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Pick any Sci-fi movie from 80s or 90s. The world imagined in those movies 30-40 years from then (which would be now), is much more futuristic than where we are currently. Yet, if you read interviews of producers, scriptwriters of those movies, or talk to then adults who were fans of those movies, you will hear/extract a consistent theme:
Considering the explosive pace of Technological progression, it seemed logical that we would have achieved the level of technology depicted in the movie.
But the truth is- we did not ! But why ?
The Delta to perfection is impossible to achieve in some instances
Whether it is the self driving cars, AI algorithms becoming cognizant, Colonizing moon and/or Mars, Robots doing surgery without any human assistance- we seem to have fallen short of all things that creative folks were pretty certain that we will have in next four decades. Afterall, all they were trying to do is to chart the exponential growth rte in Technology to extrapolate where it will go in next 3-4 decades, logically.
Yes, Moore’s Law is always at play, Technology is indeed evolving exponentially, but here is a very important lesson here:
Despite the exponential advances in Technology, an extremely wide chasm exists between using Technology as an enabler (where it enables humans to perform tasks) and Technology taking over a process completely, where human cognition was involved or Technology being solely responsible for keeping human lives safe for a long period of time.
Why is this important to understand as a functional manager ?
Technology has its limitations. And some of those limitations will always remain, unless some miraculous invention comes into play. And the central theme of these limitations is – we can not trust technology to make critical decisions, without any human interpretation or intervention.
And a candid example is “Smart Thermostats”. No, these thermostats do not make “critical” decisions but I wanted to use this example to illustrate how these thermostats struggle to apply what they “learn” in making decision that are mundane- like adjusting temperatures. And the reason I used the word “candid” is because you have to candidly answer this question-“How many times you have to manually override the decisions made by your Smart Thermostst?”. An honest answer will be-Many. I am a Tech enthusiast and I play around my NEST a lot- if you expose its motion sensors with a clockwork “motion or no motion”, consistent manual temperature inputs, it can do a decent job. But if you try confusing it, you will not have to try hard at all.
So even though the Thermostat may seem very close to something that can make this vanilla decision of adjusting tempertaure- it is not perfect.
And now you can extrapolate this scenario to more complicated decision making.
If you think about this from a Supply Chain perspective- In Manufacturing environments, where processes are very rigidly defined within the four walls of an Manufacturing facility, I can see great opportunities to have an “almost” lights out factory in some Industries. Some human presence will always be required.
But warehouse becomes more complex. Daily activities change with a different staging and pick schedules, Inbounds, outbounds – Machines, bith in the form of bots and Algorithms can help make handling this chaos much much easier, but expect much more human intervention. The fact is, with the exception of some specific type of warehousing facilities in some specific industries, warehouses will be more “Human- Machine” collaboration than Manufacturing.
The real challenge of Smart automation comes when you move into Logistics. And this is where you are far away from bots and algorithms taking over.
Yet- Technology is playing and will continue playing the most important role in today’s Supply Chain networks. But the reason it is extremely helpful to understand the limitations of technology is because that helps you understand how you need to design the underlying processes, talent and org structure, so that they complement your technology capabilities perfectly. You should not be chasing capabilities that are not realistic or in some cases, not required, for your organization to have best in class Supply Chain technological prowess.
Views expressed are my own.