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Robots are coming: How can you use them?

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Even though the uptake of robots in South Africa has been slow, they are already being used to or the likes of combatting rhino poaching, showing that we are recognising their advantages, writes HANS KUIPERS, Partner & MD at BCG South Africa.

The global market for robotics—the use of computer-controlled robots to do manual tasks—is growing far faster than expected. In 2014, BCG projected that the market would reach $67 billion by 2025. In 2017, we increased that estimate to $87 billion. Much of the accelerated growth will come from the consumer market because of applications such as self-­driving cars and devices for the home.

Although uptake of robotics in South Africa has been slower than in developed markets – there is no generally accepted valuation of what the market is worth in the country, for instance – there is growing recognition of the opportunities the field provides and the massive potential for growth moving forward. Already there are examples of South African-produced robotics that are assisting in combatting rhino poaching, as well as in dangerous industrial applications such as in mines or on oil rigs. This indicates that South Africa is increasingly adopting robotics as its value is recognised.

Today’s robots have voice and language recognition, access to large amounts of data, algorithms to process information independently, learning capability, greater mobility and dexterity, advanced sensors, and the ability to interact with their environment. They have gained flexibility, speed, and finesse, clearing the way for a generation of precision robots that can make a difference in diverse industries such as retail, health care, food processing, mining, transportation, and agriculture —far more quickly and accurately than human hands can.

As people become more accepting of robots in their everyday lives, this will attract more investment capital and drive further advances in robotic capabilities.

The impact of these changes will be profound. Differences in labour costs between developed countries and emerging economies will cease to be a critical factor for companies deciding where to set up operations, and new factors will come to the fore.

As falling prices, faster CPUs, improved safety, and easier programming continue to place robots within reach of virtually every sector, and their ability to work side by side with humans opens up an array of new applications, the challenge for forward-looking companies is going to be to figure out how to use robotics to gain a competitive edge.

How to gain a robotics advantage

Gaining robotics advantage involves finding innovative, unexpected ways to leverage technology to differentiate a company from the competition and gain a sustainable edge. This may mean identifying the sweet spot where a hybrid mix of human worker and machine delivers the biggest payback, or it may involve creating an entirely new business model. On the basis of BCG’s experience in a variety of industries, we’ve developed a framework to help companies move forward:

 – Identify potential leverage points

Companies should look for areas of the business where robotics might be able to add value by cutting costs, enhancing productivity, improving performance, reducing risk, and addressing skill shortages or workforce variability. Cost savings are likely to be greatest in parts of the world where wages are high and robots could replace labour outright. Areas with highly repetitive or dangerous tasks, or jobs that require flexibility, speed, or precision are also natural fits for robotics. In mining, for example, automated drilling and haulage can reduce the need for workers in remote locations, increase safety, and improve asset utilisation – an area that is already being explored by companies such as Ryonic Robotics in South Africa.

Robots can also be used to take on repetitive, low-skill tasks. Collaborative robots or ‘cobots’ can do heavy lifting and perform precision activities more quickly than human workers can. By liberating workers from tedious, tiresome, or repetitive tasks, robots can improve not only the workers’ productivity but also their job satisfaction. An example of this in South Africa was the introduction of a robot to help sort and collect antiretroviral medication quickly and accurately to dispense to HIV-positive patients at the Helen Joseph hospital HIV clinic in Johannesburg.

– Integrate robotics into strategic decision making

Adding robotics to a business is a strategic decision, not just a capital investment. It requires rethinking and fundamentally altering staffing levels, product mix, manufacturing footprint, and other aspects of the business model. Management must also consider how robotics will affect the company’s brand, operations, and sales. For instance, building robot-enhanced plants closer to local markets may make sense as a way to accelerate response times and to fine-tune products to local tastes – or splitting production into two shifts—a day shift for humans and a night shift for robots—may help to reduce overtime, super­vision, and energy costs.

– Think and act now

Where new technologies are concerned, timing is critical to market leadership. When robotics and automation cross certain price, performance, and adoption thresholds, a tipping point may be near. First movers capture a disproportionate share of the high margins that accrue to successful early adopters. That benefit decreases as adoption becomes more widespread. And because it can take a long time to integrate automation into operations, management needs to act now to develop a point of view, test and pilot robotic applications, and invest in infrastructure—including laying the foundation for a digital supply chain on the factory floor. All the while, the company must closely monitor the industry sector it competes in and move decisively when the time is right.

–  Analyse whether to buy or to build

Proven, off-the-shelf robotics applications can be put to work quickly, but they’re available to everyone, including the competition. An alternative is to invest in a robotics solution tailored to a company’s particular operations. A customised solution could result in fundamental disruption of an industry’s dynamics and provide a long-term source of differentiation.

