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Will Robots Take Over Roles in Logistics?

By Dr. Robert L. Gordon | 09/17/2014 | 5:49 AM

Guest Post by Dr. Robert Gordon, faculty member at American Public University

Last month, Starwood began pilot testing the ‘Botler’ at the Aloft Hotel in Silicon Valley. The test is showing that people are willing to have a robotic butler deliver items to their guest room. Although the Botler appears to be more like R2D2 than a human, it appears that this handy, three- foot-tall robot can assist guests with a more pleasant stay. 

This means that the days of the helpful bell person or housekeeper coming to the door with the needed item in hand could be gone. While this would reduce the workload for certain hotel staff, I am not certain that this will ultimately lead to massive personnel cuts.

This example demonstrates that technology is changing and some jobs might not be as safe as once thought. There was a time when all elevators required an elevator operator; now, elevators are automated and few people remember operators. I tried to explain the concept to my teenaged daughter who did not understand why one would need an extra person to ride in the elevator all day just to push the button. 

As technology moves forward, what other skills are future-proof? Driverless cars are currently being tested and the technology appears promising. Recently, a driverless car was tested on the difficult streets of the US Capitol. If a driverless car can manage driving in DC (something I always avoid myself), when will that move on to driverless trucks? If elevator operators are so easily erased from public memory, could the same not happen to other jobs? 

The bad news is that, in the near future, some logistics jobs will be lost to robots. However, these will be the relatively low- skill jobs that could be easily automated. The good news is that other jobs that require more creative intelligence, critical thinking, and management skills will increase. After all, someone will have to be the person building, repairing, training, and managing the Botler or the self-driving car. 

Robots might be great to have at a party, but they can’t do sales, marketing, finance, customer contact, or management. These higher-order thinking tasks will become the exclusive domain of skilled and educated personnel with an understanding of how to run an organization. 

Logistics professionals with critical thinking skills and both education and experience will be less vulnerable to automation or “outomation,” as I like to call it. Successful logistics leaders will also need to hone their social skills because working with people will be even more important.  

The future of logistics will have more to do with management skills and less to do with routine tasks.  Long- term career success will require a balance of education, job skills, and social skills. 

About the Author

Dr. Robert Lee Gordon is an associate professor with American Public University in the Reverse Logistics Management program. He has four published books, three regarding project management and one regarding reverse logistics in addition to dozens of articles. Dr. Gordon curates a Reverse Logistics topic at http://www.scoop.it/t/reverse-logistics-by-robert-gordon2.



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About Dr. Robert Lee Gordon

Dr. Robert Lee Gordon

Dr. Robert Lee Gordon is program director of the Reverse Logistics department at American Public University. Dr. Gordon has over twenty-five years of professional experience in supply chain management and human resources. He holds a Doctorate of Management and Organizational Leadership and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Phoenix, as well earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from UCLA. Dr. Gordon has spent more than 14 years teaching reverse logistics, transportation, project management, and human resources. He has published articles on reverse logistics; supply chain management; project management; human resources; education, and complexity. He has also published four books on Reverse Logistics Management; Complexity and Project Management; Virtual Project Management Organizations, and Successful Program Management..

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