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#AI@Work: Whatever Happened to….?

Most people think of robots in the warehouse but that’s not all robots and AI can do! There are applications in retail far beyond just stocking shelves and filling orders. Robots can sell things, spot mistakes in pricing or stocking, monitor inventory levels, and help shoppers find things. Robots can minimize theft and they can be available 24/7 with built in security (Matthews, 2018). Robots and AI offer a wealth of opportunities to the retail sector, including cutting costs and increasing quality of service.

Traditionally retail meant a physical store. Today retail has multiple touchpoints. It has seamless service with products delivered right to your door. Augmented and virtual reality technologies are playing an increasing role in retail. Smart mirrors, in stores or at home, keep the customer from having to try on clothing, giving comparative feedback for fit and 360 degree views. The more digital we become, the fewer physical stores matter. Online technologies, mobile and other consumer interfaces keep evolving. Physical showrooms that lead to online purchasing is one example of how retail is evolving. Warby Parker and Bonobos are just two examples. Customers can come in and try on products, find the perfect fit, and then have it shipped to their doorstep.

A McKinsey report indicates that 800 million people will lose their jobs to robots by 2030. Collecting and processing data can be done better, faster and cheaper by machines. If we look at the past, we can see the extent of digital disruption. Tower Records serves as a perfect example of unexpected and unprepared obsolescence. Organizational obsolescence includes media giants like Newsweek, industrial magnets like Bethlehem Steel, communication giants like MCI and technology powerhouses, Blackberry, VisiCalc, Sunbeam, Blockbuster, WordPerfect, Palm, Altair, Commodore, Atari.

Of course, this discussion of “From Great to Gone” would not be complete without mentioning Kodak, the company that dominated the photography business for over 100 years. Founded by Eastman in 1888 until its bankruptcy filing in 2012, Kodak was an industry giant. Much like the other companies mentioned, it now exists like a ghost of its former self. Many companies are gone. Some still exist as shadows. In all cases, lack of agility, management mistakes and technology innovations played a big role. Management needs to act now to save or re-create the jobs of tomorrow. In every case when an industry is threatened, slowed or stopped, it is because management failed.

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