The decision about which direction to take may come down to sourcing options. Most companies will need to look beyond traditional equipment suppliers for their robotics needs. But even robotics suppliers may not have solutions on hand that meet the specific needs of individual companies or segments, necessitating a customized solution.

–  Develop the workforce

To fully unlock the potential of robotics, countries must retrain or increase the skills of their workforce. Today’s workers generally lack training in robotics installation, programming, operations and maintenance. Few governments, universities, vocational schools, tech leaders and manufacturers around the world are adequately addressing the problem. Despite some progress in early education through STEM initiatives—courses in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—and in universities with specific degrees related to robotics, an ability gap remains.

Without a pool of qualified applicants to choose from, companies will need to train their own people to install, program, operate and maintain robotics applications. Retaining these people once they have acquired high-demand, high-value skills will be another challenge. As robots take over lower-value and repetitive tasks, the work that remains will be more complex and less structured—and workers will need new skills to perform these tasks successfully.

–  Shape public policy

Companies that make or use robotics should work with communities, educators, local governments and policymakers on issues related to safety, liability, social impact and funding for education and training. By gaining a seat at the table, companies at the forefront of robotics can help define the rules, ensure progress and become advocates for the needs of industry and society alike.

Beyond helping to craft policy for robots that operate in public spaces, companies should participate in setting safety requirements at work, especially as cobots become more prevalent. As robots become safer, the certi­fication process ­should become quicker and less onerous, encouraging further development in the field of automation.

Collectively, the guidelines outlined above can help companies approach robotics in a strategic, disciplined, and pragmatic way—and improve their odds of achieving long-term, sustainable robotics advantage.

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Stop being creepy! An essential guide for digital marketers

Advertising and marketing is becoming increasingly creepy as personalisation strategies lose the plot, writes JOAN OSTERLOH, authorised Forrester Research Partner for South Africa.

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Marketers need to be aware of the “creep factor” when deploying strategies of personalisation and individualisation in their marketing efforts, Forrester’s Brendan Witcher, VP and principal analyst serving eBusiness and channel strategy professionals, warned as early as December 2017.

Six months later, Forrester senior analyst Susan Bidel was even more direct in her message: “Marketers, you need to take control of your advertising strategies and adtech stacks now to better address today’s consumers.” She cautioned that those who didn’t, were at a high risk of annoying and creeping out the very customers needed for business growth.

In its latest research, “Marketers Versus Customers: Opposing Forces  Erupt” Forrester now finds that even though marketers set out with the best intentions to implement customer-obsessed marketing and customer experience strategies, they still end up alienating and ‘creeping out’ customers, resulting in lost loyalty.

Marketers use personalisation to make their marketing more relevant and to help it stand out, Forrester says in a blog on the study. The irony is that with all the customer data that marketers use to personalise, the one thing they seem to have forgotten to find out from consumers is whether they even want personalised communication at all, the firm writes. Combined with identity resolution and increased automation, companies have created adtech and martech stacks that are creeping people out. We think our phones are listening to us. And then Facebook admits it is doing this. So, what’s gone wrong?

The report by Melissa Parrish, Forrester’s VP and group director serving marketing professionals, highlights that marketers are ignoring their customers’ desire for anonymity, by assuming that they all want personalised experiences. They are foregoing the authenticity of their own brands by “giving lip service to brand values they think resonate with customers.” There’s an overt focus on martech at the expense of human creativity. Lastly, they’re profiling customers on precarious connections and getting it wrong, sometimes with harmful and even traumatic results, she explains.

The solution is to return to true customer-centricity by going back to basics by looking at the following, Parrish writes in the report:

  1. Remember that customers are different.  Here it’s not about customer segments or personas, but rather the extent to which they expect you to know them. Treat customers and prospects differently – e.g. prospects “want value, not a background check”.
  2. Customers are tired of lookalike ads and direct mail that is poorly personalised, trying to get them to buy things for which they’re not even in the market.  Choose your target audience, focus on them, and then let go of the others.
  3. Programmatic marketing has its upsides and downsides.  Avoid the two extremes of advertising at scale across multiple channels on the one hand and limiting advertising to channels where everyone seems to be at once, such as Facebook, on the other.  Instead, target your audience with responsible content and choose platforms on which you can reach them online and offline.
  4. Consider whether you should be using cookie, key-stroke and audience data at all for your brand.  Intent-based target marketing through search optimization might be a smarter choice.
  5. Don’t assume that personalisation will make customer experiences more relevant.  Rather interview your customers and test different variations of personalised content to find the right balance between information, recommendations, simplicity and empathy.
  6. Don’t ignore the 20% who don’t want any personalisation at all – use your customer insights data to identify them, and then meet their expectation of no personalisation.

