be the simplest one on the list or the most well known if nothing else. However, the roomba vacuum that uses sensor technology to know the boundaries of your floor can save hours every month in time. In 2015 they made breakthrough in that it has an app and smart map so it can remember your room.

17. Intelligent Alerts

Just about every business and management process involves alerts. If you need to take an action you must be aware that something needs to be done. Here is a quick list of some of the alert systems that are taking place all around us that we don’t really think about.

  • Uptime - If your web server is up
  • Secure - If your website is secure
  • Yardi - If you need a commercial property task completed
  • Google Alerts - can be set for anything
  • Mint - If you need to pay a bill or have an overage on an account.
  • Prognosis by Ingersoll Rand - Advanced ccustom corporate infrastructure.
  • Stock Alerts - If a price or trade is met, that used to take a stock broker.

These tasks were previously entirely done by secretaries, middle managers and actual licensed property management, tech and finance professionals.

18. Robot Physical Therapy

Another medical segment that is being revolutionized by automation and robotics is physical therapy. From one off injuries to long-term improvement regiment, these robots not only assist you, but have intelligent learnings and software behind the scenes. As they get more advanced and more data they adjust automatically. Some of the companies in this space are Interactive Motion Technologies and Rehab Robotics.

19. Cloud/Grid Computing

Grid computing is like distributed computing at scale. Multiple parties and multiple algorithms can interact with each other and tasks can be broken down and processed efficiently and then output. The speeds and scale at which some of these advanced grid networks are being deployed is insane. Basically this is enabling machines to communicate and share resources with each other in ways that were previously not possible. This effects every profession. Multiple researchers and pc technicians and lab technicians would be needed to handle a small fraction of the calculating capabilities of one of these networks.

20. SaaS - Software as a Service

To buy and install enterprise software used to take a software installation expert. Companies like Siebel systems had engineers who would show up at your company and data center to configure and install a CRM software copy on your own hardware. With Salesforce and a slew of saas companies that have popped up, the software is hosted and accessed on their servers so no need to have a person install anything.

21. Robotic Chefs

The company that makes the robochef is out of London and called Moley Robotics. It is going to go on sale this year. And it can actually customize dishes according to the preference of the customer.

22. Surgical Robots

Surgeries have been taking place since the beginning of time. And by the 20th century things have advanced to the point where surgeons who go to school for years and have access to precision tools are operating. However, it is human to not be perfect on all days. Not that machines are perfect but in the precision and consistency area they can often beat regular surgeons. Now companies like intuitive surgical have made surgery robots that can be operated by afar and have automated the surgery process in many areas.

Thanks to Roswell Park for the pic

23. Robotic Farms

In 1790 90% of Americans lived in rural areas and produced at least some of their own food. Since the industrialization of farming only 2% of the population are farmers. And just like any business system there are many employees in the chain of operation. Now, farming robots and soil sensors are displacing heavy equipment operators and field workers who make up that 2%.

24. Food Delivery

Currently when you hear the term food delivery you may think of someone in an economical car who may work for yummy, instacart or amazon and bring you your groceries. Or a pizza delivery person with the sign on top of their car. Now companies like JustEat are experimenting with robot deliveries in Great Britain.

25. Robot Checkout Kiosks at Grocery Stores

Many grocery stores across the country now have an option for kiosk self checkout options. And this is happening at Target too which has groceries as well as retail items. So now there may be one manager of the 4-8 self checkout machines where before that would be 4-8 people doing the job themselves.

26. Accounting

KPMG and McLaren are developing software and systems to scan tens of thousands of pages. As the software gets smarter it will know how to make sense of the data and automatically populate spreadsheets and tax forms which would take many individual accountants hundreds of hours.

27. Coffee Barista Robots

In San Francisco they opened a coffee spot called Cafe X. Now even for the coffee snobs (me included) it takes not just a good bean but a skilled barista to manage the equipment to get the right espresso extraction, or to make a proper pour over coffee. They claim their robots can do just that. Would you want to try that place?

28. Redbox and Netflix

Up until the last few years, renting a movie consisted of going to your local Blockbuster. Or in many cases smaller mom and pop video stores that might have some obscure titles available. With the advent of Redbox, they made an automated movie rental store and you have either seen them or rented a dvd and returned one outside of many a store. And of course Netflix has digitized the entire process, and automated recommendations according to your history.

29. Collaborative Repositories

Linus Torvalds built the Linux operating system by having thousands of programmers all around the world email him pieces of code. Now Github and other repositories enable the automatic forking and collaboration of code bases creating more and more reusable code. And these repositories and processes are getting smarter and overlapping into scraping and algorithms. A company called Kaggle hosts data set archives and allows people to compete and analyze the data which can be used in a myriad of applications. Someone even scraped and uploaded 40,000 tinder photos to Kaggle which made a buzz.

30. Voice Recognition

Just about everyone has a smart phone. And as semantic search gets more advanced, so do the capabilities of voice search platforms. So the process of typing is even being automated by Alexa, Siri and Echo. Aside from the immediate convenience, voice transcription is also disrupting book editors and note takers in many industries. It seems like this all started with napster and music may have been the first big market to have been disrupted by digitization. However, automation is where the users didn’t even have to do anything and the machines did it themselves.

Technology is supposed to be a tool used for convenience and societal benefit. Let’s remember not to lose our humanity.