Parrish offers important recommendations for the winning marketers of the future. Since the success of marketing is measured by the bottom line of revenue generation, truly customer-obsessed marketers need KPIs that are “fine-tuned” to understand what customers value, not what’s valuable to the brand, she writes. What customers want and value should be defined in terms of four dimensions along the axes of functional-experiential, and economic-symbolic.  Then, measure the dimensions along the entire customer life cycle, she explains. What this requires is the following:

Firstly, marketing and Customer Experience (CX) teams need to unify and leverage one another’s unique skills to deliver best-in-class customer experiences that drive loyalty, customer retention and growth.  Truly customer-obsessed brands will bring CX and marketing together to harness the best that both have to offer.

Secondly, brands need to rebuild trust.  As consumers become more privacy-savvy, they will become more selective about the brands with which they are willing to share their data.  Marketers need to develop ‘Privacy Personas’ as a new marketing segment to ensure that they deliver experiences their customers are comfortable with.

Thirdly, refocus on creative excellence. In Parrish’s words “new prospecting strategies will center on great creative making an emotional impact and contextual targeting driving relevance.”

Lastly marketers need to find ways to extend customer obsession throughout the enterprise. Employees need to be empowered to deliver on the brand promise, which must align to and be in harmony with CX.   The companies that thrive will be those whose CX truly reflects brand values, Parrish concludes.  

Sources: “Marketers Versus Customers: Opposing Forces  Erupt18 Sept 2019. By Melissa Parrish with Sharyn Leaver, Brigitte Majewski, Caroline Robertson, and Stephanie Liu.

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Which should you use: PIN or Password?

By CHAD HAMMOND, a digital security expert at NordPass

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As users of this digital age, we have many different choices. You can enable or disable web cookies, depending on how much information you want a website to gather about you. You can use encrypted services or unencrypted ones, depending on how much you’re concerned about your privacy and security.

You can also use a PIN (Personal Identification Number) or password to secure your digital devices or online accounts. However, in this particular case, the choice for most of us is not as straightforward as it seems.

The other day I also had the very same discussion among my friends with three different sides of opinion. One side was backing PINs and claiming that they are safer than passwords. Others couldn’t believe that PINs made up of four, six, or eight digits can be more reliable than long and complex passwords. And the third group was claiming that both PIN and password serve the same purpose of identification and are safe to use. All sides had valuable insights, but we couldn’t reach an agreement. Sparked by this discussion, I decided to look deeper into this topic and look for the truth.

When should you use a PIN?

PIN stands for a Personal Information Number and is used the same as a password to prove that you have the right to access your data. A PIN usually consists of a string of four to eight numbers, and it was first introduced in the 1960s together with cash machines (ATMs). The obvious drawback is that a PIN is limited to 0-9 numerical digits. A PIN made up of four numbers offers 10,000 possible combinations. That may seem like an easy nut to crack, but it’s not as straightforward.

PINs are normally used on touchscreen devices and always require manual data entry. An automated brute-force attack may not work as most of the systems that use a PIN also specify maximum attempts count before disabling the device.

For example, if your device limits PIN entry to six attempts, there is a 0.06% chance that someone will be lucky enough to crack the four-digit code. Of course, if your PIN is ‘0000’ or ‘1234,’ the probability of being hacked increases massively.

When should you use a password?

A good password is a combination of numerical digits, upper- and lowercase letters, and various special characters. It could also be a phrase made up of words with the same requirements. Like the PIN, the password concept first appeared in the early 1960s and has been used ever since. A 10-character password has 59,873,693,923,837,900,000 different variations, and most of you are probably thinking you know which of the two is more secure. However, it’s not all about mathematics.

Passwords are used online or for devices like computers, which usually don’t have any limits on failed attempts. That’s why passwords can be compromised with the help of an automated brute-force attack. Of course, not all attacks are practical, as most of them would take years to crack a strong password. Buthacking technologies are evolving fast, making such attacks more sophisticated and successful.

Password vs. PIN: the verdict

Going back to the discussion that I had with my friends, we can safely say that all the opinions were correct in one way or another. The answer to this question depends on where you use your PIN or password.

If you want to unlock your touchscreen device, the safest and easiest way is to use a PIN because of the manual entry and the attempt limit. When it comes to online accounts or computers, passwords are much safer due to the simple math of available combinations.

Also, you can enable multi-factor authentication (2FA) in most online accounts . The 2FA adds another layer of safety, minimizing the risks of automated brute-force attacks. Even if someone manages to get your strong password, they won’t be able to access your account, as the second step of verification will stop them.

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